Spend wisely every penny of settlement money for BP oil spill

Published 1:00 pm Saturday, November 23, 2013

Over the next five years, the state of Mississippi will receive its portion of the financial settlement of criminal charges against BP and Transocean for the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The $356 million is a significant amount, and its wise outlay can do much to restore the damage done to the Gulf and our most precious natural resources.

Funding for three projects was announced in Moss Point last week by Trudy Fisher, the head of Mississippi’s Department of Environmental Quality. The three were said to be designed to remedy harm done by the spill. Their combined cost is $7.5 million.

“We’re really trying to get this right,” Fisher said, a notion that we applaud, and that the people of our state expect.

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As we have seen in the past, the spending of big sums doesn’t always meet the standard of transparency the public would like to see.

Getting “this right” should mean that MDEQ, which will play a leading role in distributing the BP funds, regularly report on how every penny is spent. To our mind, this is job one. This would include a complete listing of who receives the money.

We have no doubt that the public relations roll-out of each round of spending will be robust. We would hope for less shock and awe on the PR front, less limelight focused on political leaders, and more of what Sgt. Joe Friday used to describe as “just the facts.”

We also would like to see a minimum of these funds directed to “consultants” and studies and the like, and more to what the real needs are for the restoration of the Coast and the Gulf.

Finally, we urge there be at least annual audits of the spending of these funds by an independent auditing firm.

Getting this right is imperative for Mississippi. Let’s start by taking politics out of the process and have a full, open and ongoing accounting of how our share of the fund is spent.