By Nikki Buskey
Published: Monday, March 28, 2011 at 11:03 a.m.
HOUMA — Women from Terrebonne and Lafourche will travel to Washington Tuesday to ask Congress to use oil-spill money to help rebuild the coast.
They’ll join about 140 women from Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida visiting more than 250 lawmakers as part of the first multi-state Women of the Storm lobbying effort. Founded in January 2006, Women of the Storm began as a non-partisan, non-political alliance of Louisiana women whose families, businesses and lives were affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
They will ask Congress to use 80 percent of the fine money BP must pay in connection with the months -long Deepwater Horizon spill on restoration projects in spill-impacted coastal states.
Locals on the trip include Simone Maloz, Restore or Retreat director, Jennifer Armond, Bayou Industrial Group executive director, Carol LeBlanc, a Bayou Industrial Group member, Arlanda Williams, a Terrebonne Parish Council member, Jane Arnette, South Central Industrial association director and Lori Davis, president of Rig-Chem Inc.
“It’s a tremendous event because of the power of having all of these women gathered together meeting in Washington on one day on one serious issue,” Armond said. “It says a lot about the value of our coast and our coastal resources.”
Each woman is assigned a congressional member to lobby, Maloz said.
“This is a very natural mission for us to undertake, especially because we’re unfortunately very used to having to fight for things,” Maloz said.
BP faces penalties of up $1,100 for each barrel of oil spilled. Based on the estimated 4.9 million barrels released, BP could face civil fines of $5.4 billion to $21.1 billion.
BP, which owned the well and was leasing the rig that exploded April 20, could pay up to $4,300 if found guilty of gross negligence or willful misconduct.
The first $2.7 billion will go into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which is used for spill cleanup costs. Any additional money will go into the general fund, unless Congress acts to create the requested Gulf Coast recovery fund.
“If Gulf Coast recovery funding is postponed, it will cost the country dearly in the future to restore this region’s essential contribution to America’s sustainable food supplies, energy production and other natural resources,” said Anne Milling, Women of the Storm founder. “Restoring the Gulf Coast is not a partisan issue. It is a leadership issue.”
Last year, U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and David Vitter, R-La., and U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, introduced legislation that would require at least 80 percent of BP fine money to be returned to the Gulf Coast. Those bills expired in 2010.
U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, the government’s point person on Gulf Coast restoration, President Barack Obama, and the president’s Oil Spill Commission all recommend a “significant” amount of penalties go directly to coastal-restoration work.
So far this year, Maloz said, only the U.S. House of Representatives has introduced bills aimed at dedicating oil-spill fines.
Having local business representatives involved in this week’s trip is an important indicator of how vital the Gulf’s natural resources are, Armand said.
“That’s what the future of our economy is based on,” Armand said. “As tragic and devastating as the oil spill was on our coast, we hope that the fines that the U.S. government receives will come back to us, not only to restore our coast to pre-spill conditions, but to make us better prepared for future and man-made disasters.”
Staff Writer Nikki Buskey can be reached at 857-2205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.