Restoring the RESTORE Act’s conservative principles

The 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill was the largest offshore oil spill in American history. For 87 days, the Macondo prospect gushed oil into the Gulf of Mexico before engineers were able to successfully seal the well. The effects of the spill on the Gulf region’s economy and environment were significant and continue to be felt today.

In 2012, two years after the spill, Congress passed and the president signed the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act), which sets aside 80 percent of the civil and administrative fines paid pursuant to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, as the spill is commonly called. The primary purpose of the RESTORE Act is to channel these fines to mitigation of the impact of the oil spill and increased resilience across the Gulf Coast to future disasters.

While the RESTORE Act is in many ways imperfect, it does reflect a number of important conservative principles. These include privileging local decision-making over federal regulation, maintaining a direct nexus between the actors liable for the disaster and the people and firms adversely impacted, and a commitment to reducing future taxpayer exposure to risk.

Regardless of the specific strengths or weaknesses of the RESTORE Act, the key to ensuring that it ultimately represents a victory for limited, responsible government is careful oversight during implementation. For this reason, it is imperative that the states and intergovernmental bodies with responsibility for implementing the act maintain a laser focus on the act’s original intent and that it not be misused to pursue unrelated goals or policy agendas.

While America’s attention has largely moved away from the Gulf Coast, the effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill are far from over; in October 2013, a 4,100 pound tar mat—a chunk of spilled oil and sand—was found in Louisiana. The Gulf Coast will feel the effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill for some time yet, but appropriate use of RESTORE Act funds can mitigate these effects and build environmental resiliency in ways that benefit the economy and taxpayers.

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