Gulf of Mexico

Many Funding Sources, But Only One Chance to Get it Right

Gulf restoration in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is part of an ongoing legal process and will involve potentially billions of dollars in environmental fines and lawsuits.


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The above flowcharts outline the flow of environmental fines in each of the five Gulf states through various funding sources, such as criminal settlements, the RESTORE Act, the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Natural Resource Damage Assessment

In early 2011, the BP Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) trustees and BP announced an unprecedented agreement to provide $1 billion for early restoration to address impacts from the oil disaster.

By December of 2011, the NRDA trustees announced $57 million in restoration projects, such as creating or enhancing oyster habitat, salt marshes and sand dunes in the Gulf states. A second round of early restoration projects were announced in 2012. These projects, totaling $9 billion, will protect bird and sea turtle habitats. Taken together, these projects represent only a fraction of the billion dollars that BP agreed to for early restoration, and it is an even smaller percentage of the total dollar amount BP must ultimately pay if they are going to make good on their promises to support full recovery of the people and natural resources of the Gulf.

In December 2013, the NRDA trustees released a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for early restoration of natural resources and services, such as fishing and tourism, lost as a result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Another 44 projects, totaling nearly $627 million, were also proposed in December 2013.

RESTORE Act

Passed in the summer of 2012, the RESTORE Act directs 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines paid by BP and other responsible parties toward the places in the Gulf where the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred. The Senate passed the RESTORE Act as an amendment to the transportation bill in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 76-22. The House voted 293-127 in April 2012 to pass the transportation bill, which included the RESTORE Act.

The RESTORE Act will direct funding toward the places where it’s needed most — to execute a comprehensive ecosystem restoration plan and to ensure the future health of the birds, dolphins, sea turtles, fish and, of course, the local communities that greatly depend on our ocean.

Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council

When the RESTORE Act was passed, it called for the creation of a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to develop a comprehensive restoration plan for the Gulf. The Council has adopted the four ecosystem restoration goals identified by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force:

  • restore and conserve habitat
  • restore water quality
  • replenish and protect living coastal and marine resources
  • enhance community resiliency

Additionally, the Council has created a fifth goal to “restore and revitalize the Gulf economy.” Accomplishing this fifth goal will require the achievement of the first four priorities.

Public meetings were held across the Gulf Coast to collect restoration ideas and needs from local citizens. The Council released its initial Comprehensive Plan to provide an integrated approach to Gulf restoration in July 2013. An updated Comprehensive Plan is expected in summer 2014, and according to the language of the RESTORE Act, this plan will also focus on specific actions, projects and programs that can be done quickly, while also addressing the long-term recovery of the Gulf.

Resolution of Legal Claims

In the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, some of the Gulf states have filed legal claims against BP and other responsible parties. These claims will either be resolved by a judge in court or through a settlement and consent decree. The trial to determine liability for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is currently under way.

The federal and state governments already have settled their claims with MOEX, one of the companies involved. Additionally, BP has agreed to settle for $4 billion to resolve criminal and administrative claims. Transocean will also pay $1.4 billion in civil and criminal penalties, which serves as the first deposit into the RESTORE Act to be used for restoration.

Ocean Conservancy encourages the federal and state governments to resolve pending legal claims in ways that provide the funds needed for a comprehensive restoration program. Ocean Conservancy also advocates for any settlements of legal claims to provide for an effective governance structure for administering restoration funding as well as a reopener clause to ensure that BP stays on the hook for any damages discovered in the future.

If a resolution of claims and liability associated with the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, or other federal or state protections comes about via a trial or consent agreement, a carefully crafted settlement could help provide funding for broad-scale restoration.

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