Archive for Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council
By Samantha Carter, Restore the Mississippi River Delta, National Wildlife Federation
Wind. Rain. Record-setting lows. None of that stopped community members and conservation groups from welcoming members of a federal restoration council to a potential project site in the Lower Ninth Ward last Thursday morning. Members of the MRGO Must Go Coalition met with Executive Director Justin Ehrenwerth and Environmental Compliance Director John Ettinger of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council at the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle platform in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. Joined by representatives from the US Army Corps of Engineers and the City of New Orleans Office of Coastal and Environmental Affairs, we had a robust discussion about the future of restoration in the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) ecosystem area.
The platform at the end of Caffin Avenue overlooks a 400 acre “ghost” swamp, a remnant of a dense freshwater cypress tupelo forest that existed in the city boundaries until roughly 50 years ago. Saltwater intrusion, caused by the construction of the MRGO in the 1960s, killed the cypress swamp in the Lower 9th Ward and destroyed tens of thousands of acres of wetlands that once protected the Greater New Orleans area. The MRGO channel and the loss of the surrounding wetlands are attributed to the catastrophic flooding that occurred in the Lower Ninth Ward and surrounding communities during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle provides a unique opportunity for highly visible coastal restoration work. Only five miles from the French Quarter, the platform already attracts Orleans Parish locals and tourists alike who can learn about the history of the swamp and see an example of the coastal land loss problems that extend throughout southern Louisiana. If the project is funded and constructed, reintroducing Mississippi River sediment and freshwater into the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle could return the conditions in the area to a place where cypress swamp can once again survive. In addition to restoring ecology and increasing quality of life for residents, restoration work in this location would allow the public easy access to see the State’s Coastal Master Plan in action and potentially RESTORE Act restoration funds at work.
Discussions with the MRGO coalition and the RESTORE Council staff focused on this possibility and the process by which restoration projects are going to be chosen. The frigid weather kept the site visit short, but conversations continued in the warmth of the Greater Little Zion Baptist Church just a few minutes away. The RESTORE Council stressed the importance of coordination between different funding streams and leveraging completed work, such the programmatic EIS already done by the US Army Corps of Engineers for the MRGO ecosystem restoration area. MRGO Must Go coalition members shared their passion and vision for restoration and why they are engaged in the effort to see the MRGO ecosystem restored. There are already plans to revisit the platform together on a sunnier day and take a flight over the MRGO ecosystem.
Interested in visiting the platform and learning more? Check out http://www.restorethebayou.org/.
The State of Louisiana is hosting three meetings in September to increase public awareness around the funding distribution of the RESTORE Act and to request additional feedback and ideas from the public. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, also known as the RESTORE Council, is responsible for distributing 30% of the money directed to the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. Members of the public are invited to submit formal proposals for projects or programs for funding consideration, to voice support for existing projects, or to provide general feedback on priorities for Gulf restoration at these meetings.
Projects proposed for funding through the Council-selected component must ultimately be submitted by members of the RESTORE Council. Representatives from federal agencies on the RESTORE Council and members of the RESTORE Council staff have been invited to join the State of Louisiana in receiving public input and project ideas. Federal agencies have also been invited to participate in the open house portion of the first two meetings so that members of the public can learn more about opportunities to engage with those agencies.
We invite you to attend one of the following meetings to learn about the process and to discuss your ideas:
Thursday, September 4, 2014
University of New Orleans Homer Hitt Alumni Center
2000 Lakeshore Drive
New Orleans, LA
5:30 p.m. Open House
6:00 p.m. Formal Meeting (brief background presentation by State of Louisiana followed by listening session
Thursday, September 11, 2014
Houma Municipal Auditorium
880 Verret Street
5:30 p.m. Open House
6:00 p.m. Formal Meeting (brief background presentation by State of Louisiana followed by listening session)
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Board Meeting
Willis Noland Room
4310 Ryan Street, 2nd Floor
Lake Charles, LA
9:30 a.m. (dedicated public comment period)
Public input may also be submitted by phone, mail, or by email at the information below:
Mail: Attn: Jenny Kurz, CPRA, P.O. Box 44027, Baton Rouge, LA, 70804
Phone: Meg Bankston: (225) 342-4844
More information about the project submittal process can be found here.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
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
By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation
This week marks the anniversaries of Hurricanes Katrina and Isaac. As we take time to remember and commemorate, we must also look to the future and commit to preparing for the next storm and protecting our communities.
Even eight years after Katrina, it’s hard to forget the storms. Recovery and rebuilding remain an everyday reality in coastal Louisiana. Levees and home elevation are some of the more immediate ways to protect ourselves, but these measures work best when part of a multiple lines of defense strategy that includes restoration of our natural storm protection along the coast.
For example, wetlands serve as a buffer for levees, reducing wave energy and the chance of over-topping, thereby reducing the chance that levees will fail. But the marshes, ridges and barrier islands that reduce waves and storm surge are disappearing at an alarming rate – we lose one football field of wetlands every hour in Louisiana.
That statistic stings the most when storms are brewing in the Gulf. Our communities need the protection of a healthy and resilient coast, and getting there will take the support of all who care about the future of our region.
Yesterday, coincidentally on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Isaac, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council approved its Initial Comprehensive Plan for restoring the Gulf Coast’s ecosystem and economy after the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. The next crucial step will be for the Council to select and implement sustainable restoration projects that will protect our communities and restore our ecosystems. The Council should work with Louisiana to prioritize restoration projects set forth in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan.
Find out how you can get involved and help restore our coast!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
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CONTACTS: Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, firstname.lastname@example.org
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RESTORE Council Releases Initial Gulf Coast Restoration Plan
Groups urge Council to prioritize ecosystem restoration, Louisiana Coastal Master Plan in final plan
(New Orleans, LA – August 21, 2013) Today, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council released its Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy. Leading national and local conservation and restoration organizations – Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – released the following statement:
“We thank the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council for its efforts toward a comprehensive plan to restore the invaluable Gulf ecosystem. As the Council takes its next crucial step of prioritizing ecosystem restoration projects, we urge them to embrace the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan as its guiding document for restoring the Mississippi River Delta, which was ground zero for the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.
“Since the Mississippi River and its surrounding wetlands are a driving force behind ensuring a healthy Gulf Coast ecosystem, thriving local economies and protected communities, these Mississippi River Delta restoration projects will create an important cornerstone for Gulf-wide ecosystem restoration. Truly restoring the delta will be a critical component to successfully restoring the entire Gulf region – both ecologically and economically.
“As the Council moves from planning to implementation, it should work with Louisiana to achieve the vision set forth in its Coastal Master Plan. A vibrant Gulf of Mexico starts with a strong Mississippi River Delta.
“We look forward to working with the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council as it moves its plan from conception to completion.”
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.
By Rachel Schott, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign
The period to publicly comment on the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council’s Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan ends soon, and we need you to submit your public comments to ensure the Council’s plan prioritizes environmental restoration. Per the RESTORE Act enacted in 2012, the Council is tasked with distributing BP oil spill funds across the five Gulf Coast states for restoration.
However, many important decisions regarding spending and projects have yet to be made. The Council’s Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan outlines their commitment to ensuring timely action on future decisions, but it is imperative that their final restoration plan make environmental restoration the top priority. As the oil spill damaged vital Gulf ecosystems, it only makes sense that the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council dedicate its allocation to projects that restore and revitalize the environment. Bringing resilience to the coastline will:
- Enhance its natural environment and ecosystems,
- Ensure economic stability for the economies that rely on a healthy Gulf Coast environment, and
- Increase natural storm protection, through wetlands restoration, for the residents and communities of the Gulf Coast.
The Council has an unprecedented opportunity to jumpstart the largest environmental restoration
effort of our time, but they need to hear from you. Don’t let special interest groups shape the
decision-making process and allow money to be spent in ways that don’t explicitly restore the Gulf
ecosystem. The Gulf Coast is in a unique position to advocate for funding that will secure its future growth and health: Tell the Council to make a commitment to ecosystem restoration!
Please send a comment to the Council, asking them to prioritize ecosystem restoration in their final plan. Click on the link below to sign the letter and become a part of restoring the Mississippi River Delta and the Gulf Coast:
Take Action: Stand Up for Gulf Wildlife:
Take Action: Demand Justice for Dolphins in the Gulf