Archive for RESTORE Act


RESTORE Council Releases Priority List of Gulf Restoration Projects for Funding

August 13, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in Federal Policy, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Media Resources, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 Contact:
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6849, jhebert@audubon.org
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, evancleve@edf.org
Rachel Guillory, Ocean Conservancy, 504.208.5816, rguillory@oceanconservancy.org
Andrew Blejwas, The Nature Conservancy, 617.785.7047, ablejwas@tnc.org
Jimmy Frederick, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, 225.317.2046, jimmy.frederick@crcl.org
John Lopez, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, 504.421.7348, johnlopez@pobox.com

 

RESTORE Council Releases Priority List of Gulf Restoration Projects for Funding

National and Local Conservation Groups Call List Positive Step Forward; Tremendous Opportunity Ahead for Long-Lasting Restoration with BP Settlement

(New Orleans – August 13, 2015) Today, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration (RESTORE) Council released its Funded Priorities List (FPL) – a compilation of restoration projects the Council intends to prioritize for funding following the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. These projects will be funded by a portion of RESTORE Act dollars designated for ecosystem restoration from the Transocean Clean Water Act settlement. The announced list is now open for a public comment period, with comments due September 28, 2015. The Council will also hold public meetings on the FPL in each of the Gulf states.

National and local conservation organizations working on Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River Delta restoration – Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Ocean Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – released the following statement in response to today’s announcement:

“While we haven’t yet engaged on the details of the list, we are encouraged to see this first Funded Priorities List moving forward into the public comment period, and we congratulate the RESTORE Council and staff for their efforts to reach this point. The RESTORE Act is focused on comprehensive restoration for the Gulf of Mexico, and our organizations are eager to see strong projects progress to actual construction and implementation.

“With a final BP settlement on the horizon, the RESTORE Council and the Gulf states have a tremendous opportunity ahead to plan for and achieve meaningful restoration and lasting resilience for the essential ecosystems of the Gulf. Our organizations look forward to reviewing and providing comments on this first project list over the coming weeks and working with the Council on the next, more comprehensive FPL process.”

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Ten Years after Katrina, What the BP Settlement Means for Louisiana Restoration

July 16, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 19 Priority Projects, 5 Years Later, BP Oil Disaster, Community Resiliency, Diversions, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, K10, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act, Science

By Steve Cochran, Director, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program, Environmental Defense Fund

Ten years ago, just after Hurricane Katrina, I was asked to talk to Environmental Defense Fund’s board about the place where I grew up, the New Orleans area that had been hit so hard.

I remember two things about that discussion. One was my voice breaking unexpectedly (and embarrassingly) as we talked through pictures of the Katrina aftermath and came across places I intimately knew.

As an adult, I had developed a love/hate relationship with my home – loving the beauty, the people, the community and the culture, but frustrated by what I saw as the general tolerance of mediocrity and corrupt politics that limited its possibilities. That frustration had pushed the love down, and I had moved away. But there it was again. Sometimes you don’t know how much you care.

The second thing I remember was saying that the Katrina response was a deep test of our governments – local, state and national. As we know now, in that moment, it was a test they failed. But fast forward to July 2, 2015, the day a global settlement was announced in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill case. It was a day when governments rose to the occasion. The result was literally the largest environmental settlement in U.S. history.

The BP Settlement and Louisiana Coastal Restoration

Under the agreement, Louisiana will receive more than a third of the money – $6.8 billion of the $18.7 billion, and $5.8 billion of that is specifically targeted to restoration. The overall restoration total for Louisiana will likely be just under $8 billion, including early restoration dollars and criminal settlements.

These are significant resources at a critical time. Land loss across the coast of Louisiana, exacerbated by the spill, continues at a fearful rate. But we are making progress against that loss, and with the solid state commitment that now exists, and effective plans in place, these resources will allow us to battle back in earnest, with a clear-eyed view toward success.

In particular, the state plans to re-engage the enormous power of the Mississippi River and its sediment through a series of sediment diversions – using the natural land-building capacity of the river by reconnecting it to the delta it originally built. This science-based, innovative approach is the critical piece in our ability to provide solutions at a scale that can match the challenges in the Mississippi River Delta – now the largest restoration effort under way in the world.

Rebuilding Our Coast to Protect Our Communities

About a month after the spill, I was allowed to sit in on a tribal council of the indigenous United Houma Nation. As the oil continued to pour into the Gulf of Mexico, which it would do for another two months, I listened and watched as a man described, through a quiet voice and uncontrolled tears, how he had always looked to the waters of the Gulf and drawn confidence, knowing he could always provide for his family by accepting its gifts. But now all he could feel was fundamental fear.

Money can’t replace that kind of loss any more than it can bring back the 11 loved ones who lost their lives in the accident.

But we must do what we can – and in that context, the BP settlement is a tremendous step forward, because we can restore the Mississippi River Delta, so it can protect this area in the future.

Details matter, of course, and details remain to be decided as the Agreement in Principle is turned into a consent decree. We need to remain involved and vigilant. But it does seem clear that this agreement combines avoiding years of litigation with levels of funding that can truly make a difference.

With these resources, we can go to work to make sure that the largest environmental settlement in our nation’s history also becomes the most meaningful settlement in a place that, well, I love.

 

 

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Deepwater Horizon Settlement – Some Answers, New Questions

July 8, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Federal Policy, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), RESTORE Act

This information was originally posted on the Environmental Law Institute's website. 
By ELI Gulf Team

On July 2, 2015, a monumental announcement was made: an agreement in principle has been reached to settle all federal and state claims against BP arising from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill for $18.732 billion (see BP’s press release here). This amount includes:

BP-Settlement-breakdown

 

While we are still waiting on the exact details of the settlement, we do know some of the terms. We will focus on the natural resource damages and Clean Water Act civil penalties (specifically the RESTORE Act) here, considering:

1. What do we know?
2. What were the potential damages or penalties?
3. What information is still missing?

Note that this agreement is by no means final: the details still need to be hammered out and, once they are, they will be set out in a consent decree, which will be open for public comment before it goes to the court for final approval.

Natural Resource Damages (NRD)

As a refresher, a Natural Resource Damage Assessment is a process focused on restoring natural resources injured by an oil spill. The goal is to restore the resources to the condition they would have been in had the oil spill not occurred (called “baseline”). This process is led by government representatives called “trustees.” The parties responsible for the spill pay for, among other things, the costs of restoration.

1. What do we know?

BP has agreed to pay $7.1 billion in natural resource damages. This is in addition to the $1 billion already committed for early restoration. The $8.1 billion total is divided as follows:

NRD-Funding

 

Louisiana will receive the bulk of the funding (over 60%). Notably, over $1 billion will go to open ocean projects, which have not received a substantial amount of funding under early restoration.

A few additional notes:

  • The money will be paid out over 15 years
  • Interest will accrue on the unpaid balance; this interest is payable the year after the last NRD payment, but the Gulf states and federal government may request payment of the accrued interest after 10 years to address unknown natural resource damages
  • An additional $232 million will be made available for unknown natural resource damages the year after the $7.1 billion is paid
  • An additional $350 million will be paid for costs related to assessing the natural resource damages

2. What were the potential damages?

Natural resource damages were in the process of being assessed when the agreement was announced. Evaluation of damages is complicated, and we will know more about the quantification of damages after more information is released (much of it was confidential due to the potential for litigation).

3. What information is still missing?

There is still information we do not know, including:

  • The terms under which the interest can be accessed early
  • The terms under which the additional $232 million can be accessed
  • What types of restoration projects will be chosen
  • The timeline for the restoration plan(s) and implementing projects

As for participation opportunities, in addition to commenting on the terms of the consent decree, there will be opportunities for the public to comment on the restoration plan(s) and projects. We will post these opportunities on our Public Participation Bulletin Board as they arise.

RESTORE Act

As a refresher, the RESTORE Act diverts 80% of Clean Water Act civil and administrative penalties collected as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the Gulf for restoration and recovery. The funds go to five different “pots” (learn more here).

1. What do we know?

BP has agreed to pay $5.5 billion in Clean Water Act civil penalties, which means that $4.4 billion (80% of $5.5 billion) will flow through RESTORE. The graph below shows how this $4.4 billion will be allocated:

RESTORE-Funding-chart

 

Among the states, Louisiana is slated to receive the most RESTORE Act funding (18% of the RESTORE funds). Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi will receive around 14% of the RESTORE funds, with Texas receiving 10%.

A few additional notes:

  • The money will be paid out over 15 years
  • Interest will accrue on the balance, payable the year the last RESTORE Act payment is made
  • Adding the $4.4 billion to the $800 million already flowing through RESTORE (from the Transocean settlement), a total of $5.2 billion has now been obligated to RESTORE

2. What were the potential penalties?

BP’s Clean Water Act civil penalties were the subject of ongoing litigation (see our post on the trial here). The court had not released a decision on the penalty amount before the settlement announcement. At the time of the announcement, BP faced a $13.7 billion maximum penalty.

3. What information is still missing?

At this time, we don’t know how the states will spend their share of the funding and what their priorities will be (though Louisiana is expected to fund projects from its Coastal Master Plan). We also don’t know what types of projects the RESTORE Council will prioritize for funding.

As for participation opportunities, in addition to commenting on the consent decree, there will be state-specific and Gulf-wide participation opportunities. We will track these on our Public Participation Bulletin Board.

New Questions

Once the details of the agreement are fleshed out, there will be answers to many of our remaining questions. A number of questions will nonetheless persist – particularly on which projects will be chosen and how they will be implemented. It is therefore essential that the public remain involved and participate as the restoration processes move forward. While the agreement represents a monumental step forward, it is just the start of a long recovery road ahead.

For more information on the Environmental Law Institute's Ocean Program, click here.

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Gulf Restoration Groups Ready to Put Billions to Work to Bring Back Gulf

July 2, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Federal Policy, Media Resources, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), RESTORE Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:

Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6849, jhebert@audubon.org
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, evancleve@edf.org
Rachel Guillory, Ocean Conservancy, 504.208.5816, rguillory@oceanconservancy.org
Andrew Blejwas, The Nature Conservancy, 617.785.7047, ablejwas@tnc.org
Jimmy Frederick, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, 225.317.2046, jimmy.frederick@crcl.org
John Lopez, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, 504.421.7348, johnlopez@pobox.com

Gulf Restoration Groups Ready to Put Billions to Work to Bring Back Gulf

Region’s economy and well-being are based on strong, resilient ecosystem

(New Orleans, LA – July 2, 2015) National and local organizations working on Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River Delta restoration – Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Ocean Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – released the following statement in response to today’s announcement of an agreement in principle between the Gulf states, federal government and BP for its role in the largest U.S. offshore oil disaster in history. Although the settlement will not be finalized for several weeks, the agreement will dedicate billions of dollars to restore damage caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“In sharp contrast to the decades-long litigation following the Exxon Valdez spill, federal and state leaders have wasted no time in closing this case. Their swift work means meaningful restoration efforts are imminent. Their leadership, at this moment, is invaluable. 

While we await key details, one thing is clear: As soon as the settlement is final, it will be time to put that money to work. 

We need our leaders to make sure that every dime of this settlement is used as it is intended: to address oil spill impacts and repair long-standing ecosystem damage. We cannot afford to wait any longer. The Gulf ecosystem is the backbone of the local economy and our primary defense from storms during hurricane season. 

This settlement, which promises to be the largest environmental settlement in American history, is an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate and expand the response to the devastating harm caused by the spill, and to build lasting resilience into the essential ecosystems of the Gulf.

We are especially encouraged that the settlement will put special emphasis on restoring health to the Mississippi River Delta and its coastal wetlands. We also urge leaders in NOAA and other agencies to leverage resources from this settlement to restore marine resources.”

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

  • A 2014 study found evidence of a 1,250-square-mile area of oil contamination on the ocean floor around the Macondo wellhead in deep Gulf sediments.
  • A previous NOAA study found a large number of dead dolphins in heavily oiled places, including Barataria Bay, La.
  • Recent studies estimate an unprecedented number of birds (upwards of 1 million) died as a result of being exposed to BP oil.
  • A 2014 study found concentrations of PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) – which can cause harmful effects in many birds, fish and wildlife – in Barataria and Terrebonne marshes, which may persist for decades.
  • A 2012 study found that oiled marshes in Barataria Bay eroded at double the rate of non-oiled marshes.

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2015 Louisiana Legislative Session: Coastal Wrap-Up

June 22, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), RESTORE Act, State Legislature

By Cynthia Duet, Deputy Director, Audubon Louisiana

The 2015 session of the Louisiana Legislature has comeState Capitol to a close. Although the last two months have been filled with difficult decisions for lawmakers trying to balance the state budget during this important fiscal session, bills related to coastal restoration projects, programs and funding remained the primary focus of Mississippi River Delta Coalition policy staff.

The Louisiana Legislature demonstrated continued commitment to coastal restoration and protection issues by passing HCR1 –  the resolution that allows for passage of the 2015-2016 Coastal Annual Plan. The plan is the funding report and projections document that shows where, when and how funding will be expended on restoration of the coast for protection of the people, wildlife and industries of Louisiana. The resolution was sponsored by Representative Gordon Dove, Chairman of House Natural Resources Committee, recognized as a long-time coastal supporter from the Terrebonne area. He is now wrapping up his last term in the House.

There were many items monitored this session that either did or would have had an effect on the coastal fund and coastal habitats.  Some of the highlights are noted as follows:

  • House Concurrent Resolution 1 (HCR 1) – already mentioned, the funding vehicle for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s 2015-2016 annual plan for integrated coastal protection and restoration passed with overwhelming support through both state houses. The Coastal Annual Plan funds coastal restoration and hurricane protection for a three-year period through the authorization of $884 million in spending towards new and existing projects. This authorization will fund some of the 19 priority projects for restoring Louisiana’s coast as identified by the Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition.
  • HB 352 – This bill transferred oversight authority for a state-negotiated agreement allowing coastal landowners to retain their mineral rights into perpetuity if they donate their surface rights to a certified organization for the purposes of implementing a coastal integrated project.  The authority, established by legislation in 2006, was moved to CPRA from DNR, consistent with the current structure of the state’s coastal program. The bill is currently awaiting signature of the governor.
  • HB 288 – This bill sought to prohibit the importation and release of feral hogs and restrict the transportation of feral hogs, except by permit. The spread of feral hogs is linked to transport and release. The bill failed in committee. Feral hogs damage levees, destroy coastal marsh and other wildlife habitat, reduce crops, and prey upon livestock and wildlife.
  • HB 167 – This bill would have allowed nighttime hunting of feral hogs and coyotes year round on private property, including during deer and duck seasons. HB 167 did not pass out of Senate Natural Resources Committee due to concerns that the proposed changes to the law would make enforcement of illegal nighttime hunting incredibly difficult, essentially encouraging poaching. The law as it stands allows a landowner to control feral hogs on their property year round via a permit for nighttime hunting of feral hogs when night hunting is not legal during September through February. Both bills sought to address the exploding feral hog population, however, a more coordinated effort is needed to address this scourge on Louisiana’s landscape. The feral hog population is estimated at more than 500,000 and increasing every year.
  • SB 196 – This Senate Bill proposed a Constitutional Amendment to ask voters to repeal constitutional protections for funds including the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation Fund, Oilfield Site Restoration Fund, Oil Spill Contingency Fund, Artificial Reef Development Fund, and the Atchafalaya Basin Conservation Fund.
  • HB 523 – This proposed constitutional amendment to ask voters to repeal constitutional protection for a number of funds, including the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund, Barrier Island Stabilization and Preservation Fund, and the Atchafalaya Basin Conservation Fund. As a reminder, all funds constitutionally protected went before the voters to approve that protection at some point.

There were several bills that, due to the state’s budget crisis, were being contemplated early in the session as a way to free up money to balance the $1.6 billion budget hole. The two bills proposing to remove constitutional protection for key funds failed to make it out of legislative committees. Fortunately, these items did not gain traction and the budget issues were handled in other ways, for now. However, there remains a need to stay ever vigilant during future sessions. The discussion about whether funds should be protected under the constitution or be free for lawmakers to apply to other uses will likely continue as the state grapples with expected budget challenges in the coming years.

In summary, as the 2015 fiscal session wrapped up, much concern still remains regarding the state’s budget, and the likelihood remains high that a special session may be called by the new administration at the beginning of 2016 to look for solutions. Amidst the obvious difficulties, coastal protection and restoration projects remain on the course that they have been on for several years, and the funding of projects from RESTORE Act and the GOMESA are closer than ever to becoming a reality to repair our damaged coastline.

For more information on the projects that can save Louisiana’s coast, please visit: http://www.mississippiriverdelta.org/restoration-projects/map/.

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Following the oil spill, new science and research efforts develop in the Gulf of Mexico

May 5, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 5 Years Later, BP Oil Disaster, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act, Science

By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

This is the final post in a series about Gulf oil spill early coastal restoration funding and projects. Be sure to check out parts one, two and three.

In addition to environmental restoration projects and programs, four different science programs have been created through oil-spill related funding streams. See the info boxes for details on each program.

Because these programs began developing around the same time and around the same general topics – the Gulf of Mexico, ecosystem restoration and oil and gas production – there is often a lot of confusion about what these programs do and how they are different. We are here to help!

gomri

noaa

 

 

 

 

nas

coe

 

 

 

 

 

 

How are the areas of focus in each of these science programs different?

There are three broad areas of focus that all of these programs collectively address:

  • Ecosystems & the environment
  • The human element
  • Offshore oil development & the environment

However, there are key distinctions between each program and how they address these broader topics.

Ecosystems & the environment

Based on the statutory language in the RESTORE Act, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) science program covers all marine and estuarine ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico. The Centers of Excellence (CoE) programs are more narrowly focused on coastal and deltaic systems. Both of these programs also include fisheries, with CoE programs being limited to coastal fisheries but also covering coastal wildlife.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) program broadly addresses protection of environmental resources, while the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) does not have a directive to concentrate on specific ecosystems or species.

GoMRI does, however, have an explicit focus on ecosystem recovery. The CoE programs can emphasize ecosystem restoration and sustainability, and NAS has interpreted language in the settlement agreements to include restoration of the environment and ecosystem services under their program as well.

The NOAA program is supposed to support ecosystem sustainability and restoration “to the maximum extent practicable.” There is a focus on ecosystem management in the current science plan, but this program is not specifically designed around restoration science.

The human element

The BP oil disaster also has had a great impact on human communities. Both the NAS program and GoMRI are investigating human and public health issues that have developed in the wake of the spill. This includes socioeconomic research as well as behavioral, mental and social well-being. CoE programs can address economic and commercial development in the Gulf region, with a focus on sustainable and resilient growth.

Offshore oil development & the environment

Throughout the Gulf Coast and particularly in Louisiana, the oil and gas industry is an important economic driver and employer. But offshore oil and gas production needs to be done responsibly, for both the people and environment of the Gulf.

Safe and sustainable offshore energy development is something on which CoEs can focus. The NAS program is will be addressing oil system safety and GoMRI will be developing technology related to oil spill response and remediation.

GoMRI’s primary focus is on the impacts of oil and dispersants on Gulf ecosystems and organisms as well as the physical and chemical questions surrounding oil and dispersants, such as where did the oil go and how has the oil and dispersants been degrading.

Are all of these programs investing the same kinds of science?diagram

As with the areas of focus, there is a lot of overlap in the types of science activities that these programs are targeting, but there are a few important differences.

The obvious commonality among all four programs is research, which is not surprising as they are all science-focused endeavors.

GoMRI, CoEs and the NAS program also all have some focus on technology and development. This means that some of the science and research that these programs fund will be targeted towards developing new technologies, products or procedures.

The NOAA and NAS programs, as well as CoEs, will invest in monitoring. As discussed in this previous blog post, the BP oil spill highlighted the lack of coordinated, comprehensive monitoring throughout the Gulf region. These programs will fund research into what monitoring does exist throughout the Gulf and explore options and opportunities for implementing monitoring programs.

Even among the distinguishing types of activities these programs will pursue, there are areas of convergence. The NAS program has a mandate to focus on education & training; CoEs on mapping the Gulf of Mexico; and the NOAA program on data collection and fisheries pilot programs. However, training and pilot programs may find overlap with development initiatives. Similarly, data collection and mapping are both important activities strongly related to monitoring. With so many intersections between and among programs, it is essential that these programs communicate with one another.

What’s missing?

With everything these four science programs are doing, it may be hard to believe that anything is lacking. But there are two very important things missing from these collective efforts.

One is formal coordination among programs. Over the last few years, as these programs have begun developing, there has been copious discussion about not duplicating efforts among programs. However, there has been little conversation about devising specific, formal coordination mechanisms to make sure that such duplication does not happen.

Development and implementation of formal coordination mechanisms would also allow programs to take advantage of overlap, by providing points of discussion for complementary or parallel endeavors, particularly those that might span ecosystem boundaries or involve large-scale research or monitoring.

The second missing piece is a means for integrating findings into restoration activities, like those discussed here. Although this will require work beyond the four programs examined here, these science programs should make every effort to ensure that results from their funded research and activities are publicly accessible and readily communicated to decision-makers.

These science programs may not be constructing restoration projects, but the results from their research and other activities may have important implications for restoration efforts now and in the future.

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

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

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

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

(New Orleans, LA—March 31, 2015) Five years after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 men and spewing at least 3.19 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, leading national and local conservation organizations working on Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast restoration – Environmental Defense FundNational Audubon SocietyNational Wildlife Federation and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – released the following statement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background:

Since the BP oil disaster five years ago, ongoing findings deliver truths omitted by BP’s ads: the oil disaster’s negative effects are increasingly clear, present and far from resolved.

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

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

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David Muth

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

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

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

By Will Lindsey 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What is Phase III of the BP Trial?

January 20, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Federal Policy, RESTORE Act

Phase III of the BP Trial started this week. But what does this mean? Why are there “phases”, and when will this trial end? All good questions.

The BP trial underway is a civil (not criminal) litigation between the U.S. Department of Justice and BP and other parties responsible for the 2010 Gulf oil spill. BP and others are being held accountable for violations of the Clean Water Act for spilling millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Because of the RESTORE Act, 80 percent of all fines and penalties resulting from this trial will return to the Gulf Coast for restoration.

Before specifically getting to Phase III, let’s recap the earlier phases. The first two phases of the trial dealt with a) who was at fault for the oil spill and to what extent, and b) how much oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. In dividing up who was at fault for the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the resulting oil spill, Judge Carl Barbier found that BP was 67 percent responsible, Transocean Ltd. (the owner of the rig) was 30 percent responsible and Halliburton (the cement contractor) was 3 percent responsible.oilslick

In September 2014, Judge Barbier ruled that BP was guilty of “gross negligence” for its actions leading to the blowout, saying BP was making “profit-driven decisions” that led to the rig explosion. In his ruling, he reiterated, “these instances of negligence, taken together, evince an extreme deviation from the standard of care and a conscious disregard of known risks.” Being found guilty of gross negligence means BP could have to pay a fine of up to $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled. Most recently, Judge Barbier ruled that the amount of oil that spilled into the Gulf was 3.19 million barrels. Do the math (3.19 million barrels x $4,300 per barrel), and that means BP could face Clean Water Act fines up to $13.7 billion.

So, what is Phase III? Phase III is about how much BP will actually have to pay. Note that the fine amounts are “up to” $13.7 billion – this phase of the trial essentially determines the “up to.” Specifically, there are eight penalty factors set out in the Clean Water Act that help determine liability. These are judgments of mitigating circumstances that could impact the overall dollar figure that BP owes.

Ok, what’s next after this? Phase III is the final scheduled phase of the trial. At some point following this phase of the trial (and it could be months later), Judge Barbier will rule on how much BP must pay. BP continues to fight every decision, and it has already said it will appeal the ruling of gross negligence, so the courtroom battle could continue. However many observers hope that with all three phases complete, BP will be more inclined to agree to a settlement with the Department of Justice.

With billions of dollars at stake, and the timing of this money potentially coming as soon as this spring or, unfortunately, not for years if BP is able to continue appealing legal decisions, the current BP trial is critical to the fate of coastal restoration.

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Final Phase of BP Oil Spill Trial to Begin Next Week

January 15, 2015 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in Birds, BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Media Resources, RESTORE Act, Science, Seafood, Wildlife

Press Statement + Interview Opportunities Available

Contact:
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, evancleve@edf.org
Lauren Bourg, National Audubon Society, 225.776.9838, lbourg@audubon.org

Final Phase of BP Oil Spill Trial to Begin Next Week

BP must be held fully accountable for its role in nation’s largest oil disaster

(New Orleans – January 15, 2015) On Tuesday, January 20, 2015, the third and final phase of the BP oil spill civil trial will begin in New Orleans. This concluding portion of the trial will determine how much BP will be required to pay in Clean Water Act fines for its role in the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.

National and local conservation organizations committed to Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast restoration – Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – issued the following statement in advance of Tuesday’s proceedings:

“Nearly five years after the oil disaster, the people and wildlife of the Gulf Coast still wait for justice. For 87 days, BP dumped more than 200 million gallons of oil into our Gulf, contaminating our marshes and beaches and jeopardizing wildlife ranging from brown pelicans to sperm whales. But the oil giant has yet to take full responsibility. BP has dragged out litigation in the courts, challenging every decision only to have each decision against them confirmed by higher courts.

“Despite claims that it would ‘make it right’ in the Gulf, BP has, for the past five years, waged a public relations war focused on blaming everyone else and denying sound scientific research showing ongoing impacts from the oil disaster. The effects of the oil spill are far from over and may not be fully known for years, or even decades, to come.

“Now the court has the opportunity and responsibility to make it right, to hold BP fully accountable for the damage done to the Gulf and to assign the maximum penalty to BP for its gross negligence. The outcome from this decision must send a clear and powerful signal to every other operator in the Gulf: deep-sea drilling is risky business, and they must protect their employees, our communities and our ecosystems. BP chose not to do that, so they deserve to pay the maximum fines allowed by law.

“Through the RESTORE Act of 2012, Congress paved the way for the Gulf’s recovery by ensuring that 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines BP will pay will be reinvested into Gulf Coast restoration. But that restoration can’t begin until this case is resolved and the legal wrangling ends – and BP remains the principle barrier to much-needed funding going to vital restoration projects.

“Holding BP fully accountable for the 2010 Gulf oil disaster is the fair and right thing to do for the Gulf’s ecosystems and economies. We are hoping, after five long years, that justice is close. The Gulf has waited long enough.”

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Interview Opportunities: Interview opportunities are available with experts in science, policy, wildlife and restoration issues from our national and local conservation organizations.

Mississippi River Delta Restoration Experts:
David Muth, Director for Mississippi River Delta Restoration, National Wildlife Federation
Douglas J. Meffert, D. Env., MBA, Executive Director, National Audubon Society (Audubon Louisiana)
Steve Cochran, Director for Mississippi River Delta Restoration, Environmental Defense Fund

Science:
John A. Lopez, Ph.D., Coastal Scientist, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation
Alisha Renfro, Ph.D., Coastal Scientist, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, National Wildlife Federation
Natalie Peyronnin, Director of Science Policy, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, Environmental Defense Fund

Policy:
Courtney Taylor, Policy Director, Ecosystems Program, Environmental Defense Fund

Background:
Since the BP oil disaster began nearly five years ago, ongoing findings deliver truths omitted by BP’s ads: the oil disaster’s negative effects are increasingly clear, present and far from resolved. Over the past year alone, new research has surfaced:

  • An October 2014 study showed that the Gulf oil disaster left an “oily bathtub ring” the size of Rhode Island on the sea floor.
  • A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) detailed how exposure to BP oil can lead to abnormalities including irregular heartbeats and heart attacks in Atlantic bluefin tuna and amberjack.
  • A NOAA study revealed that dolphins exposed to BP oil had increased health problems, including adrenal problems, severe lung disease and reproductive issues.
  • A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences definitively linked a community of damaged deep water corals near the Macondo well to the BP oil spill.
  • A Louisiana State University researcher found that the BP oil spill is still killing Louisiana coastal insects.
  • Visible tar balls and tar mats continue to surface, including a 40,000-pound tar mat discovered off the coast of a Louisiana barrier island in June 2013, three years after the start of the oil spill.
  • An infographic depicts ongoing impacts of the Gulf oil disaster.
Deepwater Horizon rig explosion

2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion.

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