Almost eight years ago, BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, almost directly south of Gulfport. Millions of gallons of oil spewed spewed into the Gulf. Some of that oil ended up on Coast beaches. Some of it sank to the bottom of the Gulf, along with the chemical dispersant used to sink it. Tourists fled. Seafood was shunned. The Coast as a destination was shut down.
BP agreed to pay Mississippi $750 million for economic damage to the state.
Or to put it more clearly, for the damage to the Coast economy. It’s that simple.
Gov. Phil Bryant sees it. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves sees it.
So it’s mind-boggling that the Legislature has yet to pass a plan to send the bulk of the almost $700 million that remains in the settlement to the Coast. This year, a bill to do that is further along than any of the previous efforts. And yet, there remain three hurdles for the bill. If House and House conferees are able to work out differences in the versions of the bill passed by the two chambers and if the bill survives debates and votes of the full House and Senate, and if the governor signs it, the Coast can rest easy.
Then the Coast can begin the hunt in earnest for that “transformative project” many are fond of talking about. But it’s hard to devise a plan for spending that money when the Coast doesn’t know when and how much money it will get.
As it stands now, the state will receive a $40 million payment next year and each year after that until 2030. In other words, without a bill that says otherwise, that money could be subject to the whims of the Legislature each year until it is gone.
Among state leaders, only House Speaker Phil Gunn has not unequivocally said he believes the money belongs on the Coast. That’s worrisome because last year the House let the BP bill die.
Our legislators should be trying to get that assurance from Gunn. And time’s wasting. We suggest they remind Gunn how important this decision is to the Coast.
If you agree, contact your House and Senate member and tell them. They’re listed below.
The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.
*Coast members of the conference committee working on a compromise