Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS -- A key piece of legislation relating to the BP oil spill is one step closer to passage in the Senate.
On Wednesday, a Senate committee approved S. 1400 -- the RESTORE Act, which dedicates 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines from the oil spill and puts the money towards coastal restoration.
"It is an important commitment to the people of the Gulf Coast region to address the devastating impacts of the BP oil spill and to restore the natural resources that coastal communities depend on," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairperson of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Five Gulf states will benefit from the bill, including Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. After the committee vote, Louisiana's two senators applauded the passage of the bipartisan measure.
"That's where the damage happened. That's where the restoration has to occur," said Sen. David Vitter, R-La.
"There is some urgency about getting this bill passed in the next few months," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.
Without the bill's passage in both chambers of Congress, anywhere from $5 to $20 billion would end up in the federal treasury, with no guarantee it would be used along the Gulf Coast.
The RESTORE Act would guarantee the money would go to the Gulf Coast states, and after much negotiation, it lays out exactly how the money would be divided.
Out of the 80 percent collected and dedicated to the Gulf Coast, 35 percent would be divided equally among the five Gulf states. Another 5 percent of the money would go towards fisheries and science programs. The rest of the money would go towards the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which is a task force that will assign money to individual restoration projects across the Gulf coast.
"The disruption to migratory bird patterns, and the degradation of the marshes-- all of those pictures, I think, brought people to a common focus of 'Let's fix this.' And we can," Landrieu said.
The bill now heads to the full Senate for a vote. It will still need to pass the House before it can make its way to the president for his signature.