WASHINGTON – The chairwoman of the nearly 50-member conference committee on federal transportation legislation does not mince words that the RESTORE Act language that directs BP fine money to Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states will definitely remain a part of the final bill.
“It will be included,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said during her weekly press conference briefing on the conference committee. “RESTORE Act has tremendous appeal.”
The transportation conference committee began meeting last week to work out a compromise between House and Senate versions of bills to fund federal highway construction and infrastructure projects moving forward before the current funding sources expire after June 30.
Boxer said she is “optimistic” a final compromise can be reached to appease both chambers of Congress.
The RESTORE Act is included in language in both the House and Senate bill versions, but the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that is proposed to run from Canada to Texas is in the House bill and is expected to be a contentious issue with growing support.
Boxer left the door opening to the Keystone pipeline remaining in the final bill, although President Barack Obama threatened to veto any language with the strong Keystone mandate in the House version, but she did not offer her support either.
“We haven’t gotten to the areas of disagreement, and we will,” she said, noting that the pipeline did not have the needed 60 Senate votes prior. “We have to figure out a way to get through that hurdle, and we will.”
Noting that she is personally working close on the RESTORE Act aspects with Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Boxer said it is legislation on which they and conservative U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., can all agree.
“I’ll place keeping the RESTORE and RAMP language in the bill as an absolute top priority, and I’m pleased the chairwomen (Boxer) agrees,” Vitter said in an email response.
Vitter is the only member of the Louisiana delegation on the conference committee.
The RAMP Act provision by U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, is intended to ensure the funds for the federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund are used for dredging and port projects, including for Louisiana waterways, and not raided for other uses as has been occurring.
The RESTORE Act provisions currently guarantee that 80 percent of the fines collected from the April 2010 BP oil leak — an amount that could reach $20 billion — would be distributed for coastal restoration to the five states along the Gulf: Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Texas and Alabama.
Gulf state lawmakers have wanted Congress to adopt the RESTORE Act before a settlement is reached with the Department of Justice and BP.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., called Boxer’s comments “encouraging news.”
The House version of the transportation bills is a 90-day extension to transportation spending while the Senate has a more comprehensive two-year plan.
Boxer said reaching a deal on the transportation legislation is imperative because 1.2 million construction-related jobs are at risk.