Three years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the revitalization of the Gulf Coast remains an urgent priority. Last year's passage of the RESTORE Act was a significant step toward putting key environmental and economic initiatives into action.
RESTORE directs 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines levied against BP and other responsible parties to affected Gulf Coast states. Although the courts have yet to decide the amount in damages owed, estimates indicate that the fines could total as much as $20 billion.
The success of the Gulf region directly impacts the economic well-being of the entire country. Half of the seafood produced in the lower 48 states comes from the Gulf of Mexico, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Shipping, tourism, and oil and gas production add to the diverse ways the Gulf plays a dynamic role in keeping America competitive. Recovery funds are critical to protecting the future livelihood of our coastal communities and the health of Gulf ecosystems.
The continued diligence of federal, state, and local partners is important to identifying and meeting current challenges. The worst oil spill in U.S. history tragically took 11 lives and severely impacted our state, devastating our tourism and fishing industries. The negative effects are still a difficult reality for millions of Americans. A full recovery will require targeted and well-coordinated efforts that promptly meet local needs.
The status of restoration efforts was the subject of a recent hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee, in which I served a leading role. As decisions are made regarding recovery projects, it is necessary to ensure funds are used responsibly and efficiently. I was pleased to welcome Trudy Fisher, director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, as one of the hearing's expert witnesses.
Leading the Way
Mississippi is working hard to develop the most effective ways to help our coastal communities. Last year, an advisory group comprised of business and community leaders, as well as elected officials, was tasked with creating a comprehensive blueprint for the use of RESTORE funds. The group, known as GoCoast 2020, has identified eight key areas for recovery, including eco-restoration, job creation, and economic opportunity. Other avenues for revitalization, using Natural Resource Damage Assessment funds, have led to projects that would replenish habitats and resources in the Mississippi Sound.
Our state is also looking ahead. Earlier this year, Gov. Phil Bryant named the Center for Gulf Studies as Mississippi's Research Center of Excellence. RESTORE includes funding to establish these centers in each Gulf state. The research consortium, under the leadership of the University of Southern Mississippi, seeks to provide a greater understanding of Gulf ecosystems and practices to preserve them.
Local leaders and coastal residents will play a key role in the recovery of their communities. This is central to the mission of the RESTORE Act. I am hopeful the information shared during the Senate committee hearing will help facilitate a better future for the Gulf Coast.