Special Session Scheduled, New Questions on BP Settlement
Governor Bentley has unexpectedly called lawmakers back to Montgomery to begin a special session on Monday that will focus on the state’s budget for fiscal year 2016. While the special session has been in the works since the legislature adjourned in June, it was the legislators’ understanding that they would not be returning until August. An email from Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) to his fellow legislators makes it clear that they intended to arrive on Monday and immediately adjourn until August 3.
Part of the budget discussion will involve a settlement between BP and the state of Alabama. Last week, the Gulf States announced an “agreement in principle” with BP that would settle all federal and state claims agains the company related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill for a total of $18.7 billion. While some of the particulars of this settlement are still confidential until the court has officially approved it, questions have emerged about how much money is actually coming to the Gulf Coast and how it will be spent.
The Environmental Law Institute has built a graphic to explain how the money will flow from BP to the Gulf States and the federal funding mechanisms:
In their press conference on July 2, Governor Bentley and State Attorney General Luther Strange announced that Alabama would be dividing its settlement between the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council (AGCRC) and the state’s General Fund. Bentley said that $1 billion will be paid to the General Fund over the course of 18 years, while the AGCRC will receive $1.3 billion to focus on coastal restoration.
In the wake of the settlement announcement, U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) raised questions about the actual amount of money that the AGCRC will get. Rep. Byrne’s office calculated that a portion of the $1.3 billion allocated to the AGCRC has actually already been paid out or earmarked, reducing the settlement amount set aside for coastal restoration to $308 million. The governor’s office has said that until the court has approved the settlement, Byrne’s questions cannot be addressed.
Despite the uncertainties related to this settlement, Conservation Alabama and our partners on the coast remain committed to making sure this influx of funds is spent on projects that have a long-term impact on the health and resilience of our coastal environment and the communities it supports.