By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
Last week, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council held its first public meeting in Mobile, Ala. to update residents on the progress of implementing the RESTORE Act. The law, which Congress passed in June 2012, dedicates 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the BP oil spill back to the Gulf Coast for restoration. Those fines, expected to reach billions of dollars, will help stabilize and revive troubled ecosystems across the Gulf Coast.
The Council was created by the RESTORE Act to develop a long-term ecosystem restoration plan for the region. This plan is expected to reverse coastal land loss, create new marshland and rebuild fisheries and marine environments across the Gulf Coast. At this week’s meeting, Council members recognized that challenges lie ahead, but they are optimistic they have the resources and expertise necessary to revive the Gulf Coast.
The Restoration Council is a diverse group of federal agency and state representatives who are tasked with developing an ecosystem restoration plan to address the varying needs of complex and diverse environments stretching across five states. To develop a comprehensive and multidisciplinary plan, the Council will rely on the expertise housed in its federal member agencies and state partners, including the Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Coast Guard, Army and Department of Agriculture. The federal agencies will be joined by the governors from each of the five gulf states.
The basis of the restoration plan has already been developed by a similar, and often overlapping in membership, group of federal and state partners known as the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. Following the 2010 BP oil disaster, President Obama commissioned the group to study the environment of the Gulf Coast and submit a holistic restoration strategy. The Task Force produced a Gulf Coast restoration strategy document in December 2011, which identified four key areas of restoration: habits restoration, water quality improvement, marine resources protection and community resiliency enhancement.
In September 2012, the President released an Executive Order which rolled the Task Force’s strategy into the planning process of the comprehensive plan being developed by the RESTORE Act’s Restoration Council. This means we can expect the Restoration Council’s comprehensive restoration plan to look similar to the Task Force’s strategy document.
Of particular importance to the Comprehensive Plan will be incorporating the Task Force’s strategy recommendation to stabilize and reverse land loss along Louisiana’s coast through the use of sediment diversions. Sediment diversions are recommended as a key Mississippi River Delta restoration tool in both the Task Force strategy and Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan.
The Restoration Council plans to meet multiple times over the next few months to update the public on the progress of developing the comprehensive plan, which must be finished by June 2013. The Council will fund the comprehensive plan with 30 percent of the money dedicated to the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund established by the RESTORE Act. That could mean billions of dollars for ecosystem restoration projects and programs identified by the plan. This is welcome news for all those who rely on the Gulf Coast for recreation, seafood, energy and their livelihoods.