Archive for Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA)


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

December 18, 2013 | 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 Van Cleve 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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BP private claims appeal and ongoing litigation: What does it mean?

July 30, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA)

By Mordechai Treiger and Will Lindsey, Environmental Defense Fund

Three years after the Macondo oil well was capped off the coast of Louisiana, BP is still making headlines as it works to resolve legal claims stemming from the incident. As legal interns who have spent the past ten weeks working every day on issues related to the oil spill, even we sometimes find BP’s various legal obligations somewhat confusing. So we put together this brief outline to help ourselves keep things straight. We hope you find it helpful, too.

Private economic claims against BP that have been settled

These claims made headlines recently when BP petitioned U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing the complex multi-district litigation stemming from the spill, to temporarily halt payments out of a court-supervised settlement fund. Barbier denied BP’s request, thereby allowing settlement administrator Patrick Juneau to continue paying out claims to individuals claiming economic losses as a result of the disaster. Juneau is actually the second settlement administrator of private economic claims – Ken Feinberg oversaw an initial $6.3 billion deal with a subclass of private plaintiffs. Even after BP reached agreements with two classes of claimants, there remain unsettled individual claims that are now in trial against BP.

Government claims against BP under the Clean Water Act and private claims that have not yet been settled

BP is currently in court to determine the extent of its liability to the government under the Clean Water Act, to the five Gulf Coast states for economic losses and to plaintiffs who declined to participate in either the Feinberg or Juneau settlements. While the first phase of the trial focused on events preceding the Deepwater Horizon blow out, Phase II – covering the amount of barrels spilled and the subsequent efforts to stop the flow of oil – will be critical in determining the extent of BP’s liability to damaged parties. Ultimately, Judge Barbier must rule on whether BP was “grossly negligent” or merely “negligent,” a seemingly-semantic distinction that could spell the difference between a $4.5 billion and $17.6 billion payout. Phase II has been moved back from September 16 to September 30 to give both parties more time to prepare. Barbier can only rule on civil penalties under the Clean Water Act and individual claims that have yet to settle once Phase II is complete.

Natural Resource Trustee claims under the Oil Pollution Act

Under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment provisions of the Oil Pollution Act, BP has a responsibility to restore the Gulf to its natural baseline and to make up for lost ecosystem services. In the immediate aftermath of the spill, BP worked with natural resource trustees to provide $1 billion in funding for Early Restoration projects in recognition of the fact that moving quickly was vital to Gulf restoration. But this amount was merely preliminary, and many billions more are needed to fully rehabilitate the damaged shoreline. BP’s commitment to ecological restoration of the Gulf is completely independent of its liability to coastal businesses and residents and to the government under the Clean Water Act.

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New oil spill money released for Gulf Coast restoration

July 1, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Congress, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), Restoration Projects

By Mordechai Treiger, Environmental Defense Fund

Last month, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill incident announced Phase III of their Early Restoration efforts. The NRDA Trustees include representatives from the five Gulf Coast states and four federal agencies who are charged with assessing damage to natural resources, such as marshes, sea grasses, birds and marine mammals, stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Oiled Kemps Ridley turtle (credit: NOAA).

Phase III represents the largest collection of NRDA proposals to date, encompassing 28 proposals intended to restore ecosystem health and lost recreational opportunities across five states. At $320 million, the biggest of these new projects will be to rehabilitate Mississippi River Delta ecosystems devastated by the oil spill and subsequent cleanup efforts. Called the Louisiana Outer Coast Restoration project, it will restore damaged barrier islands in Plaquemines and Terrebonne Parishes by rebuilding beaches, dunes and back-barrier marsh habitat.

Restoration workers will deposit sediment in an effort to create new land, install sand fencing to encourage dune growth and plant native species across the island in an effort to combat erosion. The strengthened barrier islands will protect wetlands along the delta’s coastline as well as provide critical habitat for a variety of wildlife that suffered in the aftermath of the spill, including fish, shellfish and birds. The cost of the Louisiana Outer Coast Restoration project is expected to cost $320 million.

Previously, the NRDA Trustees finalized the first phase of early NRDA projects, which included eight restoration projects spread across five gulf states in April 2012, and the second phase of early NRDA projects, which introduced an additional two restoration projects in November 2012. In addition to the $71 million committed to Early Restoration in Phases I and II, the new projects will bring restoration spending totals under NRDA to well over $600 million.

Oiled marsh in Barataria Bay, La. (credit: NOAA).

All NRDA projects, from Phase I through Phase III, are being negotiated and funded in accordance with the $1 billion Early Framework Agreement signed by the NRDA Trustees and BP in April of 2011. The Framework Agreement was largely seen as a positive step toward restoring the Gulf when it was signed, but since then, money has been slow to flow under the agreement.

The NRDA Trustees recently announced their intention to delay further implementation of early restoration, including the recently announced Phase III projects, until the completion of a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for all Deepwater Horizon oil spill recovery efforts. Nevertheless, the Trustees remain committed to swiftly advancing these important ecosystem restoration projects with all deliberate speed.

At a June 6 U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing, Rachel Jacobson, Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of Interior, underlined the urgency of Gulf restoration, stating, “Interior fully recognizes, without hesitation, that the time to begin restoration is now.” She went on to promise that early restoration efforts would not come at the expense of, or otherwise undermine, the ultimate goal of complete restoration. “We will not stop until the entire billion is obligated,” Jacobson continued. “It is important to note that our early restoration efforts in no way affect our ongoing assessment work or our ability to recover from BP the full measure of damages needed for complete restoration.”

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Senate hearing reviews Gulf Coast oil spill restoration efforts

June 10, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Congress, Meetings/Events, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), RESTORE Act, Senator Mary Landrieu

By Will Lindsey, Environmental Defense Fund

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing Thursday (June 6) to review the progress that has been made to restore the Gulf Coast since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Senators Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) chaired the hearing, titled “Gulf Restoration: A Progress Report Three Years after the Deepwater Horizon Disaster.” The hearing came nearly a year after passage of the RESTORE Act, legislation that allocates 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties from the 2010 oil spill to Gulf restoration. Both senators were cosponsors of the legislation.

Seven witnesses testified at the hearing, representing organizations responsible for managing these restoration funds – as well as the projects that will utilize these funds – that will soon begin flowing through three funding streams as a result of the 2010 spill. These streams include $2.54 billion resulting from the BP criminal settlement, an initial $800 million as a result of a Transocean settlement and $1 billion as a result of agreements with BP to fund early restoration efforts under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process. The amount of funds available under the RESTORE Act is expected to grow substantially once the ongoing civil trials with BP are complete.

Notably, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who played a vital role in passing the RESTORE Act, gave the opening remarks. In reference to the need to better understand the Gulf Coast in order to implement restoration efforts, Landrieu said, “Science can make us much better leaders, if we would just listen to our scientists and to the actual research.” Following these opening remarks, each witness provided an oral testimony on the efforts their individual organizations have taken since the spill.

In response to the first testimony by Lois Schiffer, General Counsel for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Sen. Nelson stressed Congress’s expectation that the administrative agencies involved with the implementation of restoration projects follow the legislative intent of Congress in enacting the law. “One of the things that we want to emphasize here is that we want you to pay attention to the law,” Nelson said. The statement came in reference to a previous comment by Sen. Landrieu indicating that the law was written in order to strike a balance between competing interests and thus a portion of the law specifically allocates a percentage of the funds solely to environmental restoration.

In the final testimony, Dr. Stephen Polasky, professor of environmental economics at the University of Minnesota, emphasized the importance of the RESTORE Act and the funding that it will provide to Gulf restoration. “Under the RESTORE Act, we can reinvest in nature to ensure the recovery of the Gulf of Mexico, so that it continues to provide benefits to current and future generations,” said Polasky.

Moving forward, it appears that Congress will be paying encouragingly close attention to the ways in which the Gulf Coast restoration money from these different funding streams is being spent. Also encouraging is the apparent intention of the recipients of these funds to work together to ensure that comprehensive restoration remains a key focal point of the ongoing efforts along the Gulf Coast. As Rachel Jacobson, Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks for the Department of Interior, stated in her testimony, “We have a responsibility to the public to ensure that we make wise investments that are well-coordinated across the spectrum, through all funding streams.”

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