Senate Interior Appropriations Bill Cites Concerns About Distribution of BP Plea Agreement Funds

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) today said that the Senate FY2016 Interior Appropriations Bill takes steps to ensure that settlement funding from the BP oil spill is used for migratory bird and conservation projects in Gulf Coast States.

Cochran is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which Thursday approved the Interior appropriations bill with a provision addressing how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) distributes $100 million it received as part of the BP Guilty Plea Agreement (Count 13). The funding is just one aspect of the payments being made by BP following the disastrous 2010 explosion of a platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

“These BP settlement dollars are intended to ensure the health and conservation of migratory bird habitats in Gulf Coast states affected by the oil spill. Our bill takes issue with those funds being directed to other areas and increases oversight on how the Fish and Wildlife Service manages those funds,” said Cochran, who also serves on the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee that developed the FY2016 funding measure.

The BP Guilty Plea Agreement provides $100 million to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund for migratory bird habitat and other conservation initiatives in Gulf States affected by the spill. However, more than 70 percent of expenditures approved to date have been spent outside of the Gulf region.

The Senate bill directs the FWS to give priority to conservation projects in Gulf States when distributing funds from the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund that originate from the BP payments. It also requires the FWS to report to the Senate and House appropriations committees its evaluation rating system used to award funding, a summary of selected projects, and an explanation of why other projects were denied.

The committee-approved bill also recommends $8.1 million, $3.6 million above the FY2015 enacted level, to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Gulf of Mexico Program to support restoration work in the Gulf of Mexico, including water quality improvement, habitat conservation, and coastal and marine resources protection.

The bill, the first such spending measure marked up in the Senate since 2009, was approved on a 16-14 vote and is now available for consideration by the full Senate. The measure recommends funding for the U.S. Department of the Interior, EPA, U.S. Forest Service and numerous agencies and programs regarding the management of public lands, including national parks and forests.

To address growing concerns across the country about aggressive EPA regulatory proposals, the Senate legislation would cut EPA funding by $538.8 million compared to the FY2015 enacted level. Rather than funding controversial regulatory programs, the bill increases the budget for EPA’s core mission of on-the-ground environmental cleanup. It would prohibit the EPA from acting on numerous regulatory ventures, including the Waters of the United States regulations and a bid to regulate certain types of ammunition and fishing tackle.