Senate Passes Transportation Bill with Gulf Coast Restoration Measure

Senate Passes Transportation Bill with Gulf Coast Restoration Measure

Alisa Opar
Published: 03/14/2012


Photo: Brown pelican. Credit: Rebecca Field
  
UPDATE 3/30/2012: The RESTORE Act, which would channel BP oil spill fines to Gulf states for environmental and economic restoration, has suffered a setback.
 
The Act was added to the $109 billion transportation bill passed by the Senate. In the House, however, it was pulled from the floor when leaders couldn't muster support for the bipartisan bill. Instead, the House and Senate approved a 90-day extension for transportation funding at current levels, which President Obama signed today.
 
While the RESTORE Act is stalled for now, it's not dead. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, told the Times-Picayune that majority votes in the both the House and Senate for the Restore Act give reason for continued optimism. "A short term extension of the highway bill does not derail our efforts or our resolve to pass the full RESTORE Act, and I continue to have regular discussions with House leadership who remain supportive of our efforts to pass RESTORE." [End update]
 
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This afternoon the Senate easily approved the $109 billion transportation bill, which contains “the most important conservation victory in a decade,” in the words of David Yarnold, Audubon President and CEO.
  
The bill, which passed 74-22, contains the RESTORE Act, which requires that 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines BP paid for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill go to the five Gulf Coast states for economic and environmental restoration. It'll benefit the birds, ecosystems, and people affected by the disaster. 
   
The provision would also give funds to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which help protect natural resources. The House previously passed a less-binding version of the RESTORE Act. The two houses will have to hammer out their differences before it becomes law. (Click here for Audubon’s handy guide the RESTORE Act.) 
  
The RESTORE Act was one of 30 amendments attached to the transportation bill. The Senate rejected measures that would have expanded offshore drilling and fast-tracked construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL, the 1,661-mile pipeline that would carry crude oil from Canada’s Alberta Tar Sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.  
    
Now, the pressure is on for the House, which has its own stalled transportation bill, to pass the Senate’s version before the federal highway trust expires at the end of March.