Environmental leaders hail Bill Nelson for helping get RESTORE Act passed in Congress

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Among those joining Nelson at the press conference — appropriately held in front of a large fish tank — was Florida Wildlife Federation head Manley Fuller, who referred to that backdrop when saying the legislation will insure that, "the abundance behind us not only survives but thrives, not just for now, but for generations to come."

Julie Wraithmell is the Director of Wildlife Conservation with Audubon Florida. She said that the man-made disaster "shattered the illusion that the Gulf is rugged," adding that the reality was that there have been parts of the Gulf that were in trouble even before the spill.

T.J. Matthews from the Ocean Conservancy praised Senator Nelson for his aggressive leadership going back to 2007 when the possibility of drilling off Florida's shoreline was bandied about in Congress.

"He was the lone voice out there talking about the concerns that tourism industry folks had about the threats that it created, so when things went down with Deepwater Horizon and tourism fell through the floor, he had every right to say I told you so, but he didn’t, he sprang into action," Matthews said, shaking the Senator's hand before he got his turn at the podium.

Matthews also referenced recent concerns about fish harvested from the Gulf this year that had unusual lesions and infections — something that will require more research to uncover if there's a direct link between the illnesses and the voluminous amount of oil that poured into the Gulf in 2010.

Senator Nelson called the passage of the bill an example of government functioning properly, highlighting the fact that the RESTORE Act received bipartisan support in the Senate. "This is how government is supposed to work, against a backdrop of gridlock, excessive partisanship and ideological rigidity," he said, calling it a "bright, shining moment of bipartisanship."

Although the bill received a number of Republican votes (it passed 76-22 in the Senate), Marco Rubio was the only Gulf based Senator who voted against it.

Nelson went on to explain what happens next in the process. According to the Oil Pollution Act, a fine will be assessed for every barrel of oil that was spilled into the Gulf. With almost 5 million barrels leaked from the BP well, the damages could be set at anywhere between $1,000-$4,000 a barrel. "So we're talking about some real money," he added.

A recent report by Mather Economics estimates that spending $1.5 billion per year in coastal wetland restoration would create 57,000 new jobs in the first 10 years — a positive economic side effect of an otherwise negative environmental disaster.

  • One senator voted for the RESTOR Act- one did not

We're not sure if Bill Nelson had his re-election team filming Monday morning's news conference at the Florida Aquarium, but if not, they should have been.

That's because the incumbent Democratic Senator couldn't have choreographed it better, as he was the recipient of a wealth of adulation from several environmental leaders in Florida who praised him for his efforts in helping get the RESTORE Act passed in Congress last month.

That legislation dedicates 80 percent of fines paid by BP and the other actors involved in violating the Clean Water Act during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill (a figure that could range anywhere between $5 million to $21 million) go to restoring the Gulf Coast's environment and economy.

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