Archive for RESTORE Act
By Derek Brockbank, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign Director
Louisiana businesses have long known that a healthy coast is essential to the state’s economy. But a healthy coast means restoration, and restoration takes funding. So it’s no surprise that businesses are lining up to support House Bill 490 (HB 490) in the legislature this year, because this legislation would make sure Louisiana’s Coastal Trust Fund is used only for coastal restoration and protection, with no exceptions.
Michael Hecht, President and CEO of Greater New Orleans, Inc., has outlined why the coast is so important to the Louisiana business community:
“Restoring Louisiana’s coast is existential to our ability to live and work in Greater New Orleans, but we have a unique opportunity to turn this looming crisis into an economic opportunity by harnessing the existing water management, coastal resilience and disaster recovery experience currently existing in Southeast Louisiana and building on it, exporting it, and positioning our region as the international epicenter of the emerging environmental sector.”
Greater New Orleans, Inc. recently released a letter in support of HB 490, where they were joined by 28 business and economic development associations and more than 60 individual businesses that work in Louisiana. In explaining why they supported a bill that was largely about closing a fiscal loophole in how the Coastal Trust Fund is operated, the letter stated:
“As supporters of the RESTORE Act and the State Master Plan process, we know that large-scale coastal restoration is urgently needed to protect our businesses, economic base and communities. Investing in protection and restoration of our coast will reduce storm risk, while also creating jobs and economic opportunities that are important to our members, customers and parishes.”
Todd Murphy, President of the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, one of the letter signers, explained his support for HB 490 this way:
“Restoring our coast means sustaining the Louisiana economy. Businesses in Jefferson Parish rely on coastal wetlands. We need to protect the integrity of Louisiana’s Coastal Fund by using the Fund as the law intended – to pay for critical protection and restoration projects only.”
The Louisiana State House of Representatives unanimously passed HB 490 on May 5. Now the bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate Finance Committee. With the Senate adjourning on June 2, just a week and a half remains for the bill to be taken up by the Finance Committee and then the full Senate.
Take Action: Tell your Louisiana State Senator to take up and pass HB 490: https://secure2.edf.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=2283.No Comments
Conservation Organizations Respond to Senator Mary Landrieu’s Confirmation as Chairwoman of Energy and Natural Resources CommitteeFebruary 11, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Media Resources, RESTORE Act, Senator Mary Landrieu
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACTS: Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, email@example.com
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, firstname.lastname@example.org
Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, email@example.com
Conservation Organizations Respond to Senator Mary Landrieu’s Confirmation as Chairwoman of Energy and Natural Resources Committee
Landrieu a champion for Louisiana coastal restoration, Gulf oil spill recovery
(Washington, DC—February 11, 2014) Today, the U.S. Senate Democratic Caucus confirmed Senator Mary Landrieu as chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. National and local conservation organizations committed to Mississippi River Delta restoration – Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana – issued the following statement:
“We are pleased to welcome Senator Mary Landrieu as the new chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Senator Landrieu has proven herself to be a champion for restoration of the Mississippi River Delta, as well as an effective legislator, notably demonstrated by her leadership in crafting and passing the bipartisan RESTORE Act which benefits the entire Gulf Coast. The law ensures that Clean Water Act fines from the 2010 BP Gulf oil disaster go back to the Gulf Coast states for restoration. This historic legislation would not have become law without Senator Landrieu’s tireless leadership and her ability to work across the aisle. In her new capacity as committee chairwoman, we look forward to a continued partnership to advance both funding and implementation of Mississippi River Delta restoration.”
The Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition is working to protect people, wildlife and jobs by reconnecting the river with its wetlands. As our region faces the crisis of threatening land loss, we offer science-based solutions through a comprehensive approach to restoration. Comprised of conservation, policy, science and outreach experts from Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, we are located in Houma, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. See more at www.mississippiriverdelta.org.No Comments
Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition submits comments on proposed RESTORE Act Treasury regulationsNovember 19, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, BP Oil Disaster, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, RESTORE Act
By Whit Remer and Elizabeth Weiner, Environmental Defense Fund
Earlier this month, the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition submitted public comments to the U.S. Department of Treasury (Treasury) on a proposed rule governing disbursements from the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund. The Trust Fund was established by the RESTORE Act, enacted in 2012, and is funded by 80 percent of the civil Clean Water Act penalties that have been, and will be, paid by the parties responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The Act mandates that the Trust Fund be housed within and managed by Treasury and requires that Treasury propose and finalize a rule, with input from the public, regarding its management protocols. This is common practice for federal trust fund management. It is important because funding cannot be disbursed from the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund for urgently needed Gulf restoration until the rule promulgation process is complete.
Multiple federal rules, developed in similar manners, are necessary to implement the RESTORE Act. They may overlap with other implementation documents and reiterate statutory language. We believe that when overlap exists, the entities involved should ensure as much consistently and clarity as possible. For example, the RESTORE Act language and the Final Initial Comprehensive Plan direct the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council’s funding allocation exclusively to ecosystem restoration projects. Our comments suggested that the language and instruction in the final Treasury rule could more clearly reflect that specific direction from Congress and the Council.
As part of its management role, Treasury must also develop a compliance and auditing program – compliance on the front end to verify that grant applications comply with statutory requirements, and auditing on the back end to ensure that applicants did what they said they would do with the funds. Within Treasury, the Treasury RESTORE program will handle some aspects of this, and Treasury Inspector General will handle others. Because of the RESTORE Act’s unique structure with different funding components, the Council also has compliance and auditing authorities. Our comments urged Treasury to more clearly delineate the compliance and auditing roles of each of these federal entities so as to minimize delays and duplication and maximize the amount of funding that can be spent directly on restoration efforts.
Our comments also encouraged Treasury to consider adopting Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan as the RESTORE Act’s mandatory state expenditure plan. To receive funds from the Spill Impact Component, states must submit a multi-year expenditure plan that describes each program, project and activity for which the state seeks funding. Due to Louisiana’s substantial land loss crisis, the state has already developed a science-based planning process. The most recent product of that process is the 2012 Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. The State of Louisiana has dedicated, by state law, all funds from the RESTORE Act to its constitutionally protected Coastal Restoration and Protection Fund to be spent solely on projects in this plan. Recognizing that projects in the master plan still have to be sequenced for the purpose of serving as a RESTORE multi-year plan, we have advocated that the Plan meets, and often exceeds, the requirements of the State Expenditure Plan. If Treasury accepts the master plan process as compliant with the process set forth in the rule, the State of Louisiana will be ready to apply for RESTORE funds and utilize grant dollars more quickly.
Over the next few weeks, Treasury will read and consider comments submitted by the public as they prepare the final rule for the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Fund. The Council will also have to promulgate a rule regarding the RESTORE Act Spill Impact Component.No Comments
By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
Expert testimony on how much oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 oil disaster is expected to wrap up today in a New Orleans federal courtroom. This testimony is part of the Quantification Segment of the second phase of the BP trial, which began on September 30 and is ending a full week earlier than expected. Phase two is focused on efforts to stop the flow of oil from the well (Source Control Segment) and how much oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico during the 87-day disaster (Quantification Segment). Phase one of trial, which lasted two months and ended in April, covered the events that caused the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion. Despite the nearly concurrent federal government shutdown, trial continued relatively unfazed over the past three weeks.
Phase two kicked off with the Source Control Segment, where presiding Judge Carl Barbier heard testimony on the multiple engineering feats BP attempted to seal the uncontrolled Macondo well. The Quantification Segment pitted the U.S. Department of Justice against BP, each side offering conflicting expert testimony on the amount of oil that gushed from the well. The Quantification Segment is focused on a simple question with a not-so-simple answer: How much oil did BP spill into the Gulf of Mexico? Under the Clean Water Act, BP is subject to per-barrel fines based on how much oil was released into the Gulf. The government believes BP is liable for 4.2 million barrels, while BP contends they are responsible for no more than 2.45 million barrels. Each side is offering highly complex and technical scientific and engineering evidence related to how they estimated the total amount offered in court, and the judge will consider these testimonies when he determines how much BP will pay.
BP has maintained that the government exaggerated the amount of oil spilled during the disaster. The company argues that flow rates offered by the government were generated “over a single weekend” at the beginning of the spill. BP contends that the flow rate from the well was variable over time, and that it actually decreased as the spill progressed. Attorneys for the government attacked BP’s witnesses’ findings and even suggested potential bias, citing a $100 million donation made by BP to the Imperial College London which employs two of BP’s trial witnesses.
While it is plausible that Judge Barbier will come down somewhere in the middle of the 2.45 to 4.2 million barrel range, the total amount of Clean Water Act fines could quadruple if BP is found grossly negligent. A ruling on negligence, which has not been issued, will likely be based on evidence from both phase one and phase two of trial. Judge Barbier has noted that he will schedule a third penalty phase to help him assess fines in the case, presumably sometime next year. Eighty percent of the penalty money assessed in this case under the Clean Water Act will be distributed to the Gulf Coast states for restoration through the RESTORE Act, the federal law passed last year.No Comments
By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
BP and the U.S. Department of Justice sparred in federal court this week over how much oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico during the 87-day Gulf oil disaster during a part of the trial named the Quantification Segment. Last week, BP defended its multiple engineering attempts to stop the oil leak during the Source Control Segment. Both of these segments make up the second phase of trial, which was originally expected to last four weeks but may wrap up sooner. The first phase, which focused on the cause of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, concluded in April 2013 after nearly two months in the courtroom. A yet to be scheduled third phase will focus on penalties in the case, which could reach the tens of billions of dollars.
This week during the Quantification Segment, presiding Judge Carl Barbier has been hearing expert testimony from each side on the amount of oil spilled. BP is contending that 3.1 million barrels were released, while the U.S. government believes the number is closer to 4.9 million barrels. Both sides have agreed not to fine BP for 810,000 barrels that the company collected during the spill. BP was able to sell around 65,000 barrels of that collected oil, fetching approximately $4.5 million, which was placed in a trust fund for wildlife rehabilitation.
Experts testifying in the case specialize in fields such as hydrology, petroleum engineering and thermodynamic modeling. Judge Barbier will weigh evidence offered by these experts on possible daily flow rates and the total amount of oil spilled. On Monday and Tuesday, experts for the U.S. testified about pressure levels in the geologic formation that contained the oil where the Macondo well was being drilled. Pressure in the rock formation gives scientists an idea about how much oil could be released each day. BP argued that calculating the flow of oil from the Macondo well was possibly slowed by obstructions resulting from the rig collapse like sheared metal components. The U.S. called Stewart Griffiths, a fluid dynamics expert, to rebut the argument by testifying that the metal would have likely eroded within hours or days of the blowout.
Another complicating factor in determining the amount of oil spilled is distinguishing between solid oil and gas. Video images of oil gushing from the wellhead and broken riser pipe were played around the world during the disaster (check out the video below for clips of the spill and a timeline of events). The gushing brown stream consisted of both solid oil and gas, known collectively as hydrocarbons. Under the Clean Water Act – the primary law controlling the Quantification Segment of trail – BP can only be fined for the release of solid oil, not gas.
To help determine how much of the release consisted of solid oil, the U.S. called Aaron Zick, an independent contractor who specializes in thermodynamic modeling of oil and gas formations, to the stand. Zick offered a complex formula to help distinguish solid oil from gas when analyzing potential flow rates at the well head. The formula had to be adapted for deep sea pressure readings because the extreme differences in temperature at the ocean floor. The hydrocarbon mixture is nearing boiling when it enters the freezing ocean. The extreme reactions make the analyses more difficult than those tested in shallow water.
Chemistry class aside, the Quantification Segment is important because BP will be fined under the Clean Water Act based on how much solid oil entered the Gulf of Mexico. Through the federal RESTORE Act, that fine money will be used for environmental and economic restoration activities along the Gulf Coast.No Comments
By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
On September 6, the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) proposed draft regulations for disbursing funds under the RESTORE Act. Treasury is responsible for developing compliance measures, an auditing process and guidelines for grant distribution under the law. The release of the regulations enables the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to advance some of its work, and the final regulations will outline the process for Gulf Coast states to acquire their RESTORE Act allocations.
Under the RESTORE Act, 80 percent of Clean Water Act civil fines resulting from the 2010 oil spill will be sent back to the Gulf Coast states to use for restoration. The money is divided into three substantial components and two smaller ones: 35 percent equally divided to the five Gulf Coast states, 30 percent for ecosystem restoration overseen by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council and 30 percent divided to the states according to an oil spill impact formula. Of the remaining 5 percent, 2.5 percent is for a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration, Science, Observation, Monitoring and Technology Program, and 2.5 percent will be distributed evenly between the Gulf Coast states for “Centers of Excellence” Research grants.
For the first substantial component, known as the Direct Component, Treasury will grant money directly to the five Gulf Coast states. Per the draft regulations, each state must submit a detailed multi-year plan describing the projects and programs it wants to implement. The RESTORE Act permits nine eligible activities for spending, including restoration and protection of natural resources, coastal flood protection and workforce development. The regulations explain that Treasury’s role for the Direct Component is focused fiscal compliance and not to determine which projects and programs will best restore the Gulf Coast region.
For the second and third components, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council will play a more proactive, involved role in determining which restoration projects and programs will best restore the Gulf Coast region and should subsequently receive funding. The Council oversees 60 percent of the restoration funds, with direct control over 30 percent to implement its Initial Comprehensive Plan, and it plays a coordinating role with the states over the other 30 percent. The Treasury regulations do not provide many additional details on how the Council should advance the Comprehensive Plan, and defers to the Council to develop its own guidelines and rules. Treasury also acknowledges the Council must create and implement its own compliance program to guide the remaining 30 percent with the states under the spill impact formula, which the Treasury regulations will supplement.
There is a 60-day public comment period to respond to the Treasury regulations, which can be submitted online here: http://www.treasury.gov/connect/blog/Pages/Treasury-Issues-Proposed-RESTORE-Act-Regulation,-Opens-60-Day-Comment-Period.aspx.
We are encouraged by the release of the Treasury regulations and now look the Restoration Council to develop a project list.No Comments
By Estelle Robichaux, Environmental Defense Fund
Last week, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council held a public meeting in New Orleans to vote on its Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy. The RESTORE Act, signed into law in July 2012, established the Council and tasked it with, among other duties, creating a long-term ecosystem restoration plan for the Gulf Coast region in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
In his opening remarks, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (Council member and host of the meeting) spoke of the many natural and human-caused disasters that have afflicted Louisiana in recent years: Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike and Isaac; and, of course, the BP oil disaster.
Jindal highlighted the need to move restoration projects forward and not let the bureaucratic process delay implementation of projects that have already been sufficiently vetted. Jindal stated he had “directed state officials to commit 100 percent of Louisiana’s RESTORE Act funding to ecosystem restoration and community resilience projects associated with our Master Plan.” While the governor acknowledged Transocean for stepping up by paying their Clean Water Act fines, he called on BP to stop spending millions of dollars in public relations, claiming that they have spent more money on television commercials than on actual restoration, while there are still 200 miles of oiled shoreline along the Gulf Coast.
The chair of the Council, newly appointed Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, spoke following Jindal and stated, “the Gulf Region is part of who we are as Americans” and the Council wants “the world to see the Gulf Coast as a wonderful place to visit, work, play, and live.” Although the Comprehensive Plan in its current iteration is still very general, the Secretary took this opportunity to affirm that science will be integral in the decision-making process. She emphasized that the Council was committed to moving forward with the planning and restoration process, despite uncertainties about the ultimate amount or timing of available funds. The desire for momentum was underscored by the Council’s stated goal to begin selecting and funding projects within the next 12 months.
Justin Ehrenwerth, Executive Director of the Council, presented an overview of the Plan and discussed next steps before the Council unanimously voted to pass the Initial Comprehensive Plan and accompanying documents, including the Programmatic Environmental Assessment, Finding of No Significant Impact and Response to Public Comments. Mimi Drew (Chair of the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustee Council), Thomas Kelsch (Vice President of National Fish & Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund) and Russ Beard (Acting Director of the RESTORE Act Science Program) gave overviews of their respective programs and how they anticipate coordinating with the Council and the Comprehensive Plan as it moves forward.
More than 50 people spoke during the meeting’s public comment portion, which was notably held after the Council had already voted to accept the plan. Many residents of Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states traveled to New Orleans to have their voices heard. Most of them, having watched the natural areas around their lifelong homes degrade in recent years, encouraged, supported and even pleaded with the Council to move forward urgently with Gulf Coast restoration. In the words of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign’s own David Muth: “Delay is the enemy.”
Some individuals tried to further impress upon the Council the damage that had been done to the Gulf ecosystem, pointing to evidence of the continued presence of oil slicks and suspicious absence of wildlife around Mississippi Canyon block 252, where the Deepwater Horizon oil platform was located. Several staff members and experts from our Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign gave statements to the Council, reminding them that Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan is “not a perfect plan, but it is absolutely the best approach to coastal restoration that has been done.”
Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan was developed using a science-based process and examines both present-day and likely-future conditions of the coast. The Master Plan provides a model for how restoration should be addressed Gulf-wide, and the Council should work with Louisiana to prioritize restoration projects set forth in the state’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan.
One of the most passionate speakers, who created the most poignant moment during the almost four-hour-long meeting, was 10-year-old Sean Turner. Sean, the youngest Conservation Pro Staff member of Vanishing Paradise, spoke with conviction about saving coastal Louisiana. “I want to save the coast,” said Sean. “I go fishing. I go hunting. That’s why I care. I want to stay here because Louisiana is Sportsman’s Paradise.” You can watch a video of Sean giving his comments here.
The next crucial step for the Council will be selecting projects that are consistent with the restoration priorities criteria defined in the RESTORE Act and will benefit and restore Gulf Coast ecosystems. The RESTORE Act requires that these projects be designed, selected, prioritized, and implemented using the best available science.No Comments
This is the second post in a series about wildlife tourism and the Gulf Coast economy.
By Will Lindsey and Rachel Schott, Environmental Defense Fund
Datu Research LLC’s recently released report, “Wildlife Tourism and the Gulf Coast Economy,” shows how wildlife tourism is a vital component of the Gulf Coast economy and links the industry’s success to the health of the Gulf’s unique environment and ecosystems. Taking a closer look at the report allows one to see the full economic impact of wildlife tourism on each of the five Gulf Coast states as well as the businesses directly and indirectly associated with wildlife tourism in the region. In coastal areas, tourism jobs can account for 20-36 percent of all private sector employment.
Louisiana receives more than 2 million wildlife tourists every year, and the state’s coastal parishes host nearly 4,400 wildlife tourism-related businesses. Wildlife tourism includes recreational fishing, hunting and wildlife watching. These guide and outfitter companies, which tend be small businesses, have a big economic impact on their communities. There are also hundreds of lodging and dining establishments that cater to wildlife tourists, providing a significant cumulative impact on the local economy.
A Louisiana-based guide company, Lost Land Environmental Tours, is one such business that provides services for wildlife tourists by offering tours of the swamps and wetlands. Their guides engage with and educate customers on issues that threaten coastal Louisiana, such as wetlands loss and erosion, and provide information about the importance of preserving, protecting and rebuilding this valuable natural resource.
Lost Land is increasingly concerned about the ecological health of the Gulf, as it is directly tied to the viability of their business and other outdoor businesses. “We strive to show people the beauty and the lushness of our ecosystem,” said Marie Gould, co-founder of Lost Land. “We end up showing people small patches of the way things should be and a lot of dead and dying forests.”
Numerous wildlife tourism businesses stand to lose if coastal wetlands loss is not addressed with timely restoration projects. Funding from the RESTORE Act and other monies related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are expected to provide monetary support for these urgent projects. This funding is needed to protect and restore the natural environment as well as the economic viability of the entire Gulf Coast region.No Comments
By Whit Remer and Elizabeth Weiner, Environmental Defense Fund
Last week, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council released the “Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy” for implementing parts of the RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act, which was enacted into law in 2012 in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council was created by the RESTORE Act and comprises officials from five Gulf Coast states and six federal agencies.
The RESTORE Act requires the Council to develop and maintain a comprehensive plan for restoring the Gulf Coast, and the release of the Initial Comprehensive Plan is a milestone in that process. Throughout the last year, the Council solicited input from the public on various components of the Initial Comprehensive Plan. The Plan ultimately included goals and objectives and reiterated the restoration priorities that were central in the RESTORE Act.
The Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign provided vital input to the Council, emphasizing adherence to statutory language, use of the best-available science and the central role that the delta plays in comprehensive, Gulf-wide restoration. While the Plan sketches a blueprint for Gulf Coast restoration, the next steps toward developing a project and program list are critical to the Plan’s success. Louisiana’s fragile wetlands continue to disappear at an alarming rate. Sediment diversions, marsh creation and barrier island restoration are all methods being proposed to stem the loss of land and provide storm protection and habitat along the coast. We will continue to encourage the Council to use the best-available science to develop a project and program list, including these methods, and put restoration dollars to work as soon as possible.
In the Initial Comprehensive Plan, the Council provided several reasons for not including a project and program list. The Department of Treasury is required by the RESTORE Act to issue regulations to guide disbursement of funding to states and allocation of funding by the Council. These regulations are currently held up for review at the Office of Management and Budget. Once the regulations are approved, the Council will have more direction on how to spend and allocate restoration dollars.
However, the Council will need more funding in the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund to carry out its priority projects and programs list, once complete. Thirty percent of the total funding in this Trust Fund will be used for these priority projects and programs. Transocean, one of the responsible parties, has already settled their Clean Water Act fines totaling $1 billion, which will result in $800 million in the Trust Fund by January 3, 2015. The Trust Fund will receive additional funding from Clean Water Act fines assessed against BP and other responsible parties resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Fines against BP and other oil companies involved in spill have yet to be determined by a federal judge in New Orleans. The second phase of the trial to determine those fines is set for September 30, but the judgment could take months to issue, with the chance an appeal would follow.No Comments
By Rachel Schott, Environmental Defense Fund
In June, the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, a bipartisan 16-member council representing diverse ocean interests, released a new report, “Charting the Course: Securing the Future of America’s Oceans.” The report outlines important ocean reform and coastal restoration recommendations for Congress and the Obama Administration. Being an “ocean nation,” the health of the U.S. economy is closely tied to health of its oceans. For Gulf Coast residents, this specifically means the Gulf of Mexico. The report has implications for both the health the Gulf Coast environment and the economies that rely on it.
“Our oceans and coasts are vital to our nation’s economy and security, as well as to the health and quality of life of its citizens,” states the Joint Initiative in the report. No one understands this better than Louisiana and Gulf Coast residents. After the 2010 oil disaster, in 2012, Congress took an important step toward securing the future health and vitality of the region when it passed the RESTORE Act – legislation that dedicates fines from the Gulf oil disaster to the Gulf Coast states for restoration. However, project selection and final authorization of funds has yet to be determined.
The report makes recommendations that advocate for restoring the coast’s natural coastline, strengthening its ability to protect communities from storms and rebuilding natural habitats and ecosystems. These recommendations offer a valid perspective for allocating available RESTORE Act funding and BP oil spill penalties to coastal restoration projects.
In its report, the council – consisting of national, state, and local leaders from diverse government agencies, academic institutions and industries – provided a set of science-based policy recommendations that enhance the long-term security and economic priorities of the nation’s coast. Two actions that would directly affect the Mississippi River Delta and coastal Louisiana are as follows:
- “Enhance the resiliency of coastal communities and ocean ecosystems to dramatic changes underway in our oceans and on our coasts.”
- “Support state and regional ocean and coastal priorities.”
As hurricanes and super storms become more common, it will become vital that policymakers implement programs that increase coastal resiliency. National decision makers must understand the underlying issues and local community priorities to effectively select and implement coastal restoration projects.
As the report underlines, building stronger and more resilient coastlines benefits not just those living near the coast, but the entire nation that depends on healthy coasts and oceans. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council has an unprecedented opportunity to allocate RESTORE Act funds to implementing coastal restoration projects and becoming an integral part of rebuilding the Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast and the economies that depend on a healthy Gulf Coast.