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House approves amendment to pay for Gulf Coast restoration

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday approved an amendment to dedicate 80 percent of the fines collected from the BP oil spill to a trust fund for coastal restoration in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

The amendment passed on voice vote. The entire bill, which is the energy portion of the Surface Transportation Act, was approved 237-187.

The Restore Act has been a top priority of Gulf Coast lawmakers. House members from Gulf states were able to inject the issue into the debate on energy and oil and gas drilling.

"This is a huge first step that brings us much closer to bringing oil spill fines back to the Gulf Coast states," said Rep. Steve Palazzo, R-Miss. "This amendment sets up the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund for the five Gulf Coast states, and sets aside 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines — before BP reaches a settlement."

The fines being set aside could reach $20 billion. The Environmental Protection Agency fines are separate from a $20 billion fund that BP set up to compensate victims of the spill.

The House vote comes as parties that sued BP over the deadly and destructive April 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill prepare for trial Feb. 27.

The language still must pass the Senate. Without the amendment, the fines would be collected as general revenue.

Medicare proposal unveiled in Senate

Two Republican senators unveiled a Medicare rescue plan Thursday that features an accelerated transition to private health insurance for many seniors, a gradual increase in the eligibility age, and higher premiums for middle-class and upper-income retirees. Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Richard Burr of North Carolina say they want to engage fellow policymakers and the public in a "grownup" conversation about the scope of changes needed to preserve Medicare in some form for future generations. "If you don't start fixing Medicare now, you can't save it," Coburn said. The plan is unlikely to advance in Congress during an election year, but it will help define the debate for presidential and congressional candidates.

Associated Press

House approves amendment to pay for Gulf Coast restoration 02/16/12 [Last modified: Thursday, February 16, 2012 10:21pm]

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