AUSTIN, Texas — Two and a half years after British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, spewing 5 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, a battle is brewing over how the B.P. fines will eventually be spent. The company is likely to pay out anywhere from $5 billion to $21 billion under the RESTORE Act, which was signed into law by President Obama this summer. The National Wildlife Federation recently polled sportsmen across the nation - most of whom identified themselves as conservative - and found that 87 percent want the B.P. fines used primarily for habitat restoration.
Susan Kaderka, who directs the National Wildlife Federation's South Central office, worries that politics-as-usual may divert the money from where it's needed most.
"You know, whenever there's a lot of money available, there are a lot of parties who are interested in how that money gets spent. So there will be a lot of competition for funds under the RESTORE Act."
The legislation mandates that 80 percent of B.P. penalties be used specifically for Gulf recovery, instead of deposited into the general treasury - the typical fate of fines collected under the Clean Water Act. Because RESTORE says the money should be used for both ecological and economic needs, a wide range of recovery projects are eligible for potential funding - including infrastructure like roads, bridges and new convention centers, which critics are calling "pork."
Each affected state will be given significant leeway in how it spends its share of the money. As the Perry administration begins to craft the Texas approach, conservationists like Kaderka are pushing the Republican governor to prioritize ecological restoration. She wants him to keep in mind that many of his traditionally conservative constituencies - such as hunters and anglers - won't appreciate the money being diverted elsewhere.