Three Years After Oil Spill, Lawmakers Learn About $5 Million BP Gave To Governor's Office
Typically, money slated for the state budget is handled by the Legislature.
But yesterday the Texas House Appropriations and Natural Resources Committee found out about $5 million paid to the state of Texas by British Petroleum following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico happened in April 2010, and in September of that same year the governor’s office received $5 million from BP without informing the Legislature of the funds.
Here is state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, speaking with the Mike Morrissey from the governor's office, who is deputy chief of staff and senior advisor:
MARTINEZ FISCHER: "Sort of the way that I understand the separation of powers and how things work, who disperses those public funds? Constitutionally."
MORRISSEY: "Well, the legislature certainly appropriates."
MARTINEZ FISCHER: "I read this agreement and it almost looks like governor is the appropriations committee and BP is the Legislature."
Martinez Fischer said he was shocked to hear lawmakers were first finding out about this money, which was exclusively accessible to the governor’s office.
"Something inspired BP to make that grant very timely in September of 2010," Martinez Fischer told Morrissey. "I imagine it was negotiated prior to that, so maybe they started earlier than that so maybe they started before that. But for you to have $5 million of public money at the sole discretion of the governor and no plan, no process and no real result; I think if this legislature knew about in 2011 we could’ve helped you. We could’ve helped you spend it.”
Morrissey told lawmakers the money was slated to pay back state agencies for ongoing work related the spill. Close to $1 million of the money was paid to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in September 2013, money their representative labeled as a "gift."
“I really don’t recall any testimony from those agencies about these ongoing expenses," said state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo.
The over three year gap in reporting the money has many asking why the Legislature is just now finding out about the unspent funds.
"To me this is a day that I would characterize as virtually having a bomb dropped in our laps and now we need to figure out what a responsible approach is,” Martinez Fischer said.
As far as whether there needs to be an investigation, Martinez-Fischer said he’s not there yet.