Archive for Federal Policy
It's been exactly 1,000 days since the BP-operated oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, gushing millions of barrels of crude oil into a body of water that supports countless ecosystems and economies.
Below is a timeline of major events that have occurred in the last 1,000 days.
- Restorethegulf.org, "First oiled bird is recovered."
- Restorethegulf.org, "NOAA Expands Fishing Closed Area in Gulf of Mexico."
- The New York Times, "Effects of Spill Spread as Tar Balls Are Found."
- TIME, "100 Days of the BP Spill: A Timeline."
- The White House, "Executive Order 13554–Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force."
- Bloomberg, "BP Oil Still Ashore One Year After End of Gulf Spill."
- PNAS, "Impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on a deep-water coral community in the Gulf of Mexico."
- University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, "Study confirms oil from Deepwater Horizon disaster entered food chain in the Gulf of Mexico."
- The Times-Picayune, "About 565,000 pounds of oiled material from Deepwater Horizon stirred up by Hurricane Isaac."
- The New York Times, "BP Will Plead Guilty and Pay Over $4 Billion."
- Georgia Tech Biology, "Gulf of Mexico Clean-Up Makes 2010 Spill 52-Times More Toxic."
- University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, "UMiami scientists partner with NOAA, Stanford and U of N Texas to study post spill fish toxicology."
- NOAA Fisheries Service, "2010-2013 Cetacean Unusual Mortality Event in Northern Gulf of Mexico."
- The Times-Picayune, "Transocean to pay $1.4 billion to settle pollution, safety violations in Gulf oil spill."
By Cynthia Duet, Director of Governmental Relations, National Audubon Society
Louisiana’s recently passed 2012 Coastal Master Plan contains an ambitious mix of risk-reduction and restoration projects spread across the entire Louisiana coastal area. Such ambition does, however, come with a price — costing an estimated $50 billion over 50 years, and so the plan is also frank in its account of the uncertainties and complexities of funding and creating a sustainable coastal Louisiana ecosystem. To reverse generations of massive and ongoing land loss, encroaching sea level rise and a decade of natural and manmade disasters, the funding challenge must be met head on.
The state acknowledges the need to quickly begin the large-scale work laid out in the plan. At the same time, project implementation depends on funding from a myriad of sources. These projects will also be implemented by various actors — some projects by Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), others by local or federal partners. Progress will be tracked through the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Annual Plan, which will identify specific projects, schedules and funding streams.
So now that the plan is passed, does the funding exist to implement the plan?
In recent years, and in brighter economic times, the Louisiana Legislature authorized a generous allocation of state surplus dollars — a total of $790 million between 2007 and 2009 — to accelerate implementation of priority projects for the coast. Additionally, the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP), established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, provided nearly $500 million to the state of Louisiana and its coastal parishes, the bulk of which was obligated and spent on critical protection and restoration projects in fiscal years 2007-2010. These dollars, accompanied by the long-standing Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) dollars (approximately $80 million per year to which the state matches 15%), the Louisiana Coastal Area Program (LCA) dollars and related federal funds through the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 (WRDA), are the foundation upon which the coastal program has been funded to date.
On the horizon are revenues from the sale of mineral leases and royalty revenue from oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico that have been dedicated to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Trust fund through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Securities Act of 2006 (GOMESA). Though funding from this program has trickled through in modest increments since 2007, larger revenue streams from these royalties will be available in 2017 when “Phase II” of that program begins. Estimates of funding for Louisiana from this source have ranged up to $500 million annually on the high end, but the true figures are nearly impossible to pin down because they are tied to new leasing and drilling activities in the gulf.
As the state continues to ramp up its coastal efforts, bringing more and larger projects to construction, more money is required in the short term to fill the gap between now and 2017, when the GOMESA funding is realized. Some significant recent commitments to funding have come in the form of post-Deepwater Horizon oil spill commitments:
- BP announced an historic Early Restoration Framework Agreement on April 21, 2011, committing an unprecedented $1 billion for early restoration projects as a jump-start for the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) process. Rather than waiting for up to a decade or more, the gulf states negotiated this down payment from BP to begin recovery and restoration of natural resources. The agreement allocated $100 million for projects in Louisiana, and a shared portion of $300 million to be allocated to states based on impacts.
- On July 6, 2012, the President signed into law the transportation funding bill which contains the RESTORE Act, a landmark piece of legislation that dedicates 80 percent of all Clean Water Act penalties and fines from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to projects in the gulf states for environmental and economic recovery. The settlement has yet to be reached that will ultimately determine the exact value of those dollars to be directed to impacted gulf states, but the range is somewhere between $5 and $21 billion.
For planning purposes, the Coastal Master Plan was crafted using reasonable budget projections and a conservative view of what is likely to be received by the state in the coming decades — a range of between $20 and $50 billion (in present value dollars) over the next 50 years. This range was further defined and annualized, and an estimated $400 million to $1 billion per year was the result.
The Coastal Master Plan emphasizes that funds are not guaranteed and that funding levels are based on the state’s best “educated guess.” Funds will not arrive at once but will be spaced over the next 50 years; and much of the expected funding is tied to CWPPRA (about $80 million per year, requiring a reauthorization in 2019), GOMESA (about $110 million per year after 2017), LCA (about $150 milllion per year), the RESTORE Act and NRDA.
In summary, insufficient funding has been the Achilles’ heel of coastal work for decades. Though this will remain the case for years to come, as the implementation of the large and ambitious 2012 Coastal Master Plan begins to unfold, the necessary elements are finally beginning to come together for a hopeful future. Through continued efforts by the State of Louisiana, its delegation leaders, the U.S. Congress and a bit of urging by our own NGO partners, we can all work together to make the Coastal Master Plan’s vision a reality.No Comments
By Whit Remer, Environmental Defense Fund
Policymakers, scientists, and environmental advocates gathered earlier this month in Baltimore, Md. to explore the long-term impacts that oil from BP’s Deepwater Horizon may have on natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico. The symposium titled, “NRDA for the Gulf: Improving Our Ability to Quantify Chronic Damages,” highlighted both the challenges and opportunities of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). NRDA is the scientific and legal process used by the government to restore natural resources following an oil spill. Perhaps the most encouraging take-away from the conference is that NRDA can serve as a catalyst for the long-term and large-scale ecosystem restoration desperately needed in the Gulf.
One of the primary purposes of NRDA is to restore natural resources and services to the condition they would be in if the injury—in this case, the Gulf oil spill—had not occurred. It is the job of the NRDA Trustees to guide the process of injury assessment and resource restoration (click here for more information about the NRDA Trustees and their responsibilities). The Trustees must use this disastrous oil spill as an opportunity to make the Gulf healthier and more resilient than the Gulf we knew before the Deepwater Horizon spill.
One opportunity that emerged from the symposium is the need to provide better science, research, and monitoring of the Gulf’s natural resources. This opportunity can help address scientific shortfalls, such as one identified by Oceana Senior Scientist Jacqueline Savitz: The lack of historic baseline data available in the Gulf prior to the BP oil spill.
NRDA is designed to return natural resources to their pre-injury state, but it’s difficult to do that, Savitz argues, without well-described historic baseline data. This data provides Trustees with the mark they must reach for restoring resources. Without a good baseline upon which to judge restoration efforts, the Trustees (and the public) are stuck using somewhat arbitrary benchmarks for measuring success, demonstrating the need for keeping a comprehensive inventory of natural resources. Moving forward, NRDA will provide scientists and policymakers with important data for the Gulf.
The second opportunity NRDA presents is jumpstarting long-term and large-scale ecosystem restoration efforts in the Gulf. The Trustees have the unique opportunity to fund projects that not only return resources to their pre-oiled state, but also begin long-term restoration activities that move the Gulf towards a healthier and self-sustaining ecosystem. This task is complicated by the fact the Gulf already was in decline decades before the spill. Years of mismanagement of the Mississippi River, oil and gas industry presence, and strain on natural resources has put the Gulf on the edge of collapse. Thankfully the Trustees can use NRDA—and the projects funded under it—as the starting point for reversing this decline.
Trustees for the Gulf certainly have a long and difficult road ahead. However, NRDA provides the legal framework to improve our scientific capacity and restoration efforts throughout the Gulf. While the Deepwater Horizon is still considered the nation’s worst environmental disaster, the Trustees must find opportunities to capitalize on advancing long-term and large-scale ecosystem restoration in the Gulf.No Comments
Sean Crowley, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.572.3331, firstname.lastname@example.org
David J. Ringer, National Audubon Society, 601.642.7058, email@example.com
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sandra Rodriguez, The Nature Conservancy, 703.841.4227, email@example.com
David Willett, Ocean Conservancy, 202.351.0465, firstname.lastname@example.org
Patrick Scully, Oxfam America, 617.728.2402, email@example.com
Gulf Senators Praised for Cosponsoring Bill to Restore Gulf
Bill dedicates oil spill fines to restore Gulf communities, economies & ecosystems
(Washington, D.C.—July 21, 2011) A coalition of organizations supporting Gulf restoration celebrated news today that a bipartisan coalition of Gulf senators is cosponsoring the RESTORE Gulf Coast States Act. The legislation seeks to ensure that penalties paid by BP and others responsible for last year’s Gulf oil disaster are used to help restore the region’s communities, economies and environments instead of going to unrelated federal spending.
Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) are the original cosponsors of the bill, and are now joined by Sens. David Vitter (R-LA), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Kay Bailey-Hutchison (R-TX). Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who was instrumental in securing the agreement among the senators, has pledged to consider this bill in her committee quickly.
“The damage from the oil spill was done in the Gulf, so Congress should ensure that oil spill fines go to the Gulf, not to unrelated federal spending,” reads a joint statement issued by Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, Ocean Conservancy and Oxfam America. “This Gulf state agreement paves the way for Congress to do what voters expect: hold the parties responsible for the Gulf oil disaster accountable for restoring the Gulf because our nation’s economy depends on a healthy Gulf region.”
A bipartisan poll conducted this spring showed that 83 percent of voters nationwide support – and 69 percent strongly support – dedicating the Gulf oil spill penalties to restoring the Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast. The poll also showed support among voters from across the political spectrum:
- 90 percent of Democrats
- 84 percent of independents
- 76 percent of Republicans
- 78 percent of those who say they agree with the Tea Party movement
Nearly 500 miles – almost half – of the coastline in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida that was contaminated by the Gulf oil disaster remains oiled one year later, according to the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration.
“There is much more work to be done to ensure that a strong and effective restoration bill for the Gulf ultimately becomes law and this is a positive and commendable first step. We look forward to working with the Gulf delegation, other members of Congress and the administration on passage of a bill that meets the restoration needs of this critical ecosystem and its vulnerable communities,” the statement concludes.
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On Monday (Feb. 14), five conservation groups praised President Obama for maintaining his commitment to Gulf Coast restoration by recommending the first-ever funding to construct wetlands projects to reverse wetlands losses in the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) of the Mississippi River Delta.
The President’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget request for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fund LCA restoration is $27 million, including $10.845 million for wetlands feasibility studies, $5.4 million for wetlands pre-construction engineering and design studies, $10.62 million for wetlands construction projects and $100,000 for the LCA comprehensive plan (see page 23). Congress has not acted yet on the President’s FY 2011 budget request, which included $35.6 million for the Corps to fund LCA ecosystem restoration, split between $19 million for wetlands construction projects and $16.6 million for wetlands pre-construction engineering and design studies.
The President’s proposed investments are part of a larger effort that focuses the expertise and resources of a broad spectrum of federal agencies — including the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Geological Survey — on the critical restoration needs on the Gulf Coast.
Read more in the joint statement from the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Environmental Defense Fund, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, National Audubon Society, and National Wildlife Federation.No Comments
Seven nonprofit advocacy groups praised an amendment in an updated oil spill response bill introduced last night (Jan. 26) by U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Ma.) and other House Democrats that would implement a key recommendation by the bipartisan oil spill commission. The recommendation is for Congress to dedicate 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties to be assessed for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to Gulf Coast restoration.
The groups also lauded GOP Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise for introducing bipartisan legislation earlier this month to require at least 80 percent of the civil and criminal penalties charged to BP under the Clean Water Act be returned to the Gulf Coast for long-term economic and environmental recovery. That bill, the Gulf Restoration Act (H.R. 56), is cosponsored by four Louisiana GOP Congressmen – Reps. Rodney Alexander, Charles Boustany, Bill Cassidy and Jeffrey Landry – and one Louisiana Democratic Congressman, Rep. Cedric Richmond.
“We thank the Louisiana delegation and House Democrats for their leadership on an issue that is vital to restoring both the Gulf ecosystem and the Gulf economy, which depends upon that ecosystem’s health,” said a joint statement by the seven groups. “We look forward to working with House and Senate leaders of both parties on securing legislation to send the oil spill penalties back to the Gulf region where they belong.”
The fines for violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) alone will range from a maximum of between $1,100 and $4,300 for each of the 4.9 million barrels spilled, depending upon whether the responsible parties are found to have been grossly negligent for the Macondo Well blowout. Current estimates of the CWA fines range from a maximum of between $5 billion and $21 billion.
“Without Congressional action, the fines for violating the Oil Spill Pollution Act and Clean Water Act for the Gulf oil disaster automatically will be deposited in the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund and Federal Treasury, respectively, creating an unacceptable windfall for the federal government,” the groups added. “We urge Congress to fulfill President Obama’s promise to make the Gulf ecosystem better than it was before the disaster by heeding a key recommendation from the bipartisan oil spill commission to dedicate 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties to long-term restoration of the Gulf.”2 Comments
On October 25 , U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa P. Jackson named John H. Hankinson, Jr. as executive director of the newly-established Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, which President Obama created through an executive order in October.
Hankinson served until recently as board chairman of Audubon of Florida and as southeast regional EPA administrator from 1994 to 2001. Previously, Hankinson led land acquisition at the St. Johns River Water Management District and was a staff director for the Florida House of Representatives. A veteran problem solver, he has the skills to bring people together and a strong commitment to coastal conservation.
“John has worked with Audubon through the spill and before to mount an effective response and make a healthy and resilient Gulf Coast a priority,” said Audubon of Florida State Director Eric Draper.
“From our many years working together at EPA, I know John will do an excellent job leading this vital initiative,” said Diane Regas, associate vice president for programs at Environmental Defense Fund.
“We are proud that one of Audubon’s most important leaders is stepping into such an important role in restoring the Gulf,” said Audubon’s Chris Canfield, vice president of Gulf Coast conservation. “Audubon looks forward to supporting John so that the communities of people and wildlife can heal as quickly as possible.”
“All of the folks and organizations from the national to the local level that love and depend on the Gulf of Mexico must get behind the effort to restore this magnificent resource,” Hankinson said.
Photo courtesy of Audubon of FloridaNo Comments
Currently under the Clean Water Act (CWA), the financial penalties BP would pay for causing the Deepwater Horizon oil spill would be deposited into the Federal Treasury. However, the Treasury should not receive a windfall from a tragedy that severely damaged the Gulf region’s economy and environment. These funds belong in the Gulf.
As such, our organizations are working to encourage Congress to pass legislation during the lame duck session that would devote a significant portion of the BP fines to Gulf Coast restoration. This legislation would direct these funds to a robust state-federal partnership, including members from Alabama, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi. This entity would then disburse the money to Gulf Coast restoration projects in accordance with a comprehensive plan.
Since the lame duck only is expected to last for several weeks, Congress must act quickly. Senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, as well as Representative Steve Scalise, already have introduced bills that would devote CWA penalties to Gulf restoration. Now the Senate – including other Gulf state senators – must make it a priority to pass legislation during the lame duck. Between now and the end of this Congress, our partner organizations will continue to build support for Gulf restoration in Congress.
Photo Credit: USFWS/SoutheastNo Comments