Today Congress took a major step in our efforts to restore the Gulf Coast and support the important communities that rely on it everyday. Earlier today, Congress enacted the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act).
This Administration recognizes that a strong and vibrant ecosystem is the key to the Gulf’s future - that's why the President established the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force in 2010. As Chair of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force and a New Orleans native, I can tell you that a healthy ecosystem is vital to the economy and the way of life for the Gulf Coast. There’s a lot at stake in this region: the economies of the five Gulf States supported more than 19 million jobs and nearly $2.5 trillion of the U.S. GDP in 2008. In addition, millions of people visit the Gulf Coast each year – to vacation, to sail, to swim, to fish, and to enjoy this great waterbody. In 2008, national and international tourists spent about $145 billion in the 5 coastal states and around 1.7 million people were employed in travel and tourism.
During the oil spill, we essentially “lost” the Gulf for a period of time, and natural resources in the Gulf were extensively damaged. We lost the use of valuable fishing grounds, incredible recreational opportunities and all of the other benefits of a thriving, vibrant ecosystem. That loss helped show folks who aren't from the Gulf Coast just how important it is to our nation.
But our goal and commitment is not simply to address the damage caused by the spill - it is to ensure the long term improvement and restoration of the Gulf Coast and its unique ecosystems.
The RESTORE Act is a critical part of that effort. The bill ensures that 80 percent of Deepwater Horizon civil and administrative penalties under the Clean Water Act will go to Gulf Coast restoration, and sets up a framework that can ensure coordination between the Gulf States and the Federal government. This approach was first recommended by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in his September 2010 recovery plan and subsequently embraced by President Obama.
The Administration will work to ensure coordination between the states and Federal government to ensure that BP and the other responsible parties fully pay for the damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and that dedicated Clean Water Act penalties are utilized in a way that serves the goal of long-term ecosystem restoration economic health of the Gulf.
This is an important moment for the Gulf Coast and we commend Congress for doing its part to ensure that the communities and ecosystems of the Gulf Coast recover stronger than before Deepwater Horizon. I know how deeply the spill impacted the lives of everyone in the Gulf – passing the RESTORE Act and continuing work on Gulf Coast restoration is, simply put, the right thing to do.