Washington Watch: Oil disaster recovery a matter of opinion

by jordan blum

Advocate Washington bureau

Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum
Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum

Praised be!

More than three years after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf states are back and virtually better than ever.

That is, at least, according to BP.

Three years after the oil explosion dumped roughly 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf and killed 11 men beginning April 20, 2010, the BP communications team released a six-page “fact sheet” touting all the progress made and the dollars BP has spent on cleanup and claims.

“As the fact sheet indicates, no company has done more to respond in the wake of an industrial accident than BP,” BP stated about the worst man-made environmental disaster in the nation’s history. “Significant progress has been made in cleaning the Gulf shoreline and in the recovery of the environment and economy in the affected area.”

BP spent the past week announcing state-by-state projects for coastal restoration and related projects totaling nearly $600 million, including about $340 million in Louisiana.

So now that Louisiana has received these funds … No, wait, they “reached agreement in principle” on how to allocate the dollars that were first promised more than two years ago. The nearly $600 million are part of $1 billion that BP promised in April 2011.

Still, it means Louisiana will at some point in time likely receive the dollars to enhance the barrier islands that are in line for restoration: Whiskey Island in Terrebonne Parish, $110 million; Chenier Ronquille and Shell Island, both on the west bank of Plaquemines Parish, $136 million; and $72 million for Breton Island on the east bank of Plaquemines Parish.

Another $22 million will go toward establishing two Fish Stock Research and Enhancement Centers in Lake Charles and in Point a la Hache in Plaquemines Parish.

“With the help of the extensive cleanup efforts, early restoration projects, and natural recovery processes, the Gulf is returning to its baseline condition, which is the condition it would be in if the accident had not occurred,” said Laura Folse, BP’s executive vice president for response and environmental restoration.

So, while state and environmental officials did praise the project announcements this week, should it also be assumed that everything is hunky-dory?

“Three years after the Gulf was inundated with BP oil, the wildlife, habitats and people of the Gulf are still feeling the effects of the disaster,” David Muth, of the National Wildlife Federation, said last month. “In 2012 alone, some 6 million pounds of BP oil was collected from Louisiana’s shorelines and 200 miles of coast remain oiled. We can’t allow BP off the hook for anything less than justice requires — a full payment for its recklessness so that real restoration of the Gulf’s ecosystem and economy can begin.”

Oh.

“We still have concerns about the long-term effects on the Gulf and its estuaries,” Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser added. “We still see oil on the surface after storms with no one out there monitoring it. We will not stop until we get the help we need.”

Essentially, scientists have expressed concern that the entire Gulf food chain remains at risk down to the smallest microorganisms and moving on up. Oiled dolphins and other animals continue to be found.

At the same time, the federal government and the state remain mired with BP in a civil trial that is expected to last several more months. The first phase, which focused on who was most at fault, ended last month. The second phase, which does not start until September, will target determining the amount of oil spilled and the damages.

BP’s Clean Water Act penalties alone in trial could range from $5 billion to nearly $18 billion depending on how “grossly negligent” BP is found and that is where the real money awaits. Conservation organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund, for instance, have argued BP should be responsible for about a $40 billion settlement — $20 billion each through the civil penalties and through restoring the Gulf to its previous state.

“We’re still waiting for these funds, and as each day passes, we lose more of our coast,” U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., stated this past week. “We have waited long enough, and I continue my call for a swift resolution of BP’s civil case so we can get to work rebuilding our coastline and protecting our communities from storm surges.”

Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.