Restoration Plan Would Have Spill Penalty Money Stay in Gulf

President Obama earlier this year asked U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, former governor of Mississippi and a son of the Gulf Coast, to develop a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan to be designed by states, local communities, tribes, fishermen, businesses, conservationists and other Gulf residents.

Mabus recently released the Gulf of Mexico Regional Ecosystem Restoration Strategy (pdf) following months of meetings and discussions with fishermen, health officials, environmental workers, nonprofits and local leaders, scientists, members of the business community, elected officials, and thousands of Gulf Coast residents who expressed their opinions in meetings and town halls across all five Gulf Coast states.

Echoing themes expressed during those discussions, Mabus' plan is one that comes from the people who live and work near the Gulf of Mexico; is based on science and good research; and holds the responsible parties accountable for the costs of the effects of the oil spill.

According to the plan, a key recommendation will be to call on Congress to dedicate a significant amount of any civil penalties obtained from parties responsible for the oil spill under the Clean Water Act to the recovery of the region that was damaged, and to those impacted by its effects.

The plan also recommends:

  • the establishment of a congressionally mandated governance structure to oversee and implement these and other sources of funding Congress may appropriate with the goal of a coordinated federal, state, and local long-term recovery strategy.
  • leadership in overseeing the transition as well as the immediate establishment of a new Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. This intergovernmental structure will be lean, flexible, adaptive, and able to rapidly incorporate the ideas of the communities it is designed to serve.

Mabus reported that the ecosystem protection and restoration effort and a Natural Resource Damage Assessment already is under way. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, on behalf the Department of the Interior serves as the Federal Lead Administrative Trustee on the assessment council.

Under the Clean Water Act's civil penalty provision for oil spills, recovery money is deposited into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. These funds are used for cleanup, response, and restoration efforts for future oil spills and to pay when responsible parties do not or when these the damage exceeds the parties' liability. The Oil Pollution Act, enacted after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, goes further, requiring parties to pay oil removal costs and certain economic and natural resource damages.

"In a region that has long suffered from no shortage of plans but rather a lack of coordinated prioritization and implementation of those federal, state, and local plans, this report offers a strategic framework that can align the myriad regional interests and operations under a single structure so that the most pressing Gulf-wide ecosystem challenges can be addressed comprehensively and effectively," Mabus said.

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