State Politics

Will lawmakers give $700 million in BP money to the Coast? Lawmakers are racing the clock.

Oil the size of a football sits on the beach in Waveland in 2010. Oil continued to wash ashore in Harrison and Hancock counties, causing some beaches to be closed.
Oil the size of a football sits on the beach in Waveland in 2010. Oil continued to wash ashore in Harrison and Hancock counties, causing some beaches to be closed. Sun Herald File

The fate of more than $700 million in BP economic damages money rests with the ability of a six-person committee of state House and Senate members to arrive at a consensus. They have until 8 p.m. Monday to do so.

If they don’t resolve differences in House and Senate versions of the bill, it will die. If they do, the resulting bill would still need the approval of the state House and Senate. The Legislature could be in session until Sunday but it is trying to finish its work as early as Wednesday.

The six conferees are: Reps. John Read of Gautier, Scott DeLano of Biloxi and Mac Huddleston of Pontotoc and Sens. Buck Clarke of Hollandale, Brice Wiggins of Pascagoula and Terry Burton of Newton.

As it stands, the bill would put the money in a newly created “Gulf Coast Restoration Reserve Fund” to be used for projects that will benefit the Mississippi Gulf Coast. That fund would remain under control of the Legislature and its annual appropriation process. Members of the Coast delegation have been pushing for more Coast control over the money.

But, lawmakers in other parts of the state would like to share in the money. Some have suggested it should be split among the four Congressional Districts.

The Coast delegation has been asking for at least 80 percent of the money to be directed to the Coast, where the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico south of the Coast. That oil eventually washed up on Coast beaches, virtually shutting down the tourism and seafood industries.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Gov. Phil Bryant for years supported the Coast’s position.

“Senators recognize the importance of spending these dollars in a way that encourages job growth and expands our entire economy,” Reeves said after the bill was approved by the House. “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.”

Bryant has said he wants to see “transformational” ideas for the money that will boost the Coast economy and will last for years.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, however, has been all but silent on the issue.

Last year, a bill passed unanimously by the Senate died in the House.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton

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