D.C. REALITY, G.C. CALAMITY It was supposed to be a home run. Forecasts had the RESTORE Act sailing through the house and senate unopposed. As of late last month U.S. Congressman Jeff Miller (R-Florida) sounded optimistic about RESTORE—the bill sponsored by Gulf Coast lawmakers that would keep 80 percent of the fines and penalties collected as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf region instead of sending them into a general federal pot.
“We are having meetings on a daily basis now,” Miller said in late January. “—we need to move.”
The Northwest Florida representative said RESTORE wasn’t getting any pushback—“No, none.”—and should be passed as soon as some bookkeeping details were addressed. The bill was apparently still a bipartisan darling.
“We would like to have something passed as quickly as possible,” Miller said.
But Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson sounded more like a realist than an optimist when he returned from an early February trip to the nation’s capital.
“Gawww-lee, Washington is crazy,” Robinson said while waiting to board a plane home in the Atlanta airport. “When you make the easy ones difficult—we’ll see what happens.”
The Escambia commissioner traveled to Washington D.C. as part of a contingent of Gulf Coast officials to lobby for the RESTORE Act’s passage. He compared the experience to a “roller coaster” and said at one point “I felt like a truck had run over me.”
Most of the Gulf Coast officials returned home with dismal reports. Robinson seemed rattled following the venture.
“They’re not telling us it’s impossible,” he said. “But they’re telling us it’s going to be difficult.”
Unlike most issues in Washington, the RESTORE Act seemed to have wide support from members of both parties when Gulf Coast lawmakers unveiled it last fall. There’s still support for the bill, but there’s also opposition from both ends of the political spectrum.
“It’s strange,” Robinson said, chalking up the oppositions’ motives to defending either financial or political turf. “They either want something from it, or, they generally fear that if it passes it will make the other side look good—that’s both sides.”
Dan McFaul, Rep. Miller’s spokesman, said that RESTORE is still on track and that the Gulf Coast contingent had simply been introduced to D.C.’s harsh political landscape.
“Well, there’s not pushback, but that doesn’t mean there’s not obstacles,” McFaul said. “This is not something that’s a new obstacle or a wall. It’s the reality of what we’re facing up here.”
Basically, McFaul explained, the bill is hung up on the math. Lawmakers must account for the expected financial loss incurred as a result of passing RESTORE, an amount currently pegged at about $1.4 billion. Supporters hope to pass the bill before BP possibly reaches a settlement with the federal government and the offset amount is fixed and, most likely, considerably higher.
“Once it becomes a federal situation it becomes almost impossible,” Robinson said.
There has been some talk about tucking the RESTORE Act into other bills that look promising. One such bill being considered for the piggybacking is a transportation bill currently making the rounds—ironically, that bill also includes language that opens up vast amounts of the Outer Continental Shelf and essentially the entire eastern portion of the Gulf of Mexico to oil and natural gas drilling.
McFaul said that Rep. Miller would vote to attach RESTORE to the transportation bill, but could not vote for the bill itself—H.R. 3410—due to the potential for drilling as close as 12 miles from the Florida Panhandle’s shoreline.
“That’s not ideal,” McFaul said, adding that if the legislation was attached to the transportation bill, the eastern Gulf of Mexico would have to be taken off the table for Miller to support the final version.
Lawmakers have said they would like to get RESTORE passed before the second anniversary of the oil spill in April. There have been talks of the federal government reaching a settlement agreement with BP prior to that.
McFaul said he rather not place odds on RESTORE’s chances.
“I wouldn’t want to put odds on it,” he said. “Maybe the congressman will—I seriously doubt he’d put odds on it though, this isn’t Vegas.”
SURF ONE FOR YANCY The local surfing community will gather Feb. 18 to celebrate the life of legendary Pensacola surfer Yancy Spencer, III.
On Valentine’s Day 2011, while enjoying the waves off the California coast, Spencer passed away at the age of 61. He is remembered as an East Coast-surfing pioneer, as well as the owner of the local Innerlight Surf and Skate shops.
Spencer caught his first wave in 1965. Later that same year, he won his first competition on Pensacola Beach.
“A wave tubed over me and I disappeared for the entire length of the ride. But I did not even know I was in the tube; I had closed my eyes,” Spencer wrote about that day in his testimonial. “When I came out of it, everyone on the pier was cheering and screaming—it was like a football game. I looked around to see who was having a good ride and then I realized they were cheering for me.”
To celebrate the one-year anniversary of Spencer’s passing, local surfers will gather at 11 a.m. near ‘The Cross,’ at 850 Ft. Pickens Rd. on Pensacola Beach. Afterwards, there will be chili served up at the Emerald Dolphin—across the street from ‘The Cross’—and a screening of a commemorative movie.