By Whit Remer, Environmental Defense Fund
Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to tell loved ones how much they are cherished. For residents of the Gulf Coast, Feb. 14 is the last day to tell the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) trustees how much meaningful restoration in the Gulf means to you.
On Dec. 14, 2011, the trustees released a Draft Phase I Early Restoration Plan/Environmental Assessment that proposes two restoration projects in Louisiana. The public comment period opened Dec. 14 and continues for 60 days, closing Feb. 14, 2012.
The opportunity for public comment is an important part of any government activity that affects citizens near a project. Under the Oil Pollution Act, trustees must provide at least 30 days for public input and must adequately consider all comments. While commenting is not limited to Gulf Coast residents, they certainly have a lot at stake. The Louisiana projects selected by the trustees include seeding 800 acres of public oyster grounds and revitalizing 104 new acres of marsh in St. Bernard Parish. Commenting on these projects is important for a variety of reasons, from improving the individual proposals to increasing the accountability and transparency of the process. It also helps inform the trustees about whether they are meeting restoration goals in the eyes of the public — after all, it’s the fishermen, bird watchers and oyster lovers who will be the ones reporting firsthand about how recovery is progressing.
Commenting on the projects does not require any special tools or expertise, and anyone can comment either online or by mail. The comments can be as simple as letting the trustees know they are doing a good job, or contain more critical comments regarding project selection and prioritization. Our coalition, for example, developed Core Principles and Selection Criteria that we believe the trustees should consider when selecting projects. Feel free to review these Principles and Criteria here.
There are other organizations also working in the Gulf to support citizens’ participation in these processes and ability to write meaningful and productive comments. For example, the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) has developed a series of programs designed specifically to support community and stakeholder engagement in Gulf restoration and recovery.
In fall 2010, ELI began working with local partners to develop and host a series of workshops in the Gulf to help community members engage in the NRDA process. To supplement the workshops, ELI created fact sheets (available in English, Vietnamese and Spanish) that describe the efforts to address economic and natural resource damages. ELI is expanding this work in 2012 with new workshops and fact sheets that clarify the relationships between the various ongoing processes, as well as other materials about how things may develop. You can access ELI’s resources on Gulf restoration here.
While the trustees may enjoy chocolate and candy hearts, save those for your loved ones!