On the question of what coastal states should do with the windfall from BP fines, Ben Raines has a modest proposal: Use some of the money to buy up fragile wetlands. The BP oil company owes billions in fines because of a 2010 oil rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana that spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Under the terms of the federal Restore Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama last year, 80 percent of the fine money will go to five Gulf States affected by the spill: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The money will, for the most part, be divided among the states and a new federal-state consortium, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.
In a recent opinion piece in The New York Times, Raines, a coastal preservationist who works in Alabama, suggested that at least 5 percent of the money from the BP fines should be set aside to buy and protect coastal marshes and wetlands as a public trust.
“We have all seen the devastation wrought in coastal Louisiana — marshes that remain so contaminated with oil three years on that they can’t support insect life, never mind sea creatures,” Raines wrote. He paints an equally bleak picture for the broader coastal region:
“But the marshes have been in decline across the gulf. They have been for decades, the result of levee construction, the channelization of rivers, dredging, erosion and development. It is estimated that more than 50 percent have already been lost.”
Raines’ assessment will seem all too familiar to Louisiana residents who have grappled with the erosion of coastland for generations. Even so, his stark picture of the threats to coastal Louisiana should underscore the urgency of restoring and protecting what’s left. Raines’ idea to use at least a small amount of the BP fines to expand a system of public wetlands makes sense. Louisiana has a long and troubled history of squandering windfalls. We shouldn’t repeat the same mistake with Restore Act funds.