Archive for BP Oil Disaster


What is Phase III of the BP Trial?

January 20, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Federal Policy, RESTORE Act

Phase III of the BP Trial started this week. But what does this mean? Why are there “phases”, and when will this trial end? All good questions.

The BP trial underway is a civil (not criminal) litigation between the U.S. Department of Justice and BP and other parties responsible for the 2010 Gulf oil spill. BP and others are being held accountable for violations of the Clean Water Act for spilling millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Because of the RESTORE Act, 80 percent of all fines and penalties resulting from this trial will return to the Gulf Coast for restoration.

Before specifically getting to Phase III, let’s recap the earlier phases. The first two phases of the trial dealt with a) who was at fault for the oil spill and to what extent, and b) how much oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. In dividing up who was at fault for the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the resulting oil spill, Judge Carl Barbier found that BP was 67 percent responsible, Transocean Ltd. (the owner of the rig) was 30 percent responsible and Halliburton (the cement contractor) was 3 percent responsible.oilslick

In September 2014, Judge Barbier ruled that BP was guilty of “gross negligence” for its actions leading to the blowout, saying BP was making “profit-driven decisions” that led to the rig explosion. In his ruling, he reiterated, “these instances of negligence, taken together, evince an extreme deviation from the standard of care and a conscious disregard of known risks.” Being found guilty of gross negligence means BP could have to pay a fine of up to $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled. Most recently, Judge Barbier ruled that the amount of oil that spilled into the Gulf was 3.19 million barrels. Do the math (3.19 million barrels x $4,300 per barrel), and that means BP could face Clean Water Act fines up to $13.7 billion.

So, what is Phase III? Phase III is about how much BP will actually have to pay. Note that the fine amounts are “up to” $13.7 billion – this phase of the trial essentially determines the “up to.” Specifically, there are eight penalty factors set out in the Clean Water Act that help determine liability. These are judgments of mitigating circumstances that could impact the overall dollar figure that BP owes.

Ok, what’s next after this? Phase III is the final scheduled phase of the trial. At some point following this phase of the trial (and it could be months later), Judge Barbier will rule on how much BP must pay. BP continues to fight every decision, and it has already said it will appeal the ruling of gross negligence, so the courtroom battle could continue. However many observers hope that with all three phases complete, BP will be more inclined to agree to a settlement with the Department of Justice.

With billions of dollars at stake, and the timing of this money potentially coming as soon as this spring or, unfortunately, not for years if BP is able to continue appealing legal decisions, the current BP trial is critical to the fate of coastal restoration.

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Final Phase of BP Oil Spill Trial to Begin Next Week

January 15, 2015 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in Birds, BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Media Resources, RESTORE Act, Science, Seafood, Wildlife

Press Statement + Interview Opportunities Available

Contact:
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, evancleve@edf.org
Lauren Bourg, National Audubon Society, 225.776.9838, lbourg@audubon.org

Final Phase of BP Oil Spill Trial to Begin Next Week

BP must be held fully accountable for its role in nation’s largest oil disaster

(New Orleans – January 15, 2015) On Tuesday, January 20, 2015, the third and final phase of the BP oil spill civil trial will begin in New Orleans. This concluding portion of the trial will determine how much BP will be required to pay in Clean Water Act fines for its role in the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.

National and local conservation organizations committed to Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast restoration – Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – issued the following statement in advance of Tuesday’s proceedings:

“Nearly five years after the oil disaster, the people and wildlife of the Gulf Coast still wait for justice. For 87 days, BP dumped more than 200 million gallons of oil into our Gulf, contaminating our marshes and beaches and jeopardizing wildlife ranging from brown pelicans to sperm whales. But the oil giant has yet to take full responsibility. BP has dragged out litigation in the courts, challenging every decision only to have each decision against them confirmed by higher courts.

“Despite claims that it would ‘make it right’ in the Gulf, BP has, for the past five years, waged a public relations war focused on blaming everyone else and denying sound scientific research showing ongoing impacts from the oil disaster. The effects of the oil spill are far from over and may not be fully known for years, or even decades, to come.

“Now the court has the opportunity and responsibility to make it right, to hold BP fully accountable for the damage done to the Gulf and to assign the maximum penalty to BP for its gross negligence. The outcome from this decision must send a clear and powerful signal to every other operator in the Gulf: deep-sea drilling is risky business, and they must protect their employees, our communities and our ecosystems. BP chose not to do that, so they deserve to pay the maximum fines allowed by law.

“Through the RESTORE Act of 2012, Congress paved the way for the Gulf’s recovery by ensuring that 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines BP will pay will be reinvested into Gulf Coast restoration. But that restoration can’t begin until this case is resolved and the legal wrangling ends – and BP remains the principle barrier to much-needed funding going to vital restoration projects.

“Holding BP fully accountable for the 2010 Gulf oil disaster is the fair and right thing to do for the Gulf’s ecosystems and economies. We are hoping, after five long years, that justice is close. The Gulf has waited long enough.”

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Interview Opportunities: Interview opportunities are available with experts in science, policy, wildlife and restoration issues from our national and local conservation organizations.

Mississippi River Delta Restoration Experts:
David Muth, Director for Mississippi River Delta Restoration, National Wildlife Federation
Douglas J. Meffert, D. Env., MBA, Executive Director, National Audubon Society (Audubon Louisiana)
Steve Cochran, Director for Mississippi River Delta Restoration, Environmental Defense Fund

Science:
John A. Lopez, Ph.D., Coastal Scientist, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation
Alisha Renfro, Ph.D., Coastal Scientist, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, National Wildlife Federation
Natalie Peyronnin, Director of Science Policy, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, Environmental Defense Fund

Policy:
Courtney Taylor, Policy Director, Ecosystems Program, Environmental Defense Fund

Background:
Since the BP oil disaster began nearly five years ago, ongoing findings deliver truths omitted by BP’s ads: the oil disaster’s negative effects are increasingly clear, present and far from resolved. Over the past year alone, new research has surfaced:

  • An October 2014 study showed that the Gulf oil disaster left an “oily bathtub ring” the size of Rhode Island on the sea floor.
  • A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) detailed how exposure to BP oil can lead to abnormalities including irregular heartbeats and heart attacks in Atlantic bluefin tuna and amberjack.
  • A NOAA study revealed that dolphins exposed to BP oil had increased health problems, including adrenal problems, severe lung disease and reproductive issues.
  • A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences definitively linked a community of damaged deep water corals near the Macondo well to the BP oil spill.
  • A Louisiana State University researcher found that the BP oil spill is still killing Louisiana coastal insects.
  • Visible tar balls and tar mats continue to surface, including a 40,000-pound tar mat discovered off the coast of a Louisiana barrier island in June 2013, three years after the start of the oil spill.
  • An infographic depicts ongoing impacts of the Gulf oil disaster.
Deepwater Horizon rig explosion

2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion.

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Another piece of the puzzle: New study sheds light on oil’s effects on plant life

January 13, 2015 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Science

By Matt Phillips, National Wildlife Federation

The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster spilled nearly 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Oil coated the shore, covering hundreds of miles of coastline, including some of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. Scientists have spent the years since the spill assessing its continuing impacts on Gulf wildlife and ecosystems. And next Tuesday in New Orleans, Phase III of the BP oil spill trial will start in New Orleans.

In a recent study, “Physiological relationship between oil tolerance and flooding tolerance in marsh plants,” Keri L. Caudle and Brian R. Maricle of Fort Hays State University in Kansas studied how oil affects plant health. Studies have demonstrated that oil can poison plants, and toxic chemicals in oil can prevent photosynthesis – the process by which plants convert sunlight to food. Since all Gulf Coast wildlife, including birds, turtles, dolphins and insects, ultimately rely on plants for food and shelter, the effects of oil on plant life could impact the entire Gulf Coast ecosystem.

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is a flooding-sensitive species.

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is a flooding-sensitive species.

Besides a general toxic effect, relatively little is known about how oil impacts plant health. However, substantial research has assessed how plants deal with flooding. The authors of this study hypothesized that a plant’s response to flooding might be similar to its response to oil. In both situations, plants have a harder time absorbing oxygen from their surroundings. Oxygen is critical to a plant’s survival: Plants breathe similarly to humans at times, absorbing oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. If oil seeps into the soil, it could cover the plant’s roots, preventing them from absorbing oxygen.

The authors wanted to determine if oil harmed plants by preventing oxygen absorption or by poisoning them. To do so, they labeled nine species of plants as either flooding tolerant, moderately flooding tolerant or flooding sensitive. Because flooding prevents plants from absorbing oxygen from soil, flooding tolerance was an appropriate stand-in for oil tolerance. The researchers reasoned that if oil’s effects primarily prevented plants from getting oxygen, plants would have to breathe without taking in oxygen.

Prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata) is a moderately flooding-tolerant species.

Prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata) is a moderately flooding-tolerant species.

Plants are able to breathe without oxygen temporarily and produce a certain chemical compound in their roots when doing so. Therefore, the researchers measured whether this chemical was being produced to determine if the plants were still breathing but forgoing oxygen. If the effects of oil were instead due to toxic effects, then the plants would be less able to photosynthesize because their cells would be poisoned and unable to function properly.

The experimenters observed three important results. They found that flooding-sensitive plant species were breathing without oxygen, suggesting that they were struggling to absorb it from the soil. They also observed that flooding-tolerant species were not having trouble absorbing oxygen, suggesting that their tolerance to flooding afforded them a higher tolerance to oil. Third, they discovered that, regardless of tolerance to flooding, plants exposed to oil were photosynthesizing less than under normal conditions. The researchers determined that the toxic effects of the oil were interrupting the photosynthetic process.

Smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) is a flooding-tolerant plant species.

Smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) is a flooding-tolerant plant species.

The study concluded that oil affected plants most harmfully by preventing oxygen absorption, rather than through its toxic properties. Flooding-tolerant plants were better able to withstand the effects of oil, and continue absorbing oxygen, whereas flooding-sensitive plants had a harder time. They also recognized that across the board, oil proved toxic to plants. Oil tolerance followed flooding tolerance, but the toxic effects of the oil were still present across all species.

Plants are the foundation of the Gulf Coast ecosystem. Discovering the effects of oil on plant health is critical to understanding the full effects of the BP oil spill on Gulf Coast wildlife, as wildlife depend on plants for food and habitat. With this study, we have another piece of the puzzle.

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NEWS RELEASE: Conservation Groups Release Restoration Solutions for Mississippi River Delta

December 9, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in BP Oil Disaster, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Media Resources, Reports, Restoration Projects

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, evancleve@edf.org
Lauren Bourg, National Audubon Society, 225.776.9838, lbourg@audubon.org

Conservation Groups Release Restoration Solutions for Mississippi River Delta
New report recommends a series of science-based restoration efforts to benefit coastal Louisiana

(NEW ORLEANS – December 9, 2014) Today, leading national and local conservation groups released a report outlining 19 priority projects for restoring the Mississippi River Delta following the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.

Restoring the Mississippi River Delta for People and Wildlife: Recommended Projects and Priorities was jointly authored by conservation groups working together on Mississippi River Delta restoration – Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana – and describes a suite of restoration projects that would collectively reverse wetlands loss and help protect New Orleans and other coastal communities from storms. The project recommendations include sediment diversions, freshwater diversions, marsh creation, barrier island reconstruction, ridge restoration, shoreline protection and hydrological modifications. The proposed project solutions can work in tandem to not only build but also sustain new wetlands along Louisiana’s coast.

The report is aimed at informing a series of decisions that will be ultimately made for funds flowing from the Gulf oil disaster, including those to be made by Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (Council). The federal-state Council is tasked with implementing a comprehensive restoration plan to include a list of projects prioritized for their impact on the Gulf ecosystem. The Council recently released a list of projects and programs proposed for funding with oil spill penalty money.

“The Mississippi River Delta was ground zero for the Gulf oil disaster,” said David Muth, National Wildlife Federation’s director of Gulf restoration. “These project recommendations, if selected and implemented efficiently, could begin in earnest the wholesale restoration of one of the most ecologically and economically important areas in the entire country. The health of the Mississippi River Delta is a cornerstone for the health of the entire Gulf Coast. ”

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get this right and start real restoration along the Gulf Coast,” said Doug Meffert, executive director and vice president of Audubon Louisiana. “Our recommendations present a full suite of restoration solutions that work in concert, providing complementary benefits and sustaining one other. We hope the Council will select restoration projects like these, which are scientifically shown to provide the maximum benefit to the entire Gulf ecosystem.”

“By combining different types of projects in the same geographic area – for example, sediment diversions, marsh creation and barrier island restoration – we can build new land quickly and sustain it for the long term,” said Natalie Peyronnin, director of Science Policy for Environmental Defense Fund’s Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program. “This comprehensive approach to restoration is much more effective than using a band-aid approach. We must get restoration right – and get it started now – for the communities, wildlife and economies of the Gulf.”

“The oil spill affected wildlife and ecosystems across the Gulf Coast, and we need to make smart decisions about how to use this money to improve the health of the entire system,” said Muth. “We owe it to future generations to determine where this money can have the greatest impact and to focus our efforts there.”

The oil disaster sent roughly 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana’s coastline received the largest amount of oil and was suffering one of the fastest rates of wetlands loss in the world even prior to the spill. BP and the other companies responsible will ultimately pay billions of dollars in penalties and punitive damages, much of which will be allocated to the Gulf states for restoration.

For a full description of the 19 projects, visit http://www.mississippiriverdelta.org/files/2014/12/Restoring-the-Mississippi-River-Delta-for-People-and-Wildlife.pdf

For a full description of the 19 projects, push here.

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Please contact Emily Guidry Schatzel, schatzele@nwf.org, for a recording of the telepress conference.

The Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition is working to protect people, wildlife and jobs by reconnecting the river with its wetlands. As our region faces the crisis of threatening land loss, we offer science-based solutions through a comprehensive approach to restoration. Composed of conservation, policy, science and outreach experts from Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, we are located in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. A map of the projects and descriptions are available for download at www.mississippiriverdelta.org/map.

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Media Advisory: Conservation Groups Release Restoration Solutions for Mississippi River Delta

December 8, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in BP Oil Disaster, Meetings/Events, Restoration Projects

MEDIA ADVISORY for Tuesday Dec. 9: Telepresser at 10:00 a.m. CT

Conservation Groups Release Restoration Solutions for Mississippi River Delta

New report recommends a series of science-based restoration efforts to benefit coastal Louisiana

The 2010 Gulf oil disaster dumped more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, affecting hundreds of miles of coastline along the five Gulf states, with Louisiana's coast receiving the greatest damage. BP and the other companies responsible will pay billions of dollars in penalties and punitive damages, much of which will be allocated to the Gulf states for restoration.

In a new report, leading national and local conservation groups outline 19 priority projects for restoring the Mississippi River Delta following the 2010 Gulf oil disaster, for the benefit of people, wildlife and the national economy. Speakers on the call will also be able to comment on the recently-released Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council’s list of proposed projects.

WHAT: Restoring the Mississippi River Delta for People and Wildlife: Recommended Projects and Priorities – A report by the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition describes in detail 19 restoration projects aimed at stopping wetlands loss and restoring habitat in the Mississippi River Delta.

SPEAKERS: David Muth, Gulf Program Director, National Wildlife Federation
Natalie Peyronnin, Director of Science Policy, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, Environmental Defense Fund
Dr. Doug Meffert, Vice President and Executive Director, Audubon Louisiana

WHEN: Tuesday, December 9, 2014, 10:00 am CT
1-800-791-2345, code 69498

CONTACTS:

Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, evancleve@edf.org
Lauren Bourg, National Audubon Society, 225.776.9838, lbourg@audubon.org

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The Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition is working to protect people, wildlife and jobs by reconnecting the river with its wetlands. As our region faces the crisis of threatening land loss, we offer science-based solutions through a comprehensive approach to restoration. Composed of conservation, policy, science and outreach experts from Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, we are located in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. See more at www.mississippiriverdelta.org.

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Conservation Groups React to Ruling that BP Grossly Negligent in 2010 Oil Disaster

September 4, 2014 | Posted by Ryan Rastegar in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Latest News, Media Resources

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Elizabeth Skree,
Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, eskree@edf.org
Erin Greeson,
National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, egreeson@audubon.org

Conservation Groups React to Ruling that BP Grossly Negligent

in 2010 Oil Disaster

Today’s ruling a vital step toward holding BP accountable, restoring the Gulf

(September 4, 2014 – New Orleans) National and local organizations working on Mississippi River Delta restoration – Environmental Defense FundNational Wildlife FederationNational Audubon Society and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – released the following statement:

“More than 4 years after the BP oil disaster, today’s ruling brings hope and justice for the people, wildlife and ecosystems of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. For 87 days, the Deepwater Horizon well spewed more than 4.1 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico – because of BP’s egregious conduct. A court of law has confirmed that risky and reckless behavior has consequences. The areas most damaged by the spill cannot wait any longer for restoration to begin. Today’s ruling is a vital step toward holding BP and other parties responsible for the largest oil spill in our nation’s history.”

Protesters gather on the first day of the BP trial in February 2013. Photo credit: Reuters

Protesters gather on the first day of the BP trial in February 2013. Photo credit: Reuters

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Risk and Resilience: Society of Environmental Journalists hosts annual conference this week in New Orleans

| Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in BP Oil Disaster, Community Resiliency, Hurricane Isaac, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, Media Resources, Meetings/Events

By Elizabeth Skree, Communications Manager, Environmental Defense Fund

This week, along the Mississippi River at the Hilton Riverside in New Orleans, hundreds of environmental journalists, reporters and bloggers; journalism students and professors; communications professionals; and NGO and government expert presenters and panelists are gathering for the annual Society of Environmental Journalists Conference. The conference brings together environmental journalists from around the world to learn about emerging environmental issues, meet new sources and experts, learn about new tools and programs, network and socialize.SEJ poster

The theme of this year’s conference is “Risk and Resilience,” and there is no better place to discuss these issues than the Mississippi River Delta. Nine years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and six years after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, it is impressive how much of the region has recovered. But while many areas have been revitalized, there are just as many areas that are still rebuilding. Recent climate reports indicate that coastal cities like New Orleans can expect to see more intense storms in the years to come, amplifying the need for increased storm protection. In 2010, the Gulf oil disaster delivered yet another blow to Louisiana’s coast. Even now, the full effects of the spill are unknown, and oil continues to wash up on shore.

On top of it all, Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, a first line of defense against storms, have been vanishing at a staggering rate: Since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost nearly 1,900 square miles of land. That’s like the state of Delaware disappearing into the ocean. These wetlands help protect cities, communities and infrastructure by lessening the effects of storm surge. But every hour, Louisiana loses another football field of land, putting the region at increased risk.

But there is hope for recovery and the creation of a restored, resilient Mississippi River Delta. Plans are in place to rebuild coastal wetlands, which will in turn help fortify the coast and cities like New Orleans, provide vital habitat for wildlife and migratory birds, create new jobs and protect existing industries and provide a myriad of other ecological and economic benefits to not only Louisiana, but the entire Gulf Coast.

Staff members from the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Campaign will be at this week’s conference serving as tour guides, panelists and exhibitors. They will be available to answer questions about Louisiana’s land loss crisis, the Gulf oil disaster, solutions for restoring the Mississippi River Delta and other environmental issues facing the region. You can find campaign experts on the following field trips and panels:

Thursday field trips:

Louisiana’s Great Lakes, Cypress Swamps and Woodpeckers

  • Alisha Renfro, Staff Scientist, National Wildlife Federation
  • John Lopez, Executive Director and Senior Scientist, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation
  • Melanie Driscoll, Director of Bird Conservation, Gulf Coast/Mississippi Flyway, National Audubon Society

Oyster Reefs and Fisheries in the Aftermath of BP and Katrina

  • David Muth, Director, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, National Wildlife Federation

The Long Road Home: Community Resilience, Adaptations, and Legacies From America’s Biggest Rebuild

  • Amanda Moore, Deputy Director, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, National Wildlife Federation

Friday panels:

 “The Globe: Feeding Eight Billion People in a Warming World”

  • Rebecca Shaw, Associate Vice President of Ecosystems and Senior Lead Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund

“Oceans and Coasts: The BP Spill’s Untold Ecological Toll”

  • Natalie Peyronnin, Director of Science Policy, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, Environmental Defense Fund

The Restore the Mississippi River Delta Campaign will also be cohosting a hospitality reception with The Walton Family Foundation Thursday evening from 5:00-9:00pm. Stop by and meet our campaign’s experts and learn more about our work restoring Louisiana’s coast.

We will also have an exhibit booth Friday and Saturday, stop by and pick up materials, hear about our programs and projects and meet some of our staff.

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Bill to Protect Louisiana’s Coastal Fund Passes House

May 5, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in BP Oil Disaster, Media Resources, State Legislature

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, eskree@edf.org
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, egreeson@audubon.org

Bill to protect Louisiana’s Coastal Fund passes House

Legislation to prevent misuse of Fund moves to Senate 

(May 5, 2014—Baton Rouge, LA) Today, the Louisiana House of Representatives unanimously passed House Bill 490, legislation that will protect the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund from misuse. National and local conservation organizations committed to Mississippi River Delta restoration – Environmental Defense FundNational Wildlife FederationNational Audubon SocietyLake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana – issued the following statement:

“The House took a stand for the coast today by unanimously approving House Bill 490. This bill closes the loophole on misuse of the Coastal Fund as a pass-through account. Authored by Representative Brett Geymann (R-Lake Charles), House Bill 490 protects the integrity of the Coastal Fund by ensuring it is used as the law intended: for coastal protection and restoration uses only.

“Transparent and proper use of the Coastal Fund is essential to our state’s coastal restoration efforts. This is especially true as federal decision-makers are deciding how to direct hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties from the Gulf oil disaster. Money transferred into the Coastal Fund should only be used for coastal purposes – not to balance the state’s budget.

“The people of Louisiana deserve the state’s unanimously-passed commitment to comprehensive coastal restoration. We look to the Senate to make the same choice and swiftly pass House Bill 490.”

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The Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition is working to protect people, wildlife and jobs by reconnecting the river with its wetlands. As our region faces the crisis of threatening land loss, we offer science-based solutions through a comprehensive approach to restoration. Comprised of conservation, policy, science and outreach experts from Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, we are located in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. See more at www.mississippiriverdelta.org.

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Support HB 490: Legislation to protect Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund

April 21, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, BP Oil Disaster, State Legislature

By Cynthia Duet, Director of Governmental Relations, Audubon Louisiana

On May 24, 2013, a curious, if not uncomfortable, rhetorical question was posed in bold red lettering in an article from The Lens by Representative Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles. He asked, “Do you think when we created the Coastal Restoration Fund, it was meant to be used for money-laundering?” 

Our groups believe the answer to be an unqualified “No” and therefore are supporting a bill this legislative session – HB 490, authored by Rep. Geymann – intended to close the loophole on further questionable manipulation of the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund (Coastal Fund).

At issue here is a financing tactic that has been implemented within the last several years as a creative solution to attempt to balance the state’s ailing budget. While the Louisiana Constitution prohibits using one-time money for recurring costs, such as health care and higher education, the administration and some lawmakers believe they can get around that rule by transferring money into, and then out of, the Coastal Fund, which can accept such one-time monies. State officials have repeatedly said that these transfers are allowable under state law.

The uses of the dollars in the Coastal Fund are defined specifically in the Louisiana Constitution, Article VII, Section 10.2(D), which states:

“The money in the fund may be appropriated for purposes consistent with the Coastal Protection Plan developed by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, or its successor.

No appropriation shall be made from the fund inconsistent with the purposes of the plan.”

We believe this language is abundantly clear and that the current machinations of the Coastal Fund erode its integrity and may threaten many millions of future dollars for coastal protection and restoration efforts essential to the state’s true coastal recovery. 

Yet still in 2012, the so-called “fund sweep” bill (Act 597) provided for transfer of more than $21 million of non-recurring revenue from the state general fund to the Coastal Fund, and then the same value was transferred from the Coastal Fund into the state’s general fund and treated as recurring revenues. In 2013, an attempt was made to place more than $87 million of 2011-12 surplus dollars into the Coastal Fund, and then provided for that same value ($87.3 million) in “recurring” revenues to be placed into the state’s general fund (through an amendment to SB 226 that did not ultimately make its way into law). This session, nearly $51 million in non-recurring revenue are slated to be transferred from the Office of Debt Collection, initiatives from the Department of Revenue and other sources, into the Coastal Fund and then taken from that fund to pay for education, elderly affairs and libraries.

The perception of impropriety created by these budget tactics, particularly at this most critical time in the implementation phase of Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, sends the wrong message to federal partners in charge of allocating and tracking dollars from Clean Water Act fines related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and related sources of funding.

Tomorrow, the Louisiana House Committee on Appropriations is scheduled to consider House Bill 490, which would put a stop to the current money manipulations. The bill adds succinct, qualifying language to the aforementioned section of the constitution that would prohibit not only appropriations from the Coastal Fund, but also pass-through transfers. Rep. Geymann’s bill would take effect by next year’s budget process, closing the loophole and disallowing the current finagling of the restoration account. We fully support the passage of this constitutional amendment so that the Coastal Fund can continue to enjoy the protections provided for it by the voters of this state in 2006 – through another constitutional amendment – which passed by an overwhelming majority.

Continued use of the Coastal Fund for accounting manipulation brings negative attention to an otherwise well-run coastal program and risks the state’s opportunity for BP oil spill recovery dollars. We must continue the fight to ensure the Coastal Fund is fully protected and used solely for coastal restoration and protection.

Take Action: Call your Louisiana state representative and tell them to close the loophole on transfers from the Coastal Fund other than those intended by law, by supporting HB 490.

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Gulf Oil Disaster’s Impacts to Wildlife and Habitat Still Unaddressed Four Years Later

April 17, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in BP Oil Disaster, Media Resources

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, egreeson@audubon.org
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, eskree@edf.org

Gulf Oil Disaster’s Impacts to Wildlife and Habitat Still Unaddressed Four Years Later

Leading Conservation Groups Highlight New Findings, Need for Restoration

(New Orleans, LA—April 17, 2014) Four years after the Gulf oil disaster began, killing 11 men and spewing 4.1 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, leading national and local conservation organizations working on Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast restoration – Environmental Defense FundNational Audubon SocietyNational Wildlife FederationCoalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – released the following statement:

“Four years after the worst oil spill in U.S. history, Gulf recovery remains elusive. We must hope for a measure of justice for communities, wildlife and habitats. However, the urgent need for restoration is still unfulfilled.

“Reports from the field and laboratory continue to raise the alarm. New scientific studies show how the oil disaster’s impacts are permeating the food chain – from small microorganisms like zooplankton to large mammals like sperm whales and dolphins. Louisiana wetlands suffocated by BP’s oil have eroded more quickly than those the oil spared. Areas that once provided valuable mangrove habitat for thousands of nesting birds and other animals have shrunk or disappeared. Islands that were thriving rookeries for birds and wildlife are now gray and lifeless. The stark truth of visible damage in areas like Barataria Bay, Louisiana, speaks for itself. This week, BP declared active clean up complete in Louisiana, but volumes of BP oil continue to surface, from miles of oiled coastline to a monster-sized 40,000-pound tar mat.

“While BP denies clear science, the facts present the truth: the Gulf is still hurting, and BP’s to blame. Four years after the largest oil spill in U.S. history, the oil giant has yet to pay a penny of its Clean Water Act fines for polluting the Gulf.

“Restoration of the Mississippi River Delta ecosystem must happen to repair natural resources on which local economies depend. Solutions are ready and within reach. But restoration work cannot begin in earnest until BP is held accountable to the full extent of the law. We urge swift resolution to this crisis. It is past-due and justice demands it.”

Background:

Since the BP oil disaster began four years ago, ongoing findings deliver truths omitted by BP’s ads: the oil disaster’s negative effects are increasingly clear, present and far from resolved. Over the past year alone, new research has surfaced:

  • A new infographic depicts ongoing impacts of the Gulf oil disaster four years later.
  • A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) detailed how exposure to BP oil can lead to abnormalities including irregular heartbeats and heart attacks in Atlantic bluefin tuna and amberjack.
  • A new NOAA study revealed that dolphins exposed to BP oil had increased health problems, including adrenal problems, severe lung disease and reproductive issues.
  • A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences definitively linked a community of damaged deep water corals near the Macondo well to the BP oil spill.
  • A Louisiana State University researcher found that the BP oil spill is still killing Louisiana coastal insects.
  • Visible tar balls and tar mats continue to surface, including a 40,000-pound tar mat discovered off the coast of a Louisiana barrier island in June 2013.

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WHO WE ARE: The Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition is working to protect people, wildlife and jobs by reconnecting the river with its wetlands. As our region faces the crisis of threatening land loss, we offer science-based solutions through a comprehensive approach to restoration. Comprised of conservation, policy, science and outreach experts from Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, we are located in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. See more at www.mississippiriverdelta.org.

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