The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on watching over Restore Act money:
Despite the dire state of Louisiana's coast, some legislators last spring made an attempt to co-opt Deepwater Horizon oil spill fines for other items in the state budget. They didn't prevail. But the Legislature also refused to give the restoration money constitutional protection and left itself the power to raid it in the future.
As lawmakers prepare for this year's session, conservation groups are worried that there may be another effort to divert money away from the coast. With the state working with a tight budget, they are wise to be vigilant. The oil spill fines simply must be spent on coastal restoration, and Gov. Bobby Jindal and legislative leaders need to ensure that they are.
The loss of Louisiana's coastal wetlands is at a crisis level, and lawmakers ought to understand that. The fine money from BP is the state's best chance to jumpstart its $50 billion, 50-year master plan for coastal reconstruction. And it was a victory last summer when Congress agreed to commit 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the BP spill to Gulf Coast states under the Restore Act.
As Louisiana's congressional delegation worked to get the act passed, state legislators were flirting with ways to grab the money for other purposes. U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise intervened, urging lawmakers to abandon those efforts. They did — but only for the moment.
Chris Macaluso, coastal outreach coordinator for the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, warned recently that Louisianians shouldn't relax. "We saw last year attempts to redirect that money. We were able to thwart those efforts," he said. "We're going to have to be tremendously vigilant this legislative session so the Restore money goes where it's supposed to go." ...
Much of the money will be out of the reach of Louisiana lawmakers, fortunately. ...
Scalise put it well last year: "Just as we've made it clear to our colleagues in Congress that the BP fines should not be used for unrelated spending in Washington, the Legislature needs to make it clear that Restore Act funds will not be used for unrelated spending in Baton Rouge." ...
Everyone with power over the Restore Act money — the restoration council, the Jindal administration, the Legislature — must make sure that it is used to repair the coast. And Louisianians should insist that they do.