By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
On September 6, the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) proposed draft regulations for disbursing funds under the RESTORE Act. Treasury is responsible for developing compliance measures, an auditing process and guidelines for grant distribution under the law. The release of the regulations enables the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to advance some of its work, and the final regulations will outline the process for Gulf Coast states to acquire their RESTORE Act allocations.
Under the RESTORE Act, 80 percent of Clean Water Act civil fines resulting from the 2010 oil spill will be sent back to the Gulf Coast states to use for restoration. The money is divided into three substantial components and two smaller ones: 35 percent equally divided to the five Gulf Coast states, 30 percent for ecosystem restoration overseen by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council and 30 percent divided to the states according to an oil spill impact formula. Of the remaining 5 percent, 2.5 percent is for a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration, Science, Observation, Monitoring and Technology Program, and 2.5 percent will be distributed evenly between the Gulf Coast states for “Centers of Excellence” Research grants.
For the first substantial component, known as the Direct Component, Treasury will grant money directly to the five Gulf Coast states. Per the draft regulations, each state must submit a detailed multi-year plan describing the projects and programs it wants to implement. The RESTORE Act permits nine eligible activities for spending, including restoration and protection of natural resources, coastal flood protection and workforce development. The regulations explain that Treasury’s role for the Direct Component is focused fiscal compliance and not to determine which projects and programs will best restore the Gulf Coast region.
For the second and third components, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council will play a more proactive, involved role in determining which restoration projects and programs will best restore the Gulf Coast region and should subsequently receive funding. The Council oversees 60 percent of the restoration funds, with direct control over 30 percent to implement its Initial Comprehensive Plan, and it plays a coordinating role with the states over the other 30 percent. The Treasury regulations do not provide many additional details on how the Council should advance the Comprehensive Plan, and defers to the Council to develop its own guidelines and rules. Treasury also acknowledges the Council must create and implement its own compliance program to guide the remaining 30 percent with the states under the spill impact formula, which the Treasury regulations will supplement.
There is a 60-day public comment period to respond to the Treasury regulations, which can be submitted online here: http://www.treasury.gov/connect/blog/Pages/Treasury-Issues-Proposed-RESTORE-Act-Regulation,-Opens-60-Day-Comment-Period.aspx.
We are encouraged by the release of the Treasury regulations and now look the Restoration Council to develop a project list.