By Derek Brockbank, Environmental Defense Fund/National Audubon Society/National Wildlife Federation
On Friday May 6, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force held a public meeting in Mobile, Al. President Obama assigned the task force to come up with a strategy for restoring the Gulf to make it better than it was to before the BP oil spill. It was the third public meeting in the Gulf for the task force, which previously had been held in Pensacola, Fl. and New Orleans, La. (two upcoming meetings will be in Texas and Mississippi).
The meeting began with Alabama Governor Bentley thanking the Obama administration for its support in responding to the recent devastation from the tornados, and recognition that Alabama has been through a lot in the past year, starting with the BP oil spill. He was very complementary of the work the states and federal agencies had done to secure $1 billion from BP as a down payment toward the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA). He emphasized the states needed to work together to secure the common goal of restoring the Gulf.
EPA administrator and Task Force Chair Lisa Jackson presided over the meeting and listened to a panel presentation on the four newly-announced areas that the task force will cover in their forthcoming strategy document. These areas include Community Resilience, Habitat Restoration, Ocean and Marine Conservation and Water Quality. She also announced the creation of a citizens advisory council to participate in the formation of the restoration strategy. Many local and national conservation groups had been asking for such an advisory council to ensure that local public input could not be ignored.
The task force will issue their final strategy paper by October 2011, but will likely release a draft sometime this summer. For the document to do more than join the long list of unfulfilled plans and pipedream goals, it must include specific actions with near-term deadlines and agencies assigned to the outcomes under existing authority. You can submit comments to the task force here.