Archive for RESTORE the Gulf Coast States Act
By Ben Weber, National Wildlife Federation. This article was originally posted on the Vanishing Paradise blog.
After years of habitat loss and abuse, the story of the Mississippi River Delta is starting to look a bit different. Following the 2010 Gulf oil spill, a monumental piece of legislation called the RESTORE Act is providing a rare opportunity to address decades of mismanagement and habitat degradation.
Among other things, the RESTORE Act created the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which is a multi-state, multi-agency group that has been tasked with developing a comprehensive ecosystem restoration plan for the Gulf. The Council is currently developing the plan, with a draft due for public comment this spring.
The Vanishing Paradise team is working to make sure the Council remembers the national hunting and fishing community was at the forefront of the efforts to pass the RESTORE Act, and we intend to see this through.
Our message to the Council is simple. We believe habitat restoration can drive and support economic recovery. The people, businesses, communities and economy of this region are undeniably reliant upon a healthy and productive Gulf, and ecosystem restoration should be the top priority in drafting and finalizing the Council’s comprehensive restoration plan.
This message will be delivered to the Restoration Council in the form of a letter that carries the signatures of roughly 350 hunting and angling businesses and organizations that believe investments in long-term ecosystem restoration will drive economic prosperity in the Gulf Coast region.
As the Council considers how best to “restore and protect the natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches and coastal wetlands of the Gulf Coast region,” we believe that they should engage the hunting and fishing community to ensure that their restoration plan reflects the interests and values of our country’s hunters and anglers.
Following up on this letter, we’ll be meeting with the Restoration Council early next month. We will deliver the message that sportsmen and women are paying attention, but more importantly we will also discuss a list of recommendations on restoration project selection, implementation and monitoring.
Louisiana’s coastal wetlands are some of the most important habitats American hunters and anglers will ever know. The sad truth is that this American treasure is disappearing before our eyes.
The future of the Mississippi River Delta has long been challenged by a severed connection between the river and its wetlands. Hurricanes that destroy our marshes made us famous. More recently the Gulf of Mexico was thrown another curveball, the 2010 oil spill.
The unprecedented release of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf has caused near-term impacts to the fishery, coastal habitat and thousands of people’s livelihoods. It may cause significant long-term damage to the Gulf, affecting sportsmen and women throughout the country that rely on a healthy Gulf coast that serves as wintering grounds for nearly 10 million waterfowl and one of the absolute best fisheries in our country.
We all take something different from the field. Whether it’s an exciting adventure chasing the trophy of a lifetime, a quiet day at your favorite fishing hole or some good old-fashioned quality time with your grandkids.
Hunters and anglers rarely agree on everything, but there is a fundamental connection between people who hunt and fish. No matter what our goals or interests are, we all depend on quality habitat to enjoy our passion. It sounds simple, and it is. At the end of the day, despite all of our opinions, preferences and predispositions, the key to quality hunting and fishing opportunities all comes down to productive habitat.
That’s why sportsmen and women must be involved in the development of the Council’s restoration plan. Investments in projects that restore healthy and productive habitat mean a future full of quality hunting and angling opportunities. If the wild spaces of the Gulf region are protected and restored, sportsmen and women will have played an essential role in saving one of America’s last best places.
A legacy to be proud of indeed.No Comments
By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
Though Phase I of the BP trial may be complete, both parties have a mountain of follow-up work, analysis, and then preparation to do for Phase II, which starts in September. Phase I of the trial covered the events leading up to the spill while Phase II will look at the explosion and response. When both phases are complete and after weighing all the evidence, Judge Carl Barbier will apportion liability between BP and its subcontractors, Halliburton and Transocean. Days after the conclusion of Phase I, Judge Barbier ordered the parties to submit post-trial briefs to help clarify some difficult questions in the case. The order, issued on April 24, asked the parties to address seven important questions before the court.
In this two-part blog, we will provide some commentary on those questions, which could have profound implications on BP’s liability. Of particular interest is whether the company will be found grossly negligent, which could quadruple the amount of Clean Water Act fines assessed in the case and substantially increase the amount of money subject to the RESTORE Act.
In this post, we will walk through the first three questions. Check back next week for our remaining commentary.
Question 1: What is the standard for finding “gross negligence” or “willful misconduct” under the Clean Water Act and Oil Pollution Act?
Our commentary: In tort law, degrees of negligence are associated with how careless a person or company was when it committed the wrongdoing. On one side of the spectrum, there is ordinary negligence. On the other side is gross negligence or willful misconduct. The more careless the mistake is, the higher the degree of negligence. In BP’s case, that could mean the difference between $4.5 and $17.6 billion.
Judge Barbier is interested in the standards of negligence under two important environmental laws, the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Oil Pollution Act (OPA). The laws have vastly different consequences depending on the degree of negligence (to the tune of tens of billions of dollars), hence Judge Barbier’s request for clarity. There is considerable room for debate, both in fact and in law on this issue, so each side will need to present crystal clear facts and apply helpful case law to persuade the court of their view.
Question 2: What is the standard for a finding of punitive damages under general maritime law? Is this a different standard than under the Clean Water Act or Oil Pollution Act, and if so, how?
Our commentary: There are two things to consider in this question: punitive damages and maritime law. Under the Clean Water Act, BP and other responsible parties will have to pay civil fines for breaking the law and polluting waters of the United States. The fines are based on the level of negligence and amount of oil spilled. Punitive damages are different in that they are imposed to deter conduct by others in similar situations and often give a jury or judge much more leeway in imposing.
In the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, a jury imposed $5 billion in punitive damages against the company (this was on top of $7 billion in fines, penalties and settlements; $2.5 billion in cleanup costs; and $500 million in outstanding payments). The punitive damages were eventually reduced to $507.5 million after appealing the judgment all the way to the Supreme Court, but not without incurring significant legal costs and shaking up the company. BP is understandably wondering, “Could the judge find both gross negligence and impose punitive damages?”
Also relevant to this question is the concept of “maritime law.” Maritime law governs legal disputes that occur offshore and varies, often significantly in substance and spirit, from common law actions on land. Early on in the BP case, Transocean attempted to limit their financial liability to $25 million under an 1851 maritime law. That attempt was apparently unsuccessful considering the company agreed to a $1billion settlement with the US Department of Justice in January.
Question 3: In order to find that a party acted with gross negligence is it necessary to find that there be at least one single act or omission that equates to gross negligence, or can such a finding be based upon an accumulation or a series of negligence acts or omissions?
Our commentary: There’s a lot packed into this question, but the case law on factors that determine gross negligence is thin, prompting a difficult decision for the judge. It would seem that the clear-cut way for the government to prevail on this issue would be to find one, big mistake that amounts to gross negligence. However, reviewing briefs the government filed and looking back at how they presented their case at trial, it appears they are using the “bunch of mistakes add up to one huge grossly negligent mistake” approach.
Check back next week for our commentary on the remaining questions.No Comments
Coast Builders Coalition and the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign will host a telebriefing on Friday, May 3, 2013 at 11 a.m. EST. Businesses and business associations seeking an update on the RESTORE Act, Deepwater Horizon settlement and the Gulf Council are encouraged to register. These issues will impact a wide range of businesses, from the coastal restoration companies that can expect to see increased demand for their services to the tourism companies that depend on a healthy Gulf ecosystem. All businesses are welcome and urged to attend.
An expert panel will provide the latest information on the RESTORE Act, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, the Deepwater Horizon trial and key legislative developments in the state of Louisiana. Topics to be covered include:
- What can businesses expect and when?
- What opportunities do businesses have to get involved in the process?
- When can we expect the Council’s plan and what can we expect from this document?
- When can we expect the Deepwater Horizon settlement funds being administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation? What can we expect from these funds?
We will provide guidance and recommendations for what advocates for coastal restoration are looking for from the Council moving forward. Please join us for 15-20 minutes of presentation, followed by discussion.
Senior Policy Manager, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program
Environmental Defense Fund
(Formerly Legislative Assistant for Water Resources Policy for U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu)
Coast Builders Coalition
Policy Analyst, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program
Environmental Defense Fund
Director, Government Relations
If you are a business and are interested in participating in this telebriefing, please register at this link.
Please email Shannon Hood (firstname.lastname@example.org) with Environmental Defense Fund for more information.No Comments
By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
Testimony in the first phase of the BP oil spill trial wrapped up last week, but it could be at least a year before a decision is made in the case. On Wednesday, the court issued an order seeking clarity on critical issues in the case relating to gross negligence, and with millions of pages of evidence for the judge to consider, many questions remain unanswered. During the eight grueling weeks of trial, both sides presented detailed factual and legal arguments about the events leading up to the disaster, hoping that Judge Barbier would find the law on their side. Inside the courtroom, dozens of lawyers tried to make sense of the multiple safety and operational failures that caused the rig blowup in April 2010. The stakes are high, with potentially billions of dollars in fines and penalties on the line. Outside the courtroom, the Gulf Coast is still awaiting a resolution, so important ecosystem and economic restoration can begin.
Most legal experts predicted that BP and the plaintiffs would settle out of court because of the complexity of legal issues and shear amount of money at stake. BP currently faces up to $17.6 billion in fines for civil violations under the Clean Water Act alone. The company has reportedly already spent $25 billion on cleanup and other payouts to date. But the real loser in the litigation is clear: the Gulf Coast’s communities, wildlife and ecosystems that continue to wait for BP to make good on their promise to make the Gulf whole.
Nearly two years ago, BP promised $1 billion to the federal government and five Gulf Coast states to help kick start ecosystem restoration along the Gulf Coast. That promise, known as the Framework for Early Restoration, has funded only $69 million worth of restoration projects to date. That’s less than 7 percent of the $1 billion BP pledged. BP is playing hard ball on all fronts at the expense of the Gulf Coast environment.
This past weekend marked the three-year anniversary of the start of the BP oil disaster. With the next phase of trial not scheduled to begin until September, it’s still a waiting game for the Gulf Coast. Delay is the last thing this ecosystem can afford. Every hour, Louisiana loses one football field of land. The state has developed a comprehensive Coastal Master Plan to restore its coast, to be funded by RESTORE Act money from BP. But as the litigation drags on, restoration along Louisiana’s coast and throughout the Gulf continues to wait.1 Comment
By Amanda Moore, Greater New Orleans Program Manager, National Wildlife Federation
On Wednesday, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar visited Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Lacombe, La. for what possibly could be his last public meeting outside of Washington, D.C. Salazar said he was proud to hold the meeting in the Mississippi River Delta, adding that it is “a world-class conservation area for hunting and fishing.”
State and local government officials, fishermen and women, and non-profit leaders turned out to the refuge to meet the secretary, ask questions, and share concerns on topics ranging from coastal community and at-risk youth engagement in coastal restoration to ensuring that ecosystem restoration is the focus of BP oil disaster fines and penalties routed through the RESTORE Act.
Speaking to the BP disaster, Salazar said, “Sometimes from the hardest of times, the best of things arise. We have a great opportunity to put restoration of the Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast on steroids.”
The secretary acknowledged the contribution the Gulf Coast makes to the country in terms of energy production and noted that we now have the resources to move forward with some of the major structures needed for restoration, like river diversions in the Mississippi River Delta. He said Louisiana can be one of “our best examples of ecosystem restoration.”
Mr. Secretary, we are ready to make it happen.1 Comment
By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
As week three of the BP trial continues, observers are seeing trends emerge from inside the courtroom. The plaintiffs are focusing on two primary causes of the massive 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion and ensuing oil spill: lack of adequate safety measures and aggressive cost cutting by BP. The defendant oil companies, namely BP, contend that while mistakes were made, their liability is offset by the negligence of subcontractors who were also working on the risky drilling venture. By diffusing responsibility, BP is attempting to spread the blame wide enough so as to avoid a finding of gross negligence for their conduct. If BP is found liable of gross negligence, their civil Clean Water Act fines could total more than $17 billion. Under the RESTORE Act, 80 percent of these fines will be used for Gulf Coast restoration.
During the first two weeks of trial, expert testimony focused on BP’s aggressive drilling practices, insufficient safety plans and their negligent decisions made both on the rig and in Houston. Dr. Alan Huffman testified that the depth, complexity, pressure and heat of the BP Macondo well pushed the edges of modern technology. This type of drilling operation demanded the most rigorous and stringent safety protocols aboard any modern drilling rig. Instead, BP's safety procedures were vague or not enforced, and the company ignored several critical federal safety regulations. Testimony provided a sequence of events and mistakes that ultimately led to the disaster, including underreporting safety logs to the government and not responding appropriately to potentially lifesaving safety alarms that sounded on the rig in the hour prior to the explosion.
The plaintiffs are also focusing on aggressive cost cutting at BP as an underlying cause to the explosion. Experts testified that cost cutting was a “root cause” of the explosion, because BP senior officials demanded an aggressive drilling schedule while cutting operational staff. Another prime example of cutting corners to save money was BP’s decision to use recycled drilling cement to seal the well. The unsuccessful cement job and lack of “spacers” in the riser pipe ultimately caused oil to begin flowing. In the coming days and weeks, the plaintiffs will likely continue to highlight that this culture of cost cutting, particularly in BP’s Gulf of Mexico operations, came at the expense of safety.
Looking forward, the Gulf Coast is eagerly anticipating a fair and robust resolution to the case. The deteriorating gulf ecosystem can’t afford to wait much longer. Litigation is a long and arduous process that could drag on for years, or even decades. We need a court-approved fair and just verdict soon so the gulf can begin restoring its natural environment, which provides so many resources on which the Gulf Coast’s economy relies.
Plaintiffs could rest their case as early as next week, at which point BP would begin calling some of their 15 expert witnesses. The trial was initially expected to last three months, but Judge Carl Barbier recently announced that he would like to wrap up by the end of April. Stay tuned for future updates on the trial.No Comments
This story was originally posted on CNN.
By David Yarnold, President, National Audubon Society
Special to CNN
Updated 8:01 AM EST, Tue March 5, 2013
(CNN) – BP showed up in court last week, finally, nearly three years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the hell it unleashed on the Gulf Coast. It's a huge, high-stakes trial, and BP is taking the beating it's earned. Here's what's at stake for America if there is a judgment: potentially tens of billions of dollars that will be used to create jobs while restoring some of our most productive and vulnerable natural places.
Whether the trial results in a decision or a settlement, the outcome will send a signal about how serious this country is about enforcing its common-sense rules that guarantee clean air and waters.
BP and its partners have already confessed to criminal negligence in the 2010 blowout that killed 11 men and gushed nearly 5 million barrels of oil. Every part of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, from the deep-sea corals to dolphins to migratory birds, was… (continue reading on CNN.com: http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/05/opinion/yarnold-bp/index.html).No Comments
Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, email@example.com
Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lacey McCormick, National Wildlife Federation, 512.203.3016, email@example.com
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, firstname.lastname@example.org
Oil Spill Case: BP Needs to Be Held Accountable
Washington, D.C. (February 22, 2013) BP is facing tens of billions of dollars in penalties as the U.S. Department of Justice and the British oil giant get ready to start trial Monday over civil charges stemming from the 2010 gulf oil disaster. However, a report in the Wall Street Journal today suggests that the Department of Justice may be considering proposing a settlement. Representatives from three of America’s leading conservation organizations said the following about the trial and any possible settlement:
Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation:
"The Gulf of Mexico is more than just a place where oil companies make enormous profits — it’s a public jewel where our children swim, where wildlife live, and where we get the food we eat.
"A potential settlement as low as the reported $16 billion would not be much of a deterrent for an oil giant like BP — and it is unlikely to be enough to fully restore the Gulf of Mexico as the law requires. The Obama Administration can and must do more to hold BP accountable."
Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund:
"The American people deserve to see BP held fully accountable for its recklessness. The Gulf of Mexico is an ecological treasure that sustains a large part of the national economy.
"With everything we know about the corners BP cut and the risks the company took, this ought to be a clear-cut case of ‘gross negligence.’ The outcome of this case needs to send a clear message to all companies who drill in our nation’s waters: risky behavior is bad for business."
Chris Canfield, vice president of the Gulf Coast for the National Audubon Society:
"It will be years, even decades, before we understand the true impacts of the spill. The law requires BP to compensate the American people for all the damage that was done — for every smothered blade of marsh grass and for every oiled pelican — as well as for any long-term effects we may have not yet seen.
"It was years after the Exxon Valdez disaster that the herring population crashed due to that spill, and it still has not recovered. The outcome of this case must ensure that BP will be held fully accountable not only for the damages we see today, but also for any damages we will discover years from now."
The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council is holding public meetings to get public opinion on how RESTORE Act dollars should be spent, and we invite you to attend and be a voice for environmental restoration. The Restoration Council is looking for public input on their draft Comprehensive Plan for Gulf Coast restoration which will outline how RESTORE Act dollars from the BP oil spill will be translated into restoration projects.
To make the gulf whole, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council must make a concerted push for ecosystem restoration. This would be a win not just for the environment but also for the economy. Studies show that every $1 spent on ecosystem restoration generates $4 in added value throughout the economy – a win-win for communities and wildlife, especially in a region that supports a $34 billion a year tourism industry and 40 percent of all the seafood in the lower 48 states.
The Restoration Council will be hosting five public meetings across the Gulf Coast. We invite you to attend and let the Restoration Council know that you support a healthy environment AND a healthy economy.
Please RSVP and a representative from our campaign will follow up with you on the details: http://www.mississippiriverdelta.org/take-action/register-to-attend-a-public-meeting/
Tuesday, February 19, Louisiana – 5:00 PM CST
Terrebonne Civic Center, 346 Civic Center Blvd., Room 3, Houma, LA
Tuesday, February 19, Mississippi – 5:00 PM CST
Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center, 2350 Beach Blvd., Biloxi, MS
Wednesday, February 20, Louisiana – 5:00 PM CST
University of New Orleans, Homer Hitt Alumni Center Ballroom, 2000 Lakeshore Drive, New Orleans, LA
Thursday, February 21, Louisiana – 5:00 PM CST
Lake Charles Civic Center, Jean Lafitte Room, 900 Lakeshore Drive, Lake Charles, LA
Thursday, February 28, Florida – 6:00 PM EST
Student Union East Conference Center, Gulf Coast State College, 5230 W. U.S. 98, Panama City Beach, FL
By Ryan Rastegar and Elizabeth Skree, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign
Today, staff from Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society and Earthworks hand delivered 133,501 petitions to the U.S. Department of Justice, urging them to hold BP accountable to the fullest extent of the law for the 2010 gulf oil disaster. You can see a Facebook photo album from the event by clicking the photo below.
Almost three years after the BP oil disaster, the question around BP’s accountability is about to come to a close. With a February 25 trial date looming, BP and the U.S. Department of Justice will either reach a settlement or go to trial within the next two weeks. In either situation, BP must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law for one of our nation’s largest environmental disasters. After the death of 11 men, nearly five million barrels of oil spilled, and economic and environmental damages across the gulf, it is the just and right thing to do.
An overwhelming majority of the voting public believes BP’s fines should go toward gulf restoration. Thanks to last year’s bipartisan RESTORE Act, this money will go back to the Gulf Coast states to use for environmental and economic restoration. But while the RESTORE Act is the mechanism, actual restoration cannot begin until BP pays.
What you can do to get involved: If you support our petition delivery, call the Department of Justice’s public comment line at 202-353-1555 and tell them you saw our event and that you, too, support holding BP accountable.No Comments