NEW ORLEANS—Long before the BP oil spill, marshes and barrier islands throughout the Gulf Coast were losing ground. Since the 1930s, hurricanes and developers chipped away at this region, leaving many areas vulnerable and defenseless.
"Using the resources of the Mississippi River, we can rebuild these wetlands, but we have to actually set out to do it," said Paul Harrison, senior director with the Environmental Defense Fund.
But that may prove more challenging that previously thought especially in the wake of the worst environmental disaster in history. Billions of dollars in penalties BP is expected to pay out may not go toward helping the Gulf Coast recover. Instead, it's likely to end up in the federal government's bank account.
"It may be that the federal government is the only entity that scores a massive windfall off the BP disaster," said Harrison.
The money would be used to pay for future environmental disasters. But it would leave environmentalists, elected officials and others along the Gulf Coast with little money to fund the restoration. But Louisiana's congressional delegation is saying not so fast.
"That money that comes in the billions of dollars ought to stay along the Gulf Coast so that we can clean up the up the damage because we are the ones that are still left with the damaged marshlands right here," said Rep. Steve Scalise ( R ), 1st District.
"Women of the Storm," a grassroots organization is supporting the measure. They just returned from Washington, D.C., where they met with political leaders.
"The response was overwhelmingly positive," said Anne Milling, founder of WOTS.
"We've got an opportunity right now where we have to act, but we can't act unless all of our delegations from the five states come together."
Scalise says is working to form a bipartisan coalition with other Gulf Coast representatives before he brings his bill to the floor. Senators David Vitter and Mary Landrieu have already written similar legislation.