E&E: Council issues long-awaited call for restoration projects

 
Annie Snider, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, August 21, 2014
The federal-state panel tasked with spending fines linked to the 2010
Gulf of Mexico oil spill put out a call this afternoon for ecosystem
restoration projects — a critical step in what has been a
frustratingly slow process for many involved.

The guidelines released today by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration
Council will be used to select projects for a “Funded Priorities List”
that will be eligible for money from the first tranche of civil fines
related to the spill — roughly $150 million from Transocean Deepwater
Inc. The total amount of money available to the council remains up in
the air as the federal government’s case against BP PLC over Clean
Water Act liability remains ongoing.

The initial selection round will focus on projects targeting habitat
and water quality improvements. It will also emphasize projects that
are aimed at addressing significant ecosystem issues, that are
sustainable over time, that are likely to succeed and that will benefit
the human community, the council said in its guidelines.

“We are excited to announce the start of the project selection process
and look forward to receiving excellent proposals from our Council
members in the coming months,” Justin Ehrenwerth, the council’s
executive director, said in a statement. “The Council adopted a merit-
based process to evaluate and select projects which will put the
Council members in a strong position to move forward with project
implementation.”

The RESTORE Act, passed by Congress more than two years ago, sends 80
percent of civil fines related to the 2010 spill back to the five Gulf
states — Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. That
money is divided into three main pots, one of which, holding 30 percent
of the total funds, is to be managed by the council for Gulfwide
ecosystem restoration.

The initial comprehensive plan approved by the council last year was
supposed to include the Funded Priorities List and a 10-year spending
plan, but the council said it was hamstrung without a long-stalled
regulation from the Treasury Department laying out how the spill money
could be spent.

Treasury last week broke the logjam, approving an interim rule (E&ENews
PM, Aug. 13).

The submission guidelines released today add detail to a fact sheet on
submission released by the council ahead of a Senate hearing last month
(E&E Daily, July 30). Language from the fact sheet that had raised
eyebrows from environmentalists about projects benefiting human
communities at the point of implementation does not appear in the new
guidelines.

Project submissions must also include a list of all applicable
environmental compliance requirements such as permits, an issue that
restoration advocates are keeping a close eye on.

“Getting the project selection process right is so important to
comprehensive Gulf restoration. If we do it correctly, we can create
jobs, conserve fish and wildlife habitat, and save the way of life
we’re privileged to enjoy on the coast,” Bob Bendick, director of the
Nature Conservancy’s Gulf of Mexico program, said in a statement.
“While this is just the beginning of the process, we hope the
procedures announced today will enable the implementation of projects
that allow the Gulf to remain the special place it is and something
we’ll be proud to hand down to our children.”

Only council members — representatives of the five states and the
federal agencies — can submit a project to be considered by the

council.
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