Nelson hails inclusion of RESTORE Act in Transportation bill

The bill passed in the Senate with a large majority, 76-22, but was stalled in the House.

According to Montgomery Advertiser, The Senate?s version of the RESTORE Act had included a provision to expand the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but that provision was not included in the deal reached Wednesday. The fund finances efforts to set aside land and water for recreation areas.

Speaking at an event in April marking the two-year anniversary of the BP oil spill, Florida Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson trashed the House version as "an empty shell," because the fine money would go into a trust fund to be determined later by a future congress.

Although the final transportation bill including the RESTORE Act isn't finished yet, according to the Associated Press, House Republicans did agree to drop their insistence that the government approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline and to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating ash generated by coal-fired power plants.

The Senate agreed to effectively reduce money available for bike paths, pedestrian safety projects and other "transportation enhancements" by making them compete with other transportation programs for the same pool of funds.

The Senate agreed to House GOP demands that federal requirements for environmental impact studies of highway and transit construction projects be revised to speed up the time it takes to complete projects.

Also in response to a House GOP demand, the Senate dropped a provision that would have required automakers to equip cars with computer programs that record and save details of the vehicle's operation immediately before and after an accident. Safety advocates said the "event data recorders" would help accident investigators and improve safety. GOP lawmakers expressed concern the "black boxes" would be an invasion of motorists' privacy.

The only Gulf Senator to vote against the bill was Florida Republican Marco Rubio, who said, "What started as a genuine bipartisan effort to dedicate as much BP fine money as possible towards Gulf Coast restoration has now turned into a raw deal that increases taxes, creates a new environmental bureaucracy, and could steer money to places like the Great Lakes and West coast that had nothing to with the oil spill. This is no longer a Gulf Coast restoration bill, it?s a federal power grab that exploits the BP spill to pay for special interest projects driven by the usual 'what's in it for me' Washington mentality. I will not support raising taxes to pay for BP?s mess or to pay for new spending projects across the country that have nothing to do with Gulf Coast restoration."

While you're busy pouring over the 193-page ruling by the Roberts Court on the Affordable Care Act, Florida Democrats like Bill Nelson are hailing another D.C. decision — this one involving the deal crafted Wednesday that will make the bipartisan RESTORE Act part of a transportation bill lawmakers are expected to approve later this week.

Under the RESTORE Act (for Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourism Opportunities and Revived Economies), the five Gulf Coast states (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas) will get 80 percent of the money that BP is expected to pay for the Gulf oil spill under the Clean Water Act. Lawmakers estimate those fines could total $5 billion to $20 billion.

Without the legislation, the fine money would go to the U.S. Treasury and to a trust fund for future oil spills nationwide.

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