WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama signed an executive order Monday allowing the RESTORE Act process to move forward that could ultimately send billions of dollars in BP oil leak fine money to Louisiana.
The executive order lets the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which is still being formed, progress that will ultimately prioritize the coastal restoration and protection projects and funds.
The order also involved the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Natural Resources Damage Assessment process that will allocate the $1 billion in early restoration funds from BP.
The executive order comes shortly after Hurricane Isaac swept through Louisiana and blew more of the unrecovered BP oil onto the state’s coastline.
Aaron Viles, deputy director of the New Orleans-based Gulf Restoration Network, said the executive order is a positive sign the RESTORE Act process is not stalling too much.
“It underscores the RESTORE Act process is moving forward; it’s being implemented,” Viles said. “As people get impatient, it’s good to point out the wheels are moving. The White House is engaged.”
While BP pledged $1 billion in early funds through NRDA, not counting the fines, Viles said, only about $60 million in projects are moving forward thus far. Viles said he hopes the EPA’s involvement will spur things along.
The 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion killed 11 men and resulted in a three-month discharge of 4.9 million barrels of oil into Gulf waters and along Louisiana’s coast.
The RESTORE Act signed into law in June part of the federal transportation bill directs 80 percent of the BP Clean Water Act fine money — from a potential total of $20 billion or more — to the five Gulf Coast states: Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
RESTORE Act sponsor and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said she is pleased Obama issued the executive order. She noted that federal officials and representatives from the five states also met Monday.
“But for full implementation to occur, we need the funding to begin flowing,” Landrieu said in a prepared statement. “I continue to urge all parties to move expeditiously toward a resolution that holds BP fully accountable for the environmental destruction and economic havoc wreaked upon the Gulf Coast.”
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, also noted the positive progress Monday.
“In the aftermath of so many natural and manmade disasters, it is critical that all entities involved in rebuilding our coastline work diligently and collectively if we’re going to stop the erosion of Louisiana’s wetlands — a critical piece of our hurricane protection system,” Richmond said.