Archive for Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force
By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council recently released "The Path Forward to Restoring the Gulf Coast: A Proposed Comprehensive Plan." The RESTORE Act, signed into law in July, required the newly created Restoration Council to publish a Proposed Plan within six months of the legislation becoming law. Only six pages in length, the Path Forward provides a general framework for the Restoration Council to follow while developing their more robust Initial Comprehensive Plan, due out in July 2013. Moving forward, it is important that the Restoration Council create a Comprehensive Plan concentrated on restoring Gulf Coast ecosystems, which are the backbone of a healthy and thriving gulf economy.
Following the 2010 gulf oil disaster, Congress passed the RESTORE Act to ensure robust restoration of the Gulf Coast. Through the RESTORE Act, Congress developed a framework for federal and state officials to undertake comprehensive restoration. Congress provided money for restoration by ensuring at least 30 percent of funds under the RESTORE Act are dedicated to ecosystem projects. To oversee much of the restoration, the RESTORE Act establishes a highly experienced body of federal and state stakeholders, known at the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. Finally, the law requires the Restoration Council to develop a scientifically-based Comprehensive Plan to guide ecosystem restoration projects to implementation. The “Path Forward” document is a first step to building a plan for ecosystem restoration.
As expected, and required by law, the Path Forward builds on the work and recommendations of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, which was led by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Task Force strategy had four overarching goals: habitat restoration, restore water quality, replenish marine resources and enhance community resilience. The newly released Path Forward adds a fifth goal of revitalizing the gulf economy. Moving forward, it is important for the Restoration Council to ensure that funds dedicated to the Comprehensive Plan are used solely for ecosystem restoration projects. After all, numerous studies have shown that ecosystem restoration supports economic restoration, including healthy tourism and fishing industries. New jobs created by the ecosystem restoration projects help protect existing infrastructure, rebuild critical wetlands, and create a new export industry focused on coastal and delta restoration.
We are excited about the Restoration Council’s commitment to long-term recovery in the gulf. In the Path Forward, the Restoration Council has reaffirmed their plans to invest in “specific actions, projects, and programs that can be carried out in the near-term to help ensure on-the-ground results to restore the overall health of the ecosystem.” By incorporating the best available science and adapting the Comprehensive Plan over time to incorporate new science, the plan can advance innovative ecosystem restoration solutions, like freshwater sediment diversions.
We look forward to the next draft of the Comprehensive Plan due out sometime before July.No Comments
It's been exactly 1,000 days since the BP-operated oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, gushing millions of barrels of crude oil into a body of water that supports countless ecosystems and economies.
Below is a timeline of major events that have occurred in the last 1,000 days.
– Restorethegulf.org, "First oiled bird is recovered."
– Restorethegulf.org, "NOAA Expands Fishing Closed Area in Gulf of Mexico."
– The New York Times, "Effects of Spill Spread as Tar Balls Are Found."
– TIME, "100 Days of the BP Spill: A Timeline."
– The White House, "Executive Order 13554–Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force."
– Bloomberg, "BP Oil Still Ashore One Year After End of Gulf Spill."
– PNAS, "Impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on a deep-water coral community in the Gulf of Mexico."
– University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, "Study confirms oil from Deepwater Horizon disaster entered food chain in the Gulf of Mexico."
– The Times-Picayune, "About 565,000 pounds of oiled material from Deepwater Horizon stirred up by Hurricane Isaac."
– The New York Times, "BP Will Plead Guilty and Pay Over $4 Billion."
– Georgia Tech Biology, "Gulf of Mexico Clean-Up Makes 2010 Spill 52-Times More Toxic."
– University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, "UMiami scientists partner with NOAA, Stanford and U of N Texas to study post spill fish toxicology."
– NOAA Fisheries Service, "2010-2013 Cetacean Unusual Mortality Event in Northern Gulf of Mexico."
– The Times-Picayune, "Transocean to pay $1.4 billion to settle pollution, safety violations in Gulf oil spill."
By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
Last week, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council held its first public meeting in Mobile, Ala. to update residents on the progress of implementing the RESTORE Act. The law, which Congress passed in June 2012, dedicates 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the BP oil spill back to the Gulf Coast for restoration. Those fines, expected to reach billions of dollars, will help stabilize and revive troubled ecosystems across the Gulf Coast.
The Council was created by the RESTORE Act to develop a long-term ecosystem restoration plan for the region. This plan is expected to reverse coastal land loss, create new marshland and rebuild fisheries and marine environments across the Gulf Coast. At this week’s meeting, Council members recognized that challenges lie ahead, but they are optimistic they have the resources and expertise necessary to revive the Gulf Coast.
The Restoration Council is a diverse group of federal agency and state representatives who are tasked with developing an ecosystem restoration plan to address the varying needs of complex and diverse environments stretching across five states. To develop a comprehensive and multidisciplinary plan, the Council will rely on the expertise housed in its federal member agencies and state partners, including the Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Coast Guard, Army and Department of Agriculture. The federal agencies will be joined by the governors from each of the five gulf states.
The basis of the restoration plan has already been developed by a similar, and often overlapping in membership, group of federal and state partners known as the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. Following the 2010 BP oil disaster, President Obama commissioned the group to study the environment of the Gulf Coast and submit a holistic restoration strategy. The Task Force produced a Gulf Coast restoration strategy document in December 2011, which identified four key areas of restoration: habits restoration, water quality improvement, marine resources protection and community resiliency enhancement.
In September 2012, the President released an Executive Order which rolled the Task Force’s strategy into the planning process of the comprehensive plan being developed by the RESTORE Act’s Restoration Council. This means we can expect the Restoration Council’s comprehensive restoration plan to look similar to the Task Force’s strategy document.
Of particular importance to the Comprehensive Plan will be incorporating the Task Force’s strategy recommendation to stabilize and reverse land loss along Louisiana’s coast through the use of sediment diversions. Sediment diversions are recommended as a key Mississippi River Delta restoration tool in both the Task Force strategy and Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan.
The Restoration Council plans to meet multiple times over the next few months to update the public on the progress of developing the comprehensive plan, which must be finished by June 2013. The Council will fund the comprehensive plan with 30 percent of the money dedicated to the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund established by the RESTORE Act. That could mean billions of dollars for ecosystem restoration projects and programs identified by the plan. This is welcome news for all those who rely on the Gulf Coast for recreation, seafood, energy and their livelihoods.No Comments
By Alisha Renfro, Ph.D., Staff Scientist, National Wildlife Federation
In the aftermath of the BP oil disaster, President Obama created the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force through an executive order in October 2010. The mission of this Environmental Protection Agency-led group was to develop a long-term, holistic and science-based ecosystem restoration plan for the Gulf Coast.
Included in this effort was the Science Coordination Team which involved more than 70 scientists from federal and state agencies who provided scientific input for the development of the strategy document. While the final Gulf of Mexico Regional Ecosystem Restoration Strategy was released in December 2011, the Science Coordination Team realized there was also a need to develop a science program to ensure that both focused and ecosystem-wide science would be available to implement and maintain the Gulf Coast restoration projects. The science team produced a report in April 2012 titled “Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Science Assessment and Needs,” which identified current conditions in the gulf and specified actions that need to be taken to meet the goals set for a healthier ecosystem.
The qualifiers for the recovery of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem are:
- Coastal wetland and barrier shoreline habitats are healthy and resilient.
- Fisheries are healthy, diverse, and sustainable.
- Coastal communities are adaptable and resilient.
- A more sustainable storm buffer exists.
- Inland habitats, watersheds, and offshore waters are healthy and well managed.
The coastal habitats of the Gulf of Mexico are some of the most productive ecosystems on earth. However, there has been an overall decline in health of these ecosystems as wetlands have been lost, barrier islands have eroded, and water and sediment quality has declined, which has increased stressors on commercially-important species and other organisms. As miles of the Gulf Coast’s protective wetlands and shorelines have been lost due to natural disasters and other events, including the BP oil spill and several hurricanes, the vulnerability of the people who call the region home has increased.
To address these changes, the science team recommended a variety of actions, including identifying historic changes in land use and shoreline changes; determining the sediment, water and nutrient resources needed to support sustainable habitats; and increasing the understanding of the relationships between different types of gulf habitats. Additionally, long-term, continuous scientific data, analysis, and interpretation were identified as critical for informing the design, construction, and operation of restoration projects. They were also considered key in developing modeling tools, methods, and protocols for undertaking ecosystem-level restoration planning and assessing restoration success.
Increasing the health of the surrounding ecosystem will also help improve the resiliency of coastal communities. To directly address risk reduction for communities, the science team suggested holding workshops and training opportunities to bring together local community planners, emergency managers and building code officials to learn about the surrounding environment and how to build more resilient coastal communities.
In September 2012, the duties and responsibilities of the Task Force were transitioned to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. That month, President Obama issued an Executive Order recognizing the importance of the Gulf Coast as a national treasure and acknowledging the successful completion of the Task Force and its strategy document. The Executive Order transferred the Task Force’s duties to the new Restoration Council. The Council, established by the RESTORE Act, will build on the work of the Task Force, identifying projects and programs that would help restore and protect natural resources and ecosystems of the Gulf Coast with funding from the RESTORE Act’s Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. With a strategy and source of funding in place, recovery and restoration of the Gulf Coast, including the Mississippi River Delta, moves one step closer to becoming a reality.No Comments
Hearing follows two new reports recommending Congress use oil spill fines to restore Gulf
(Washington, D.C.—Dec. 7, 2011) Groups supporting restoration of the Gulf Coast today thanked House leaders on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for drawing attention to the benefits of the RESTORE Gulf Coast States Act of 2011 by holding a committee hearing on the bill today at 10am. The RESTORE Act would ensure that fines paid by BP and the other parties responsible for last year’s Gulf oil spill are used to support both environmental and economic restoration in the region, instead of going to unrelated federal spending.
“Holding those responsible for the Gulf oil disaster accountable and making sure the fines they pay go back to the Gulf region is both a matter of fairness and common sense,” said a joint statement by Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, Ocean Conservancy and Oxfam America. “We thank Chairman Mica and ranking member Rahall for holding a full committee hearing on this critical issue. Our thanks also go to leaders throughout the Gulf region who are working across the aisle to get this bill passed, so the ecosystems of the Gulf can continue to be a driver of our nation’s economy and a safe home to the communities that make it a national treasure.”
A bipartisan group of nine Gulf senators have introduced a similar bill in the Senate, also called the RESTORE Gulf Coast States Act (S. 1400). The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee overwhelmingly approved the bill in September.
Today’s hearing comes on the heels of Monday’s release of the final report by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. It recommends Congress ensure that a “significant portion” of the $5 billion to $21 billion in expected fines for last year’s 4.9 million barrel Gulf oil spill go to restoring the Gulf.
Duke University also released a report on Monday concluding the Gulf oil spill fines could kick start the launch of a long-term investment in ecosystem restoration and create jobs that would benefit at least 140 businesses with nearly 400 employee locations in 37 states.
Sean Crowley, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.572.3331, firstname.lastname@example.org
David J. Ringer, National Audubon Society, 601.642.7058 email@example.com
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, firstname.lastname@example.org
Heather Layman, The Nature Conservancy, 703.475.1733, email@example.com
David Willett, Ocean Conservancy, 202.351.0465, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeffrey Buchanan, Oxfam America, 202.471.3055, email@example.comNo Comments
By Elizabeth Skree and Whit Remer, Environmental Defense Fund
Today, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force released their final Ecosystem Restoration Strategy for the Gulf Coast. After the BP oil disaster, the President established the Task Force through an executive order and charged the group with developing a restoration plan for the Gulf Coast. You can download the strategy document here.
This restoration strategy is a vital step in fulfilling the promises President Obama made in his first oval office address to the nation last June: to recover and restore the Gulf Coast. Next, the Task Force will be charged with developing an implementation plan for restoring the region. The restoration plan will require dedicated funding to become a reality, and one avenue to secure that funding is the RESTORE Act.
The RESTORE Act would dedicate 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the oil spill to Gulf Coast ecosystem and economic restoration. The Senate version of the bill (S. 1400) has already cleared the Environment and Public Works Committee with strong bipartisan support, but it still needs to pass the full Senate. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing this week (Wednesday, Dec. 7) on the House version of the bill (H.R. 3096). We urge Congress to keep the momentum going and pass the RESTORE Act, so that environmental and economic restoration can begin in the Gulf States that so desperately need it.1 Comment
By Maura Wood, National Wildlife Federation
The preliminary version of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force’s Gulf of Mexico Regional Ecosystem Restoration Strategy document was a key agenda item before the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) at its Oct. 19th meeting. The Task Force, established by a presidential Executive Order over a year ago, was charged with drafting a restoration and recovery strategy for the Gulf that addressed impacts from the oil spill as well as the pre-oil spill environmental degradation in the region.
Task Force Executive Director John Hankinson and Deputy Directory Bryon Griffith gave a detailed report of the strategy’s goals and supporting actions. Louisiana CPRA Chairman Garret Graves then spoke about the aspects of the strategy that are of critical importance to Louisiana. If the strategy is enacted and funded by Congress, it could serve to remove or clarify potential obstacles to coastal restoration. For instance, he pointed out that language in the report specifies that restoration be made equal in importance with navigation and flood control. Currently, the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is mandated to focus on the latter, with little integration of the former. If adopted, he said, the strategy language could elevate ecosystem restoration priorities within the Corps.
He also referenced recommendations such as using natural river processes for water and sediment distribution—such as sediment diversions—and streamlining methods for drafting partnership agreements and launching projects—a process which currently can delay projects for months, if not years.
Finally, Graves asserted the prime importance of the strategy as an enabling factor and background prerequisite for the success of the 2012 State Master Plan. With the public comment period now closed, the Task Force is charged with writing an Implementation Plan within six months.No Comments
As Senators consider bill on oil spill penalties, conservationists urge lawmakers to invest fines in Gulf’s natural systems and communities that need them.
(Washington, DC—August 1, 2011) Leading conservation groups working across the Gulf of Mexico have submitted to the White House a blueprint for action that federal, state and local governments can take to restore the region’s threatened natural systems and to help communities that rely on the Gulf for survival.
The groups delivered their recommendations to the Presidential Task Force on Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration, which President Obama created last October by executive order. The task force is facing a one-year deadline this October to develop a comprehensive strategy “to effectively address the damage caused by the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, address the longstanding ecological decline, and begin moving toward a more resilient Gulf Coast ecosystem.”
The timing of the groups’ recommendations, entitled a Strategy for Restoring the Gulf of Mexico, is important. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to soon vote on legislation that would provide funding to implement the Presidential Task Force’s restoration plans. The Senate bill, the RESTORE Gulf Coast States Act, would dedicate 80 percent of the oil spill fines to restoring the Gulf’s communities, economies and environments. Under current law, most of the fines will be used for general government spending, rather than being directed towards the Gulf.
The recommendations were submitted by The Nature Conservancy, the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies (Texas A&M) University-Corpus Christi, National Audubon Society, Ocean Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. The Presidential Task Force will unveil their final plan for Gulf restoration on Oct. 5.
Among the recommendations included in the blueprint are:
- Restoration activities should provide both environmental and social benefits.
- Ensure sufficient delivery of freshwater flows to the Gulf in order to maintain ecological health of bays and estuaries.
- Restore populations of endangered marine mammals, where their probability of extinction in the next 100 years is less than 1%.
- Construct and operate a series of large-scale diversions of freshwater and sediment from the Mississippi River sufficient to build and sustain Delta wetlands to provide storm surge protection for people and restore habitat for economically vital fisheries.
- Implement management plans for oyster reefs that support fish production, water filtration, nitrogen removal, coastal protection and other services that benefit both people and nature.
Even before the oil spill, the Gulf of Mexico faced serious threats from neglect, overdevelopment, pollution, storms, climate change and alteration of the Mississippi River Delta that feeds into the Gulf. Yet the Gulf still is one of the most productive natural areas in the world:
- The five Gulf states, if considered an individual country, would rank 7th in global Gross Domestic Product (NOAA).
- The Gulf currently supports a $34 billion per year tourism industry (Oxford Economics), and its fisheries support more than $23 billion in seafood and commercial and recreational fishing-related activity (National Marine Fisheries Service).
- The Gulf produces roughly 40 percent of all the seafood in the lower 48 states (National Marine Fisheries Service).
- The region is home to 10 of our nation’s 15 largest ports by tonnage. More than 25 percent of the nation's waterborne exports pass through Louisiana ports alone (American Association of Port Authorities).
The environmental groups that submitted the recommendations pledged to continue working with federal and state lawmakers to ensure action is taken immediately to ensure the Gulf’s productivity can be maintained and in many cases enhanced by bringing the region back to health.
- Dave Willett, The Ocean Conservancy, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-351-0465
- John W. (Wes) Tunnell, Jr., Ph.D., Harte Research Institute, email@example.com, 361-825-2055
- Susan Kaderka, National Wildlife Federation, firstname.lastname@example.org, 512-610-7752
- David Ringer, National Audubon Society, email@example.com, 601-642-7058
- John Lopez, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, firstname.lastname@example.org, 504-836-2215
- Sandra Rodriguez, The Nature Conservancy, email@example.com, 703-841-4227
- Sean Crowley, Environmental Defense Fund, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-572-3331
By Jim Wyerman, Environmental Defense Fund
Environmental Defense Fund's Senior Counsel Jim Tripp yesterday delivered an impassioned plea at the Galveston, Texas public meeting of the President's Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, calling on the multi-agency group to prioritize restoration of the Mississippi River Delta as key to ecological and economic recovery of the region. After working more than 35 years on Louisiana coastal issues, Tripp brought a seasoned vantage point to the big question of what the task force must do to reverse decades of destruction of our coastal ecosystems.
The meeting was led by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, who said a top priority – as well as one of the biggest challenges – of the group will be using the Mississippi River sediment to rebuild Louisiana's wetlands. Some of the $1 billion BP has designated for Gulf restoration will be used to jump start sediment projects in the Mississippi River Delta, said Jackson. This will help reconnect the river to its neighboring wetlands, rebuild wildlife habitat and provide storm protection.
Although 83% of the public support allocation of BP oil spill penalties to Gulf restoration, very few people understand the extent to which the Gulf's environment and economy are dependent on the Mississippi River Delta. Tripp explained how Gulf tourism, oil and gas infrastructure, shipping lanes and commercial fisheries all suffer from the continued degradation of the Mississippi River Delta and its wetlands. These industries will all benefit from a comprehensive restoration program that reintroduces Mississippi River freshwater and sediment into the Delta's sediment-starved wetlands.
Tripp urged the task force to act quickly to develop a comprehensive recovery plan for the Mississippi River Delta. In his statement, Tripp proposed the task force focus on the following priorities:
- Dedicate Clean Water Act penalties from the BP oil spill to Gulf restoration
- Develop a 21st century management system for the Mississippi River Delta
- Complete the federal comprehensive restoration plan for coastal Louisiana
- Ensure that dredged Mississippi River sediments are used beneficially to build new wetlands
- Expedite restoration by building authorized projects
- Dedicate New Orleans upgrade mitigation funds for high priority Delta restoration projects
- Engage private sector firms to expedite restoration program implementation
The task force is charged with integrating federal restoration efforts with local and state efforts and engaging local stakeholders throughout the restoration process. The group yesterday heard testimony on restoration progress, priorities and unmet needs from Gulf residents, experts and local leaders.
You can read Jim Tripp's statement to the task force in its entirety here.1 Comment
By Derek Brockbank, Environmental Defense Fund/National Audubon Society/National Wildlife Federation
On Friday May 6, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force held a public meeting in Mobile, Al. President Obama assigned the task force to come up with a strategy for restoring the Gulf to make it better than it was to before the BP oil spill. It was the third public meeting in the Gulf for the task force, which previously had been held in Pensacola, Fl. and New Orleans, La. (two upcoming meetings will be in Texas and Mississippi).
The meeting began with Alabama Governor Bentley thanking the Obama administration for its support in responding to the recent devastation from the tornados, and recognition that Alabama has been through a lot in the past year, starting with the BP oil spill. He was very complementary of the work the states and federal agencies had done to secure $1 billion from BP as a down payment toward the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA). He emphasized the states needed to work together to secure the common goal of restoring the Gulf.
EPA administrator and Task Force Chair Lisa Jackson presided over the meeting and listened to a panel presentation on the four newly-announced areas that the task force will cover in their forthcoming strategy document. These areas include Community Resilience, Habitat Restoration, Ocean and Marine Conservation and Water Quality. She also announced the creation of a citizens advisory council to participate in the formation of the restoration strategy. Many local and national conservation groups had been asking for such an advisory council to ensure that local public input could not be ignored.
The task force will issue their final strategy paper by October 2011, but will likely release a draft sometime this summer. For the document to do more than join the long list of unfulfilled plans and pipedream goals, it must include specific actions with near-term deadlines and agencies assigned to the outcomes under existing authority. You can submit comments to the task force here.No Comments