A Call for Sunshine on the Gulf's Restoration

sunshine press confBy Scott Eustis, Gulf Restoration NetworkOver a year and a half into the BP oil drilling disaster, restoration seems to come too slow. Even as we see oil uncovered by successive storms, the Coast Guard has declared the Gulf coast "clean," Congress has yet to act to direct BP's fines to the Gulf, and we rely on the laws written after Exxon-Valdez with Alaskans in mind to restore the Gulf of Mexico.
One of the main tools for restoration under the post-Exxon-Valdez laws is the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), a scientific and legal process by which federal and state officials, as well as BP, assess the damage caused by the disaster and decide how much and how BP will pay to restore this damage. As you can probably guess, this is a long and complicated process that could drag on for years and years. In order to ensure that coastal communities and the environment get some help a little sooner, the NRDA trustees (state and federal officials) and BP entered into a $1 billion early restoration settlement. This initial agreement will reduce BP’s future fines under NRDA.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of questions about how this unprecedented early restoration will move forward. Many states are looking towards existing projects and programs; but are these projects being prioritized in a way that ensures rapid restoration of the ecosystems impacted by BP’s oil? This agreement allows BP a lot of power over NRDA dollars—how do we know the Gulf will not be shorted?

This article is excerpted from Wave Maker's News (download), GRN's quarterly update on all things water in the Gulf of Mexico.

Scott Eustis is GRN's Coastal Wetlands Specialist.