The Natural Resource Damage Assessment Process

Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) is the scientific and legal process used by the federal government to assess and restore damage to natural resources following an environmental injury such as an oil spill.  This process, conducted as part of the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) passed by Congress following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, provides the government with the legal authority to require responsible parties to pay for damages to natural resources caused by spills.

Courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, federal agencies began to assess damage caused by the oil to wildlife, coastal wetlands and the deepwater ocean environment.  In April 2011, a year after the disaster, BP set aside $1 billion to help fund the NRDA process.  The $1 billion agreement guarantees $100 million for restoration in Louisiana, with the state eligible to apply for an additional $500 million in federal funds. Money received by the state will fund projects that restore resources to their pre-oil spill condition. Each project is selected jointly by a group of trustees representing the five Gulf Coast states impacted by the spill, the three federal agencies overseeing the restoration process and BP.

On Dec. 14, 2011 the trustees released a Draft Environmental Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment (DERP/EA) to begin the first phase of restoration projects.  The DERP/EA contains two projects for Louisiana that will be funded by the state’s $100 million allotment.  These Louisiana projects call for 850 acres of cultch placement on public oyster seed grounds and 140 acres of marsh recreation in the Lake Hermitage area of St. Bernard Parish.  More information about the projects can be found on NOAA's Early Restoration page.

The public may review and comment on these and other projects selected by the trustees through the government's official Gulf Restoration website.

Our coalition has developed principles and criteria to govern project selection throughout the NRDA process and recommends that the trustees consider the following Core Principles and Project Selection Criteria to guide their decisions on both early and long-term restoration.

Core Principles:

  1. Restoration will contribute to a healthy, productive and biologically diverse coastal and marine ecosystem that is the backbone of the economic and cultural well-being of the gulf region.
  2. Restoration uses an ecosystem approach based on an understanding of factors that control the populations of species or condition of habitats found in coastal and marine areas.
  3. Restoration priorities and activities will be re-evaluated as information on the extent and significance of injury to natural resources is obtained from the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and from other scientific sources.
  4. Restoration activities will be subject to independent, scientific review within the time frame required by other evaluations and decision-making processes.
  5. Restoration must include meaningful public participation and NEPA compliance at all levels throughout the process.
  6. Restoration should facilitate accountability and reflect public ownership of the process by timely release and reasonable access to information and data.
  7. Long-term scientific monitoring programs and decision support tools shall be established to assess performance of restoration activities, allow for adaptive management, and measure the health of the Gulf ecosystem on a continuing basis.

Project Selection Criteria:

  1. Priority will be given to restoration projects that facilitate recovery of injured natural resources and lost services by addressing systemic problems facing the ecosystem, including historical degradation.
  2. Priority will be given to restoration of natural resources and ecosystem services that have economic, cultural and subsistence value to people living and working along the Gulf Coast.
  3. Extra consideration should be given to projects that increase the resilience of socially vulnerable communities.
  4. Priority will be given to projects that benefit multiple species or resources.
  5. Restoration activities should have clear, measurable and achievable endpoints.
  6. Possible harmful effects on non-target resources and services should be considered when evaluating proposed restoration activities.
  7. Competitive, innovative, collaborative and cost-effective proposals for restoration projects will be encouraged.
  8. Projects that are scalable may be funded in part provided that the funded component stands alone in terms of its benefits, even if the rest of the project is not funded.
  9. Project sponsors demonstrate due diligence. The due diligence process will include scientific, technical, economic and social evaluation of design, design alternatives and implementation of effort.
  10. Priority will be given to restoration projects which include plans integrating workforce development and job creation benefiting people who live and work in the area, including disadvantaged and underemployed populations [1] .

Resources:

Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Assessment Trustee Council, Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation.

Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Assessment Trustee Council, Louisiana Cultch Project.

 

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[1] Beyond project-by-project consideration, the above signed organizations also support NRDA trustee agencies pursuing procurement policies that promote contractors hiring workers who live and work in the impacted coastal area, especially disadvantaged and underemployed populations, and partnering with local workforce development agencies and programs to assist with training and placing of these local workers for new careers in connection with NRDA funded ecosystem restoration projects. We also strongly encourage the NRDA trustees to work with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), state workforce agencies, industry and community stakeholders, to identify new partnerships and necessary actions to utilize existing training resources, like the $27 million in DOL oil spill National Emergency Grant funds in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, and to develop programs to train and place underemployed and disadvantaged workers in jobs connected to NRDA financed projects.