BATON ROUGE, La. (Legal Newsline) - A pre-filed bill in the House of Representatives by Rep. Simone Champagne (R-Jeanerette) would allow voters to decide on a constitutional amendment that would dedicate Clean Water Act fines from the 2010 BP oil spill to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund.
If HB118 were to pass and later receive a majority vote by voters it would prevent any funds coming from Clean Water Act violations in the 2010 BP oil spill from being used for anything but coastal protection and restoration projects, such as funding levee districts and marsh creation.
Champagne said a constitutional amendment delegating the funds for coastal restoration would ensure that those funds would not be used elsewhere.
"The dollars were meant to restore the coastline and that is what we are going to use them for," she said. "We are not going to use it for any other purpose in our state budget-not to plug holes in the budget in the future. We are going to do the right thing with it and start to help restore our coastline."
Champagne already pushed through a statute last year dedicating funds to coastal restoration, but said that is not enough protection for the billions of dollars the state is likely to be rewarded.
"The problem with that is with a simple majority of the vote on the House side and the Senate side that could be changed," she said. "So with a constitutional amendment and by vote of the people and it goes into that fund and it cannot be changed unless there is another constitutional amendment doing so."
Champagne said she had 28 co-authors on a similar constitutional amendment bill the easily passed through the House last year, but the Senate never picked it up in committee. She believes the bill was stopped because others in the legislature may want to divert the funds to the regularly underfunded state budget.
"I believe that there may have been thoughts of using the dollars on other areas of the budget and being able to use the funds elsewhere, which gave me some grave concern for it not to be a constitutional amendment," Champagne said.
Rep. Raymond Garafalo (R-Chalmette) has authored similar legislation in HB94.
Champagne said she welcomes Garafalo's bill just in case her bill is not picked up again in the Senate.
"He didn't know I was going to re-file the same legislation so he did so," she said. "But it is always better to have two. It is always good to have a backup."
If Champagne's bill were passed, billions of dollars would go to fund the Coastal Master Plan that was adopted by the legislature last year and is set to cost $50 billion to implement. The thus far unfunded plan provides a blueprint for the state that would divert Mississippi River waters into marshland in an attempt to rebuild the state's coastline. In addition, $12.7 billion would go toward building levees to protect communities at risk for flooding of hurricane storm surge.
Some of the Clean Water Act fines were already finalized earlier this year when Deeepwater Horizon rig owner Transocean settled a civil case for $1.4 billion to be split among coastal states affected by the oil spill. In addition, Transocean will pay another $400 million in Clean Water Act fines for criminal charges to which they pled guilty.
The BP oil spill trial is currently under way which could ultimately see the international oil giant pay more than $17 billion in Clean Water Act fines to coastal states affected by the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.