Archive for Federal Policy


The Science of the Spill

April 14, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 5 Years Later, BP Oil Disaster, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), Science

By Alisha Renfro, Coastal Scientist, National Wildlife Federation

The blow out of the Macondo well claimed 11 lives and began the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history. It took 87 days to finally cap the well and by then at least 134 million gallons of crude oil had been expelled into the Gulf of Mexico.

With the source of the oil nearly a mile below the surface of the water and at four times the size of the Exxon Valdez, the BP oil disaster presented many new challenges. The experience and response methods used in previous oil spills was often found to be impossible to apply or ineffective. As a result, scientists began scrambling to measure how much oil was leaking from the well, tracking and predicting where it would go and trying to understand what this spill would mean for the people, wildlife and habitat of the Gulf.

While large amounts of scientific data have been collected and published in peer-reviewed journals in the five years since the oil spill, more scientific research is still ongoing. The science related to the spill has been largely funded through a few different sources, including:

The NSF has scientific funding available to address pressing research needs during unanticipated events, like the BP oil spill. The availability and flexibility of this funding source allowed scientists receiving this grant to quickly mobilize and collect important data that may have otherwise been missed in the confusion in the days after the spill when oil was still gushing out of the wellhead.

In May-2010, BP dedicated $500 million over 10 years to independent scientific research to investigate the oil spill impacts on the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf coast states. This initiative funded research projects and research consortia that range from the deep Gulf to the shoreline. Hundreds of peer-reviewed publications have resulted from this initiative and a searchable list of this research can be found here.

NRDA TrusteesThe Oil Pollution Act of 1990 authorizes natural resource trustees – specific federal agencies, affected states and the party responsible, in this case BP – to evaluate the impacts of this oil spill on the natural resources of the region and to implement projects that restore or replace those resources. While the NRDA process related the BP oil spill is touted as the most transparent in its history, the many findings of the ongoing assessment are not available to the public.

The unprecedented size and complexity of the BP oil spill demands well-funded, intensive and wide-ranging scientific study. This research, particularly through NRDA, is crucial for the path forward  towards restoration that will bolster and restore the health of the Gulf ecosystem and the people and wildlife that depend on it.

You can read more of my blog posts here:

Five years later, scientists gather to assess ongoing impact of BP oil spill

New study examines ecological and coastal restoration benefits of oyster reefs

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A visit to the Caminada Headland Beach & Dune Restoration project

April 7, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 5 Years Later, BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Restoration Projects, Science

By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

The BP oil spill has had devastating impacts on Gulf Coast ecosystems and communities, but coastal Louisiana’s land loss crisis began decades before the disaster. The Clean Water Act fines and other money paid through settlements relating to the spill offer an unprecedented opportunity to restore Gulf Coast habitats and natural resources.

Many of the early restoration projects funded in Louisiana are focused on barrier islands because of the important role they play in the coastal ecosystem and the severe impacts they experienced during the spill. Louisiana’s barrier islands were heavily oiled because they act as a “first line of defense” against disturbance, such as storm surge or, in this case, oil. In fact, Louisiana’s coastal islands continue to experience re-oiling even today.

Caminada Headland Beach & Dune Restoration

One very important barrier island restoration project currently underway is the Caminada Headland Beach & Dune restoration, which is part of our coalition’s priority project, Belle Pass to Caminada Pass Barrier Island Restoration. The Caminada Headland forms the western edge of the Barataria Basin barrier system and has experienced some of the highest rates of shoreline retreat and land loss along the Louisiana coast.

Caminada map_LB

Photo: Google Earth

I recently had the opportunity to see the first constructed phase of the Caminada restoration project on a field trip hosted by our partner, Restore or Retreat, and the Greater Lafourche Port Commission. It was inspiring to see restoration at work! There were birds and crabs on the shoreline, small plants naturally re-vegetating and the different project components working together – breakwaters protecting the shore and the sand fence having created a substantial dune. More projects like this are exactly what coastal Louisiana needs.

Why is the Caminada Headland important?

The Caminada Headland is a significant feature along Louisiana’s coastline because it provides critical habitat for important neotropical migratory birds and threatened or endangered species, such as the piping plover and Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. It is also a buffer from storm surge and waves for valuable public and private infrastructure, including Port Fourchon and Highway 1, which provides the only evacuation route for coastal communities such as Grand Isle, La.

Piping plover. Photo: Erik Johnson

Piping plover. Photo: Erik Johnson

Port Fourchon. Photo: Estelle Robichaux

Port Fourchon. Photo: Estelle Robichaux

Port Fourchon is an important nexus in our national energy infrastructure system. Approximately 18 percent of the nation’s oil supply is transported through the port, and it is the land base for the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP). The LOOP is connected to refineries across the country, which collectively make up half of the oil refining capacity in the U.S., and handles about 15 percent of our foreign oil imports. The activity, infrastructure and continuing growth of the port is truly impressive!

What makes this restoration project unique?

The first phase of the Caminada Headland restoration project created and enhanced more than 300 acres of beach and dune habitat. This project used a mix of sediment pumped from the Mississippi River and high-quality, beach-compatible sand from Ship Shoal, a large marine sand deposit just offshore of Isles Dernieres. Most of the other nearby sand sources have been exhausted, so this was the first time that sediment from Ship Shoal has been used for restoration.

Caminada pre-post construction 2

Photo: Gulf Coast Air Photo

The planning and design of the Caminada project was funded using the Coastal Impact Assistance Program and Louisiana state surplus funds, but they only had enough money (~$70 million) to restore a portion of the island. The success of this first phase, however, was leveraged when more funding became available, via the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, to complete restoration of Caminada’s beach and dune habitat.

Construction on the first phase of the beach and dune habitat restoration is complete and soon the entire project area will be planted with native vegetation. The second phase of construction for the Caminada Headland restoration project – which at 489 acres, is the largest restoration project ever undertaken by Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority – should begin within the next month. Design for restoration of the Caminada Headland back barrier marsh is also currently underway.

Check out my previous post in this series, Exploring Early Coastal Restoration Funding and Projects

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Exploring Early Coastal Restoration Funding and Projects

April 3, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 5 Years Later, BP Oil Disaster, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA)
Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation project

Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation project

By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

Five years after the BP oil disaster, Gulf Coast communities are still recovering, environmental restoration is still needed, and we will not know the full impacts of the spill for possibly decades to come.

Comprehensive ecosystem restoration of the Gulf cannot begin in earnest until BP accepts responsibility and pays its civil Clean Water Act fines, which could amount to nearly $14 billion. These fines will be used for Gulf Coast restoration, thanks to the 2012 federal RESTORE Act.

Since the spill, however, some funds have been made available for initial restoration projects and research program development. Over a series of blog posts, we will explore some of these funding streams and the restoration efforts they support.

Restoration funding through NFWF

The National Fish & Wildlife Federation (NFWF), a congressionally chartered non-profit organization, was founded as a conservation grant-maker and clearinghouse. In 2013, NFWF established its Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund to administer funds resulting from settlement agreements reached with Transocean and BP in the wake of the 2010 oil disaster.

The terms of these agreements state that Louisiana will receive half of these funds, which total $2.544 billion, over the course of five years for environmental restoration. Specifically, this money is dedicated to barrier island restoration and river diversion projects.

Since NFWF began granting money to the five Gulf states in late 2013, more than $221.1 million has been awarded to Louisiana for seven restoration projects and programs, all of which support our coalition's priority projects, including:

Caminada Headland Beach & Dune Restoration

Construction on a second phase of the Caminada Headland Beach & Dune restoration project should be underway this April! The engineering, design and permitting of this project, which is part of the Belle Pass to Caminada Pass Barrier Island & Headland Restoration, has been funded and completed.

East Timbalier Island Restoration

The East Timbalier Island restoration project, part of the Timbalier Islands Barrier Island Restoration, has received funding for engineering, design and permitting. The final design and permitting of this project, which has to be completed before it can be constructed, is expected to wrap up in late 2017.

River Diversions

Engineering, permitting and stakeholder engagement for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion has been funded and is underway. Initial planning studies for other river diversions are also being funded, such as the Mid-Breton, Lower Breton and Lower Barataria Sediment Diversions. Planning decisions are currently being made about the Increase Atchafalaya Flow to Terrebonne project and it may be into engineering and design as early as next year.

CPRA’s Adaptive Management Program

Components of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s Adaptive Management program are also being funded by NFWF, including the Barrier Island Comprehensive Monitoring program, the development and initial implementation of SWAMP (System-Wide Assessment and Monitoring Program) and operation of the small-scale physical model.

Restoration funding through NRDA

The Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) is the scientific and legal process to assess and quantify injuries to natural resources and services following environmental disasters, such as oil spills. The full NRDA process for the Gulf oil disaster may take up to a decade, so in 2011, the NRDA Trustee Council and BP agreed to implement and pay for, respectively, an early restoration program.

BP committed to providing up to $1 billion for early restoration and, so far, the Trustee Council has allocated more than $698.2 million to Gulf restoration projects. More than half of this money has gone to Louisiana for four groups of projects, funding more than $301.7 million in environmental restoration projects.

These restoration projects also support our coalition’s priority projects and include:

Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation

The construction of more than 100 acres of marsh was recently completed as part of the Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation project.

Louisiana Outer Coast Restoration Project

This project includes restoration of four barrier islands, including

  • Caillou Lake Headlands, the first component of the Isles Dernieres Barrier Island Restoration, which will restore 1,272 acres.
  • Shell Island West and Chenier Ronquille, which are part of the Barataria Pass to Sandy Point Barrier Island Restoration, together include the restoration of over 1,120 acres; and
  • North Breton Island, which will restore more than 350 acres of vital bird habitat.

Although construction on these barrier islands has not started yet, at least two of these projects will be out for construction bid within the next couple of months and under construction soon after.

What’s Next?

Although some legal and political issues have limited the pace at which comprehensive Gulf restoration has been able to be initiated, these currently funded projects are important and concrete steps towards restoration of the Mississippi River Delta. Look for our next post, which will delve into the details of one of these projects that is already under construction!

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Five Years Later: Gulf Oil Disaster’s Impacts to Habitat and Wildlife Still Evident

March 31, 2015 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in Birds, BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Media Resources, RESTORE Act, Science, Wildlife

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6849, jhebert@audubon.org
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, evancleve@edf.org

Five Years Later: Gulf Oil Disaster’s Impacts to Habitat and Wildlife Still Evident

Leading Conservation Groups Highlight BP Spill’s Ongoing Effects, Continued Need for Restoration

(New Orleans, LA—March 31, 2015) Five years after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 men and spewing at least 3.19 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 Federation and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – released the following statement:

“Despite BP’s claims that the Gulf oil disaster and its ecological impacts are over, ongoing research and present-day observations in areas that were heavily oiled tell a different story.

“New independent scientific studies provide evidence that the full consequences of the spill to wildlife and habitats are still unfolding. From dolphins to sea turtles to birds, we still are seeing the real and lasting environmental impacts of one of the worst oil spills in our nation’s history.

“BP claims the nearly 134 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf has not negatively affected the ecosystem. But continued surveillance of areas like Barataria Bay, where thick oil coated vital wildlife habitat, including marshes and barrier islands, reveals lasting effects of the spill. Cat Island, a mangrove island that was heavily oiled, was once a lush, thriving rookery for brown pelicans and other birds, but today it is gray, lifeless and has nearly disappeared. Other coastal areas damaged by the spill are also still in need of repair.

“To this day, oil is still being found, most recently in the form of a 25,000-pound tar mat located on a Louisiana barrier island, near where 40,000 pounds of BP-oiled material was unearthed two years ago. It’s time for BP to put the publicity campaign aside, stop shirking responsibility and finally ‘make it right’ for the people, wildlife and habitats of the Gulf Coast.

“The oil disaster wreaked incomparable damage to an already-stressed Gulf Coast ecosystem. In Louisiana, the oil spill dealt another blow to an area ravaged by land loss – since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost nearly 1,900 square miles of land, or an area the size of Delaware. Nowhere is restoration more needed than the Mississippi River Delta, which is the cornerstone of a healthy Gulf ecosystem.

“Restoration solutions are within reach and plans are in place, but implementation of restoration plans cannot fully begin until BP accepts responsibility and pays its fines. Thanks to vehicles like Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan and the historic RESTORE Act of 2012, which ensures that the Clean Water Act fines BP pays will be used for restoration, the Gulf Coast can make headway on real restoration projects that can make a difference. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore the health of our wetlands, revive Gulf Coast economies that depend on them, and make the Gulf Coast better than it was before the spill, but we must begin restoration now. The Gulf Coast – and the people, wildlife and jobs that depend on it – cannot wait any longer.”

Background:

Since the BP oil disaster 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.

A new infographic depicts ongoing impacts of the Gulf oil disaster five years later. And over the past year alone, new scientific research has surfaced:

  • A 2014 study found evidence of a 1,250-square-mile area of oil contamination on the ocean floor around the Macondo wellhead in deep Gulf sediments.
  • A new NOAA study found a large number of dead dolphins in heavily oiled places, including Barataria Bay, La.
  • Recent studies estimate 800,000 birds died as a result of being exposed to BP oil.
  • Modeling for a recent stock assessment projected that between 20,000 and 60,000 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles died in 2010 as a result of the spill.
  • A 2014 study found concentrations of PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) – which can cause harmful effects in many birds, fish and wildlife – in Barataria and Terrebonne marshes, which may persist for decades.
  • A 2012 study found that oiled marshes in Barataria Bay eroded at double the rate of non-oiled marshes.

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David Muth

David Muth of the National Wildlife Federation on a tour of Barataria Bay, La. March 31, 2015.

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Third and Final Phase of the BP Trial Brought to a Close on February 2, 2015

February 9, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Federal Policy, RESTORE Act

By Will Lindsey 

This is the second post about phase III of trial. To read part I, click here.

The third and final phase of the BP trial ended on Monday, February 2, 2015. Based on the evidence presented in this phase, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier will decide the Clean Water Act civil penalty that both BP and Anadarko, a 25 percent non-operator in the Macando well, will pay. The United States is seeking the maximum Clean Water Act penalty of up to $13.7 billion from BP and an amount more than $1 billion from Anadarko.

Throughout the trial, Judge Barbier was relatively quiet, occasionally inserting questions or points of clarification. Towards the end of the trial, however, Judge Barbier suggested on numerous occasions that some of the testimony BP was presenting was duplicative. This was especially true during the testimony of a BP exploration & production executive, Richard Morrison. As Mr. Morrison was testifying about the extent of BP’s response efforts after the spill, Judge Barbier interrupted at least twice to suggest that it was testimony that he had already heard from previous witnesses.

Judge Barbier also interrupted during the testimony of one of Anadarko’s witnesses. For its second witness, Anadarko called Kenneth Arnold, an expert in the field of safety in drilling operations. Mr. Arnold testified that requiring additional duties of non-operators, such as Clean Water Act civil penalties, could lead to confusion and ultimately a lower level of safety in drilling operations. This argument aligns with Anadarko’s overall theme – that there was no act committed by Anadarko as a non-operator, and thus assessing a Clean Water Act civil penalty against the company would not serve to deter future behavior. Judge Barbier stepped in here, however, suggesting that a policy argument such as this should be made before Congress and not in the courtroom. Despite allowing Anadarko to proceed with Mr. Arnold’s testimony, Judge Barbier noted that Congress had already clearly decided to make an “owner or operator” liable for discharges under the Clean Water Act.

The United States has several strong arguments weighing in favor of a high Clean Water Act civil penalty. The first is that there were numerous stakeholders involved in the spill response, including the U.S. Coast Guard and a number of federal agencies. Each of these entities expended time, resources and expertise in responding to the spill. Given that one of the factors that Judge Barbier will consider in assessing the civil penalty is the success of efforts to minimize or mitigate the effects of the discharge is, it is important that BP not get credit for the entirety of the spill response actions that were taken, as indeed BP was not responding to the spill in isolation. The second big point weighing in favor of a higher penalty is that lowering the civil penalty based on previously paid penalties, such as criminal penalty assessed against BP, would ultimately dilute the effect of these penalties.

During opening statements, Judge Barbier asked the parties if there was any precedent for requiring that a Clean Water Act civil penalty be paid over a specified amount of time rather than as a single lump sum. The United States indicated that there was at least one such instance in a Clean Water Act suit. This indicates, at least to some degree, that Judge Barbier is considering the option of assessing a high civil penalty against the company.

Due to the enactment of the RESTORE Act, 80 percent of the penalties resulting from this phase will go to the Gulf Coast for restoration. This funding cannot come soon enough given the high price tag that many coastal restoration projects carry with them. Ultimately, the funding stemming from this trial could mean the difference in reversing the trend of coastal wetland loss that has been impacting the gulf coast for decades.

It is unclear when exactly Judge Barbier will come out with a penalty ruling. But recent polling indicates that 70 percent of Americans believe BP should pay the maximum allowed under the Clean Water Act for its role in one of the largest oil spills in American history. It is imperative to both the Gulf and the nation that BP be held fully accountable.

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Phase III, Week 1: Recap of the BP oil spill trial

January 25, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Federal Policy

By Will Lindsey

The first week of phase III of the BP trial ended on Friday, January 23. During this phase, which is expected to last three weeks, Judge Carl Barbier will determine the amount of Clean Water Act civil penalties that BP must pay for the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.

Phase III comes after two previous phases, the first of which determined that BP was 67 percent responsible for the spill, while phase II determined that 3.19 million barrels of oil were discharged into the Gulf after the oil collected was deducted. Given these findings of fact and conclusions of law, Judge Barbier will now determine what BP will pay. In so determining, Judge Barbier will consider 8 factors laid out in the Clean Water Act for assessing civil penalties, including:

1) the seriousness of the violation or violations,

2) the economic benefit to the violator, if any, resulting from the violation,

3) the degree of culpability involved,

4) any other penalty for the same incident,

5) any history of prior violations,

6) the nature, extent, and degree of success of any efforts to the violator to minimize or mitigate the effects of the discharge,

7) the economic impact of the penalty on the violator, and

8) any other matters as justice may require.

Each side will present extensive evidence, primarily in the form of expert testimony, on most of these factors. The United States will not present new evidence on factors that it contends have already been determined, such as the degree of culpability, which was determined in phase II. In addition, the United States will not present new evidence on the economic benefit to BP of the violations, as it contends that phase I dealt with “BP’s cost-cutting decisions.

However, many of these factors will be adamantly disputed and ultimately a “battle of the experts” will ensue at trial. Each side will attempt to discredit the expert witnesses called by the opposing side. Experts will testify on BP’s ability to pay the maximum penalty, BP’s response efforts, the impact that the spill had on the environment and BP’s economic importance to the Gulf Coast, among other issues.

BP indicated in its opening statement that it will highlight the extent of its response efforts to suggest that impacts were successfully mitigated. It will also highlight the expenditures, both as a result of legal proceedings and otherwise, that it has incurred thus far. The United States will in turn emphasize the fact that response effort successes were a result of efforts carried out by numerous parties and not solely attributable to BP, as it indicated in its opening statement. Additionally, the United States will argue that a reduction of the civil penalties in this proceeding based on other penalties, like the criminal penalty, would mean that BP is effectively not paying these penalties.

Ultimately, the expert reports and testimonies of each side will differ. A clear example can be seen in the expert testimony of Captain Mark VanHaverbeke, who testified that approximately five percent of the oil was removed from the Gulf. He indicated that this estimate is lower than the estimate of BP’s expert, Captain Frank Paskewich, because it does not include oil that was dispersed or burned. Captain VanHaverbeke testified that these two methods do not actually remove the oil from the environment. Captain Paskewich’s estimates included oil that was dispersed and burned.

The Gulf Coast is desperately in need of funding for coastal restoration efforts. The billions of dollars at stake in this litigation could mean great things for coastal restoration efforts in the Gulf Coast. The United States will seek an amount close to the maximum penalty of $13.7 billion.

 

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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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West Maurepas Freshwater Diversion Project

December 5, 2014 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), RESTORE Act, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)

Louisiana recently proposed 5 projects to be funded by the initial round of funding from the RESTORE Act.  The West Maurepas Freshwater Diversion project’s objective, also known as the Mississippi River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp project, is to restore and enhance the health and sustainability of the Maurepas Swamp through the reintroduction of season Mississippi River inflow. Here’s what we wrote to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, in support of the West Maurepas Freshwater Diversion project:

Dear Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority members,

The undersigned groups appreciate the opportunity to share our supporting comments on the River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project, submitted by the State of Louisiana for RESTORE Council consideration for the first Funded Priorities List of the RESTORE Pot 2 Council-selected projects.

We represent a coalition of conservation interests that have worked for decades to restore a healthy Gulf of Mexico ecosystem – starting with prompt restoration of the Mississippi River Delta – reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta to protect communities, environment, and economies. Our groups continue to recommend urgent action on projects that will reduce land loss and restore wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta through comprehensive restoration actions that have the potential to provide multiple benefits and services over the long term to the entire Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the necessary restoration actions to be undertaken in Louisiana are already fully authorized under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007, were unanimously approved by the Louisiana legislature in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, enjoy broad public support, and have been vetted by scientists and lawmakers for many years.

Such is the case with the River Reintroduction into the Maurepas Swamp Project.

The River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project has long been discussed as an important coastal restoration project: it was featured as a key restoration project in the 1998 “Coast 2050” plan, was further developed in the Coastal Wetlands Planning Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) program with EPA as its sponsor, was included in the LCA (Louisiana Coastal Area) Study (WRDA 2007) and the Louisiana 2007 Coastal Master Plan, and is currently included in Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan (named the “West Maurepas Diversion”).

This project would benefit the western Maurepas swamps, the landbridge between Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain and the LaBranche wetlands. In addition, this project, in conjunction with the Central Wetlands diversions, will influence the Biloxi Marsh area.

Dominated by bald cypress and water tupelo trees, this swamp complex is one of the largest forested wetlands in the nation. Levees constructed along the river and the closure of Bayou Manchac have isolated the area from spring floods and the vital fresh water, nutrients and sediments that once enhanced the swamp. This isolation has led to a decrease in swamp elevation, that coupled with rising salinities throughout the Pontchartrain Basin have left the swamp in a state of rapid decline – trees are dying and young trees are not regenerating. The River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project will reconnect the swamps to the river, preventing further loss and the conversion to open water, as well as helping to temper rising salinities throughout the entire Pontchartrain Basin.

Applying funds to the project now, toward completion of the remaining engineering, design, and permitting, will finally take the River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project to a construction-ready status. And, given its development history, this project would seem a perfect candidate for CPRA to conduct in collaboration with EPA, with some assistance from Corps of Engineers regulatory and restoration teams.

In conclusion, the 2012 Coastal Master Plan data demonstrated that the swamp could be completely lost in a mere two decades. Due to the urgency of getting this project constructed and operating, the below signatories commend Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority for submitting, and we urge the RESTORE Council to select this project for funding.

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Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Restoration Project

| Posted by lbourg in Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)

Louisiana recently proposed 5 projects to be funded by the initial round of funding from the RESTORE Act.  The Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Restoration  project, also known as the Biloxi Marsh Living Shoreline project, will construct an oyster barrier reef along the southern and eastern shores of the Biloxi Marsh. This reef will provide a natural protective barrier to reduce the damaging effects of storm surges and provide wave attenuation. Here’s what we wrote to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, in support of the Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Restoration project:

Dear Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority members,

The undersigned groups appreciate this opportunity to share our collective supporting comments on the Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Project, submitted by the State of Louisiana for RESTORE Council consideration for the first Funded Priorities List of the RESTORE Pot 2 Council-selected projects.

We represent a coalition of conservation interests that have worked for decades to restore a healthy Gulf of Mexico ecosystem – starting with prompt restoration of the Mississippi River Delta – reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta to protect communities, environment, and economies. Our groups continue to recommend urgent action on projects that will reduce land loss and restore wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta through comprehensive restoration actions that have the potential to provide multiple benefits and services over the long term to the entire Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the necessary restoration actions to be undertaken in Louisiana are already fully authorized under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007, were unanimously approved by the Louisiana legislature in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, enjoy broad public support, and have been vetted by scientists and lawmakers for many years. In the case of the Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Project, it has a completed Programmatic EIS and a signed Chief’s Report from the Corps of Engineers.

The Biloxi Marsh platform is relatively stable and enjoys a fairly low rate of subsidence; however, erosion on the marsh edge by wave action has resulted in significant loss of this wetlands habitat over time. Construction of an oyster barrier reef along the southern and eastern shores of the Biloxi Marsh will provide a natural protective barrier to reduce the damaging effects of storm surges and provide wave attenuation. In addition to providing protection against waves, oyster reefs also provide a myriad of ecosystem services including water quality enhancement and benefits to fish populations in both Breton Sound and Mississippi Sound.

Reestablishment of vertical oyster reefs in Biloxi Marsh, in conjunction with the reintroduction of small amounts of river water (River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp, Central Wetlands diversions), will help slow marsh deterioration. Additionally, once established, unlike rock and other materials, these reefs are naturally self-maintaining.

Our groups support the development of the Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Project—and the concept of living shorelines in general—and commend the selection of this important “line of defense” by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. We look forward to the construction of this project within the next few years as funding becomes available.

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