Editorial: State can't afford to squander RESTORE money

With

the civil trial of BP under way in federal court in New Orleans, there

appears to be a day of reckoning in the not-too-distant

future for the company’s liability in the 2010 oil rig explosion

that produced one of the worst environmental disasters in

this nation’s history.

The Deepwater Horizon accident

nearly three years ago resulted in the death of 11 workers and a nearly

three-month oil spill

that poured more than 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf and

onto the shores of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

In anticipation of the trial, Congress passed and President Obama signed last year the RESTORE Act, which directs 80 percent

of all Clean Water Act fines levied via the civil case to the aforementioned states, plus Texas. Since Louisiana suffered

the most damage from the spill, it is expected to reap the most money — $1.5 billion to $8 billion.

Louisiana conservationists,

environmentalists and scientists have seen whatever RESTORE Act money

filters down as a substantial

down payment on what has been estimated as a $50 billion, 50-year

plan to preserve and restore the state’s endangered coast

and wetlands.

But some in the coastal restoration field are worried that a portion of whatever windfall is destined for Louisiana might

be channeled into the state’s budget.

‘‘We saw last year attempts to

redirect the money,’’ said Chris Macaluso, coastal outreach coordinator

for the Louisiana Wildlife

Federation. ‘‘We were able to thwart those efforts. We’re going to

have to be tremendously vigilant this legislative session

so the RESTORE money goes where it’s supposed to go.’’

He said the state can ill afford to squander the money.

‘‘We have the world’s fastest rate of land loss over the last century, and most of the oil washed up here,’’ said Macaluso.

‘‘There’s no other way to look at it: That money needs to go to the coast.’’

These are difficult budgetary times for the state, and with that comes the temptation to find alternative funding resources.

But a potential huge payday from the RESTORE Act will likely not be repeated. Any attempt to divert this money elsewhere should

be shouted down.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney,

Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.