WASHINGTON — As legislation directing BP oil spill fines to coastal restoration winds through Congress, advocates are trying to highlight the thing that gets lawmakers' attention these days: jobs.
A report released Monday estimates that at least 140 businesses in 37 states would benefit. The study by Duke University researchers said those businesses include 400 employee locations, including nearly 60 in Florida.
Restoring the Gulf Coast: New Markets for Established Firms was completed for the Environmental Defense Fund.
It comes as Congress is taking up legislation to direct 80 percent of fines levied as punishment for the 2010 BP oil spill to restoration projects. The Clean Water Act penalties could reach as much as $20 billion.
But the legislation has been slow moving. The House version will get a hearing Wednesday in the transportation committee overseen by Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park. Mica has been unsure about its prospects, and the legislation faces other stops.
Senate backers, including Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, are trying to find a way around federal accounting procedures that require an offset for the funds. One possibility is the per-barrel fee that oil producers pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, Nelson's office said.
Another hurdle: Some members of Congress contend the oil spill did not cause real damage to the gulf and say any fines should go toward deficit reduction.
Advocates hope the jobs argument will provide momentum for the legislation, known as the RESTORE Act.
"The opportunity posed by coastal restoration is to grow an important segment of the marine construction industry at a time when its traditional markets are declining or undependable," the study reads.
"Restoring wetlands can provide an alternative for well-established firms, including many small businesses, to save and create jobs by diversifying into an activity that protects the environment, benefits other industries and represents a critical investment in the future."
The economic downturn has led to federal, state and local budget cuts that have sharply decreased funding for routine environmental projects, such as beach restoration.
"The funds are just not there," said Jim Marino, president of Jacksonville-based Taylor Engineering, which does beach restoration and other work. He said his firm once employed 90 people and is now down to 60.
"The coast," he said, "is part of the nation's infrastructure."