Annie Snider, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, August 29, 2013
The federal-state panel tasked with overseeing the spending of potentially billions of dollars in fines related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill yesterday unanimously approved its initial plan for restoring the Gulf ecosystem and economy.
The plan sets overarching restoration goals for the region, broadly lays out how the council will evaluate and fund projects and describes how it will consider states’ plans for spending their share of the money. Under the RESTORE Act, passed by Congress last year, 80 percent of Clean Water Act civil fines from the spill will be sent to the Gulf through the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. The council, made up of federal and state officials, oversees 60 percent of the dollars in the fund.
Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, who serves as chairwoman of the Restore Council, said the panel plans to begin selecting and funding projects within the next 12 months. Environmental groups, however, have pointed out that the plan approved yesterday does not lay out details on how those projects would be selected (Greenwire, Aug. 27). The panel has been considering options for improving public participation as the process moves forward, potentially by creating a structure like a citizens advisory council.
In her first public appearance with the council, Pritzker, who took the helm of Commerce in late June, was careful to note that “restoring the natural ecosystem and restoring the economy are interconnected goals,” in prepared remarks.
“If we continue to work in a collaborative spirit, I’m confident that we can implement the RESTORE Act in a way that reinvigorates economies, creates jobs and rebuilds our environment for generations to come,” she said. “In short, we can help ensure the long-term health, prosperity and resilience of the entire Gulf region.”
She also said overdue regulations from the Treasury Department that will spell out how money sent through the Restore Council can be spent are expected to be released in draft form “very soon.” The council has said it has not been able to move forward with a required list of projects approved for funding and a 10-year spending plan in part because of the lack of those regulations.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) hosted the meeting, which took place in New Orleans. He noted that his state has committed to spending the entirety of the fine money that it receives on ecosystem restoration projects.
“We must see a swift flow of RESTORE Act funds without red tape so we can continue responding to the compounding damages caused by the BP oil spill here in Louisiana and across the entire Gulf Coast,” he said.
Jindal noted that the spill made marshes more vulnerable to erosion, turning around progress that Louisiana had been making in combating land loss.
Special thanks to Richard Charter