With all the ups and downs of a legislative roller coaster, there was big and good news for Louisiana and the Gulf Coast in Congress’ action on a new federal highway bill.
The highway bill is good news in itself, of course, as the authorization for spending on federal highway projects would have run out had not the bill passed.
But wrapped in the highway bill were several significant issues related to Louisiana.
These included the extension of the national flood insurance program, although our senators differed on some of the terms of the reauthorization. Additional language in the bill prods Congress and the administration to better maintain rivers and harbors, a national issue but one of particular importance to Louisiana.
Rather overshadowing those matters, though, was the victory on the fines that BP will pay as a consequence of the 2010 Macondo well disaster.
The highway bill includes a bipartisan measure pushed by the Louisiana congressional delegation to dedicate 80 percent of the fines — expected to be in the billions — for restoration of the coast of the Gulf states.
That measure was initially a bill from U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., with backing from her junior colleague David Vitter, R-La., and senators from other Gulf states.
But there is a great deal of credit to go around.
Members of the House delegation were praised by Landrieu for their work on their side of the Capitol, particularly U.S. Reps. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, and Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans.
Vitter was a member of the pivotal House-Senate conference committee on the bill.
This is a significant victory for Louisiana, some of the best news to come from the Capitol for our state in several years.
Activists warned that there should be pressure on the administration to ensure that BP pays up in full: “Like many policy and environmental victories, this is not the end of the journey,” said Aaron Viles, deputy director of the Gulf Restoration Network.
State government has created a master plan for coastal restoration that will provide a framework for spending the money, and Gov. Bobby Jindal and lawmakers endorsed it during the last session of the Legislature.
The final amount of this check for restoration work is not known. But it surely will be significant, even for the multibillion-dollar and multidecade task of preserving and restoring Louisiana’s endangered coast and wetlands.
We congratulate the Louisiana delegation in Congress for this job well done.