Archive for BP Oil Disaster


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

April 17, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree 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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Infographic: Four years after the BP oil spill, the Gulf is still hurting

| Posted by Ryan Rastegar in BP Oil Disaster

This Sunday, April 20, 2014, marks the 4-year anniversary of the BP oil spill. Four years after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded releasing 4.1 million barrels of oil into the Gulf and killing 11 workers, new research continues to show that the effects of the spill are more far reaching than most had ever imagined. As BP continues to run misleading ads suggesting the Gulf is fine, and as they continue to argue the extent of their liability in court, the Gulf continues to wait for full restoration. #4yearslater BP must be held fully accountable for their actions in one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S history.EDF_BPtimelineinfographic_FINALv3

#4yearslater infographic

4 years after one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history, the Gulf is still hurting from the BP oil spill. New research has made it clear that the full impacts of the spill may not be realized for years or even decades to come.

EDF_BPtimelineinfographic_FINALv3

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Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative examines oil spill’s effects on environmental and public health

February 26, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Birds, BP Oil Disaster, Meetings/Events, Science

By Estelle Robichaux, Environmental Defense Fund

GRI_WebsiteBanner_r1_c1The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) hosted its 2014 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference January 26-29 in Mobile, Ala. GoMRI was created soon after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster when BP committed $500 million over 10 years to fund a broad, independent research program with the purpose of studying the environmental and public health impacts of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The conference drew several hundred attendees from academia, state and federal agencies and non-governmental organizations who gathered to hear presentations on cutting-edge research about the impacts of the Gulf oil disaster and continuing socio-ecological recovery. This conference, the second of its kind, facilitates interdisciplinary discussion by giving GoMRI-funded researchers from many different fields an opportunity to come together.

The four-day event entailed around 150 oral presentations in 10 different sessions, more than 400 poster presentations and nearly a dozen other associated meetings, events and plenary sessions. Some of the conference sessions were very technical, including transportation of oil spill residues (i.e., tar balls and tar mats) and dispersants, and impacts of the oil spill on fisheries, coastal marshes and nearshore water ecosystems. Other sessions were technological, focusing on ecosystem monitoring and data management, while others examined the human side, looking at public health and socio-economic issues.

Some of the research coming out of the Coastal Waters Consortium is particularly interesting because it goes beyond the physical and chemical impacts of the spill, focusing on broader ecological issues such as coastal processes and food webs. Dr. Sabrina Taylor is the principle investigator looking at the post-spill reproductive success, survival and dispersal of the Seaside sparrow, a bird that lives its entire life on salt marsh and is very sensitive to environmental changing, making it an excellent “indicator species.”

CWC_SabrinaTaylor_SeasideSparrowRelease

Dr. Sabrina Taylor releases a Seaside Sparrow in its Louisiana marsh home after collecting information about its condition. (Photo credit: Phil Stouffer)

Dr. Christy Bergeron Burns presented preliminary results showing less species abundance and less reproductive productivity for the Seaside sparrow in oiled versus unoiled areas of Barataria Bay, La. While the trend in abundance was less pronounced in 2013 than it was in 2012, the trends in reproductive indicators (number of nests, failed nests and fledglings) remained consistent. With more data to collect in 2014, this study has not yet reached any final conclusions. But these preliminary results are prompting questions that are shaping the ongoing research to determine the factors that are causing these trends: Has exposure to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons or PAHs – compounds found in crude oil – directly impacted the bird’s reproductive success and habitat selection? Is PAH exposure, or environmental stress in general, affecting hormone levels in this species? Or has the primary food source of the birds – insects – been impacted by the spill somehow, indirectly affecting reproductive success and habitat selection of the Seaside sparrow?

After scientifically assessing the correlation of ecological changes to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, researchers will dig deeper to understand what has actually caused these changes. Continued collection and analysis of data will give the scientific community a clearer, evidence-based picture of how the oil spill affected specific components of the Gulf ecosystem. But the Gulf Coast region will not get the most benefit from this extensive research until scientists have started to develop a more comprehensive, ecosystem-wide understanding of how the oil spill has impacted the Gulf of Mexico.

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Conservation Organizations Respond to Senator Mary Landrieu’s Confirmation as Chairwoman of Energy and Natural Resources Committee

February 11, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Media Resources, RESTORE Act, Senator Mary Landrieu

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACTS: 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

Conservation Organizations Respond to Senator Mary Landrieu’s Confirmation as Chairwoman of Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Landrieu a champion for Louisiana coastal restoration, Gulf oil spill recovery

(Washington, DC—February 11, 2014) Today, the U.S. Senate Democratic Caucus confirmed Senator Mary Landrieu as chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. 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:

“We are pleased to welcome Senator Mary Landrieu as the new chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Senator Landrieu has proven herself to be a champion for restoration of the Mississippi River Delta, as well as an effective legislator, notably demonstrated by her leadership in crafting and passing the bipartisan RESTORE Act which benefits the entire Gulf Coast. The law ensures that Clean Water Act fines from the 2010 BP Gulf oil disaster go back to the Gulf Coast states for restoration. This historic legislation would not have become law without Senator Landrieu’s tireless leadership and her ability to work across the aisle. In her new capacity as committee chairwoman, we look forward to a continued partnership to advance both funding and implementation of Mississippi River Delta restoration.”

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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 Houma, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. See more at www.mississippiriverdelta.org.

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A Tale of Two Meetings

January 15, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, BP Oil Disaster, Meetings/Events, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA)

By Philip Russo, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign

It is hard to say no to a good two-for-one deal. At least, that’s what Louisiana’s Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority (CPRA) had in mind when they planned this week’s public meetings in South Louisiana.

At meetings in Belle Chasse (yesterday), Thibodaux (tonight) and Lake Charles (tomorrow evening), CPRA is unveiling and accepting public comments on their Draft Fiscal Year 2015 Annual Plan as well as the Gulf oil spill Draft Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) and Phase III Early Restoration Plan.

Annual-Plan-Download

To kick off the tour, more than 100 people attended the Belle Chasse meeting last evening. CPRA’s Deputy Executive Director, Kyle Graham, began the two-hour joint meeting by presenting Louisiana’s Draft FY2015 Annual Plan. Graham described the implementation of the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan as a “50-year program, at least.” He qualified this by saying that “We live in an engineered landscape, and it’s going to be much longer than that. We know that this is a program that needs to go on for as long as we choose to live in this engineered landscape.” He outlined the multi-layered suite of restoration projects the CPRA is designing, engineering and constructing and emphasized that “we are in the middle of the largest restoration construction boom in the state’s history.” He also pointed out that the suite of coastal restoration projects will soon include sediment diversions.

Sediment diversions were a popular topic of discussion during the Draft FY15 Annual Plan public comment period. Some attendees expressed their view that diversions will bring more harm than good for fish and oyster habitats. Conversely, John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation expressed that without the full suite of coastal restoration projects, which includes sediment diversions, “all of our livelihoods down here in South Louisiana are potentially at stake; it’s not one particular sector.”

The close of the Annual Plan public comment session transitioned right into the NRDA PEIS and Phase III Early Restoration Plan portion of the meeting. Residents were updated about various projects being funded by the $1 billion made available by BP for early NRDA restoration. Though all funds stemming from the BP oil disaster are to be split between the five Gulf Coast states, they can only be used for projects that are designed to restore or enhance recreational and ecological activity along the Gulf. In Louisiana, the main four projects featured in the presentation were barrier island restoration projects in the Caillou Lake Headlands, Chenier Ronquille, Shell Island and North Breton Island.

Though some public comments were made following the NRDA section, it lacked the intensity of the first round. Regardless, the back-to-back meeting was a great opportunity for local residents, politicians and advocates alike to participate in Louisiana’s coastal planning process.

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Draft FY2015 Annual Plan, Oil Spill NRDA Public Meetings

January 10, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, BP Oil Disaster, Meetings/Events, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), NOAA

By Maura Wood, Partnership Manager, National Wildlife Federation

With everyone’s help, we are making great strides toward restoring Louisiana’s coast. Our efforts to attain the resources necessary to meet this great challenge are gaining momentum and projects are moving forward. Next week on January 14, 15, and 16, Louisianans will be able to learn about and comment on the progress being made on coastal restoration at three multi-purpose public hearings being held by Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA).

The first section of each meeting will be an opportunity to hear a summary presentation of the CPRA’s Draft Fiscal Year 2015 Annual Plan and make comments on the plan. Each year, the Annual Plan details how the 2012 Coastal Master Plan is being implemented, reports on the status of ongoing work and projects and provides a 3-year projection of expenditures, as required by law. The Annual Plan provides a window into how the CPRA is allocating its resources in the short term, within the context of the long-term, big-picture vision of the overall Coastal Master Plan.

Beach habitat would be restored as part of the proposed third phase of early restoration.

Beach habitat would be restored as part of the proposed third phase of early restoration.

The second half of the meeting will widen the focus to include Gulf-wide coastal restoration plans and projects. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees will give a presentation on and listen to public comments regarding the Draft Programmatic and Phase III Early Restoration Plan and Draft Early Restoration Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. This meeting is an opportunity for the public to comment on the third and final set of projects proposed to address oil spill impacts under the Early Restoration Plan as well as the Environmental Impact Statement that assesses the projects themselves.

All meetings are public and will begin with an open house at 5:30 p.m., followed by presentations beginning at 6:00 p.m. Please consider joining us at one of the following meetings. If you’re interested in attending, please contact our field director, Stephanie Powell, at powells@nwf.org.

Tuesday, January 14
Belle Chasse Auditorium
8398 Louisiana 23
Belle Chasse, Louisiana
(Get Directions)

Wednesday, January 15
Warren J. Harang, Jr. Municipal Auditorium
Plantation Room
310 North Canal Boulevard
Thibodaux, Louisiana
(Get Directions)

Thursday, January 16
Spring Hill Suites Lake Charles
Pelican Room
1551 West Prien Lake Road
Lake Charles, Louisiana
(Get Directions)

For more information:

Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority: coastal.la.gov

Phase III of Early Restoration: www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov/restoration/early-restoration/phase-iii/

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New Evidence of BP Oil Spill Effects Revealed Today

December 18, 2013 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in BP Oil Disaster, Media Resources

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACTS: 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 

New Evidence of BP Oil Spill Effects Revealed Today

Millions of Pounds of Oily Material Cleaned Up in Recent Weeks, New Study Links Oil to Dolphin Deaths

(New Orleans, LA—December 18, 2013) Today, two new developments linked BP oil from the 2010 Gulf oil disaster to ongoing wildlife, habitat and economic impacts in Louisiana. First, a new peer-reviewed scientific study by a team of government, academic and non-governmental researchers was released linking BP oil from the 2010 Gulf oil disaster to dolphin deaths and illness in Barataria Bay, La., an area that saw heavy oiling during the disaster. Additionally, reports surfaced today that some 1.5 million pounds of “oily material” have been recovered from the coast of Lafourche Parish in the past few weeks.

The dolphin study said that the health effects seen in the Barataria Bay dolphins are not only significant but also will likely lead to reduced survival and ability to reproduce.

The area from which the tar mats were collected spans between Elmer’s Island—home to many species of birds, fish and other species—and Port Fourchon, La., a major economic driver for the Gulf. National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation released the following joint statement today in response to this news:

“Today’s tragic news of sustained oil-linked dolphin deaths and illness underscores the true state of the Gulf. Additionally, more tar mats full of BP oil have surfaced recently in Louisiana, as they have been doing consistently since the Gulf oil disaster began in April 2010.  

“BP saturates media markets with its pricy ads, but it can’t hide these truths. Instead of continuing the PR onslaught, BP should accept responsibility for all of the harmful impacts it has caused the Gulf’s ecosystems and economies, including long-term impacts that remain unknown. BP should pay up.

“New evidence like this report on Louisiana dolphins and the ongoing discovery of millions of pounds of tar mats in Louisiana are a smoking gun showing that BP’s ads implying that clean-up is over and the Gulf is better than ever are simply not true. The Gulf is still waiting for the realization of restoration that it deserves. The Gulf is still waiting for BP to accept accountability and to make things right.”

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Deepwater Horizon Trustees release environmental plans for $627 million in restoration projects

| Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), Restoration Projects

By Whit Remer and Estelle Robichaux, Environmental Defense Fund

On December 6, the U.S. Department of Interior, on behalf of the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage (NRDA) Trustees, released a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for approximately $627 million of early restoration projects across the Gulf Coast. While the projects were initially proposed in May, over the past six months, the Trustees have been preparing a PEIS to evaluate the broad impacts of the projects. The PEIS includes $318 million for barrier island restoration projects and $22 million for marine fisheries research and science in Louisiana.

A NOAA veterinarian prepares to clean an oiled Kemp's Ridley turtle. As part of the NRDA process, NOAA assesses injuries to marine life.

A NOAA veterinarian prepares to clean an oiled Kemp's Ridley turtle. As part of the NRDA process, NOAA assesses injuries to marine life.

The Natural Resource Damage Assessment is the scientific and legal process to assess and quantify injuries to natural resources and services following oil spills. Trustees from the five Gulf states and four federal agencies are conducting the process for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. While the full NRDA for the spill is ongoing, the Trustees and BP reached an agreement in April 2011 to begin an early restoration program to restore resources and services immediately and acutely harmed by the oil spill.

The early restoration process is guided by a contract signed by the Trustees and BP known as the Early Framework Agreement, whereby BP committed to provide up to $1 billion in early restoration funds. Two phases of funding were announced prior to the latest $627 million announcement. In Phase I, Louisiana received funds for the Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation Project and for oyster hatcheries in Plaquemines and Terrebonne Parishes.  Phase II contained $9 million in sea turtle and bird habitat restoration projects in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

Phase III contains the largest and most diverse suite of projects across the Gulf. In Louisiana, four barrier islands will be restored through $318 million in funds proposed under the Louisiana Outer Coast Restoration project set.” Once the PEIS is complete for Phase III, the Trustees will begin work to restore beach, dune and back barrier marsh on Caillou Lake Headlands (also known as Whiskey Island), Chenier Ronquille, Shell Island (West Lobes and portions of East Lobe) and the North Breton Island. These islands provide important habitat for brown pelicans, terns, skimmers and gulls. Barrier islands also have the potential to buffer storm surge and wave action and thus serve as a first line of defense for coastal communities and infrastructure.

An oiled shoreline in Barataria Bay, Louisiana.

An oiled shoreline in Barataria Bay, Louisiana.

Restoring these islands will require an enormous amount of sediment. Almost 7,500 tons of sand, silt and clay will be pumped from various locations offshore or in the Mississippi River to provide the material for these restoration projects. In all, these projects will restore nearly 2,500 acres of barrier island habitat. Before sediment pumping can begin, containment dikes need to be constructed. Containment dikes give new sediment time to settle and compact, allowing sediment-stabilizing vegetation to grow. These structures are very important because they lessen the impact of ocean currents and waves that lead to the erosion of these newly established island sediments. The containment dikes will generally degrade over time as the island becomes more stable and more vegetation grows.

After the islands have been restored, sand fencing will be installed, to help trap and retain wind-blown sediments and help foster the development of sand dunes, and native vegetation will be planted. Sand dunes are important to the long-term maintenance of barrier islands because they serve as a reservoir of sand from which a beach can replenish itself after a storm. Dunes can also lessen wave energy by breaking waves before they reach shore and, along with “back-barrier marsh,” (the salt marsh on the backside of a barrier island) have the potential to buffer storm surge by absorbing and retaining water.

These barrier island restoration projects were selected for NRDA early restoration because many of them were the first landmasses to be oiled by the Deepwater Horizon spill. But it is important to have these projects constructed quickly, so that Louisiana’s communities can have their first line of defense intact.

To make sure this happens, we encourage you to urge the NRDA Trustee Council by February 4, 2014, either in writing online or at one of the public meetings, to advance these critical Louisiana restoration projects as expeditiously as possible.

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Deepwater Horizon Trustees Release Draft Early Restoration Plan

December 6, 2013 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in BP Oil Disaster, Media Resources, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACTS: 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

Deepwater Horizon Trustees Release Draft Early Restoration Plan

 Natural Resource Damage Assessment Process Moves Forward

(New Orleans, LA—December 6, 2013) Today, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees have released their draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) and their draft Restoration Plan for Phase III of early NRDA restoration projects. These projects, which were first announced April 30, will be funded through the $1 billion early NRDA funds that BP agreed to invest in restoration of damaged natural resources resulting from the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.

Leading national and local conservation organizations working 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 — released the following statement in response:

“More than three years after the largest oil spill in our nation’s history, today’s announcement is a positive step toward healing the battered Gulf. The Natural Resource Damage Assessment process moving forward through release of the PEIS signifies progress toward restoration. We encourage the NRDA trustees, BP and stakeholders to continue working together to implement these early restoration projects and help revive the Gulf Coast’s struggling natural resources.

“The trustees’ commitment to funding environmental projects in Louisiana, including nearly $320 million proposed for barrier island restoration, is an exciting advancement toward restoring the Mississippi River Delta. Barrier islands provide critical storm protection and are the first line of defense for New Orleans and other coastal communities. They also provide habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife, including the Louisiana brown pelican. These early restoration funds will help rebuild four barrier islands, including the Breton Island National Wildlife Refuge, which was ground zero during the oil spill.

“We look forward to reviewing and providing public comments on the draft PEIS and to working with the NRDA Trustees during the public comment period and the implementation stage to complete these vital restoration efforts. The communities and economies of the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River Delta have waited long enough for restoration, and these early restoration projects are a key step toward fairness and recovery.”

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Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition submits comments on proposed RESTORE Act Treasury regulations

November 19, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, BP Oil Disaster, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, RESTORE Act

By Whit Remer and Elizabeth Weiner, Environmental Defense Fund

Earlier this month, the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition submitted public comments to the U.S. Department of Treasury (Treasury) on a proposed rule governing disbursements from the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund. The Trust Fund was established by the RESTORE Act, enacted in 2012, and is funded by 80 percent of the civil Clean Water Act penalties that have been, and will be, paid by the parties responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The Act mandates that the Trust Fund be housed within and managed by Treasury and requires that Treasury propose and finalize a rule, with input from the public, regarding its management protocols. This is common practice for federal trust fund management. It is important because funding cannot be disbursed from the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund for urgently needed Gulf restoration until the rule promulgation process is complete.

Surveying oil sargassum. NOAA.

Surveying oil sargassum during the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. Creidt: NOAA.

Multiple federal rules, developed in similar manners, are necessary to implement the RESTORE Act. They may overlap with other implementation documents and reiterate statutory language. We believe that when overlap exists, the entities involved should ensure as much consistently and clarity as possible. For example, the RESTORE Act language and the Final Initial Comprehensive Plan direct the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council’s funding allocation exclusively to ecosystem restoration projects. Our comments suggested that the language and instruction in the final Treasury rule could more clearly reflect that specific direction from Congress and the Council.

As part of its management role, Treasury must also develop a compliance and auditing program – compliance on the front end to verify that grant applications comply with statutory requirements, and auditing on the back end to ensure that applicants did what they said they would do with the funds. Within Treasury, the Treasury RESTORE program will handle some aspects of this, and Treasury Inspector General will handle others. Because of the RESTORE Act’s unique structure with different funding components, the Council also has compliance and auditing authorities. Our comments urged Treasury to more clearly delineate the compliance and auditing roles of each of these federal entities so as to minimize delays and duplication and maximize the amount of funding that can be spent directly on restoration efforts.

Louisiana's coastal crisis. CPRA.

Louisiana predicted land loss (red) and land gain (green) over the next 50 years. Credit: Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Our comments also encouraged Treasury to consider adopting Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan as the RESTORE Act’s mandatory state expenditure plan. To receive funds from the Spill Impact Component, states must submit a multi-year expenditure plan that describes each program, project and activity for which the state seeks funding. Due to Louisiana’s substantial land loss crisis, the state has already developed a science-based planning process. The most recent product of that process is the 2012 Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. The State of Louisiana has dedicated, by state law, all funds from the RESTORE Act to its constitutionally protected Coastal Restoration and Protection Fund to be spent solely on projects in this plan. Recognizing that projects in the master plan still have to be sequenced for the purpose of serving as a RESTORE multi-year plan, we have advocated that the Plan meets, and often exceeds, the requirements of the State Expenditure Plan. If Treasury accepts the master plan process as compliant with the process set forth in the rule, the State of Louisiana will be ready to apply for RESTORE funds and utilize grant dollars more quickly.

Over the next few weeks, Treasury will read and consider comments submitted by the public as they prepare the final rule for the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Fund. The Council will also have to promulgate a rule regarding the RESTORE Act Spill Impact Component.

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