The Mississippi Senate on Tuesday voted for a bill backed by Coast senators that would send “the vast majority” of BP economic damages money to the Coast.
The SB 2176 introduced by Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, would put about $700 million of the $750 million economic damages settlement into the Gulf Coast Restoration Reserve Fund to keep it separate from the state’s general fund, which is controlled by the Legislature. About $50 million of the money has already been spent, primarily on projects in South Mississippi.
Sens. Tommy Gollott, R-Biloxi; Mike Seymour, R-Vancleave; Philip Moran, R-Kiln; and Joel Carter Jr., R-Biloxi, signed on as co-authors. The bill also was backed by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. The money comes from a settlement with the oil company for the economic damages wrought by the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf in 2010. An explosion and fire on the oil rig ended up spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and some of that ended up on Coast beaches. It shut down tourism and the seafood industry for months.
“Senators recognize the importance of spending these dollars in a way that encourages job growth and expands our entire economy,” Reeves said. “Setting aside BP funds for the Gulf Coast means that the settlement will benefit the region of Mississippi most impacted in the 2010 disaster. I’ve talked extensively with folks in the seafood and tourism industries, restaurant owners and other community leaders about the change in the coastal economy since the oil spill, and I’m convinced this is the right thing to do for all of Mississippi.”
Lawmakers in the northern and central parts of the state have said they want some of the money spent in their districts, primarily by dividing it by congressional district with 40 percent going to District 4 in South Mississippi and 20 percent going to each of the remaining three districts.
The bill now goes to the House, which can approve it as is, reject it or make amendments that could set up negotiations with the Senate.