WASHINGTON — More than 140 women who'd championed Gulf Coast recovery after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were at it again Tuesday, convening on Capitol Hill to announce that they were supporting legislation that would guarantee the five Gulf Coast states at least 80 percent of BP's fines from last spring's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, an amount that could top $21 billion.
"If Gulf Coast recovery funding is postponed, it will cost the country dearly in the future to restore this region's essential contribution to America's sustainable food supplies, energy production and other natural resources," said Anne Milling, a New Orleans activist who founded the group, Women of the Storm, in 2006.
"We are bound by a common passion," she said at a news conference, surrounded by women from all walks of life who stood under their signature bright blue umbrellas — meant to symbolize the blue tarps that were placed over hurricane-ripped roofs — despite the sunny skies on the upper Senate lawn.
The fines, levied as part of the Clean Water Act, are separate from the $20 billion BP already has dedicated to assist residents affected by the spill in the five Gulf Coast states: Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Florida and Alabama.
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EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson also spoke at the news conference, signaling some level of Obama administration support for directing the money to the Gulf Coast states for restoration, an idea promoted by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in his Gulf restoration plan and by the national oil spill commission in its report.
The legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., will introduce it soon in the Senate.
The women warmly greeted both lawmakers, and presented a petition of more than 130,000 signatures from around the country to show national support for Gulf Coast needs.
The most colorful speaker may have been Gulf Shores, Ala., restaurateur Lucy Buffett — who owns the landmark restaurant LuLu's and is the sister of singer Jimmy Buffett — who began by saying that she wasn't political but "passionate about the Gulf."
"This is Manners 101 for me," she drawled. "You mess up something, you go clean it up."
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