NEW ORLEANS — Money for Gulf Coast coastal restoration projects, funded by civil penalties paid in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, could arrive within a year and Louisiana officials called for a speedy process to get the work moving.
It’s an ambitious goal, said Penny Pritzker, secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, especially in light of the fact that the civil penalties in the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster haven’t been completely settled yet. Pritzker is the chairwoman of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which met Wednesday in New Orleans.
However, the council took another step toward getting projects moving by approving an initial comprehensive plan that lays out goals for ecosystem and economic recovery within the five Gulf of Mexico states affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in 2010. The governors of those states — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and Florida — serve on the council with federal officials.
“We need to get this money to the states, counties and parishes where the oil hit the ground as quickly as possible,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said.
He told participants that Louisiana has lost 1,900 square miles of coastal land since the 1930s and the remaining coastal land helps protect communities, energy infrastructure, seafood production, ports and much more.
Getting coastal restoration and ecosystem projects funded and built quickly is necessary.
“Delay is the enemy,” said David Muth, Louisiana state director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Coastal Louisiana Campaign.
Muth said the state of Louisiana already has a master plan that received unanimous approval from the state Legislature last year and includes projects that could be ready for construction.
The funding to the council for future projects will come by way of the RESTORE Act, the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2012.
The RESTORE Act puts 80 percent of civil and administrative penalties paid under the Clean Water Act into the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund. The money is intended to go toward “ecosystem restoration, economic recover and tourism promotion in the Gulf Coast region.”
“Restoring the ecosystem and restoring the economy are interlocking goals,” Pritzker said.
The council is in charge of 60 percent of the money, with half to be spent on ecosystem restoration and the other half going to states in accordance with the RESTORE Act.
The council plan approved Wednesday sets overall restoration goals for the Gulf Coast region. The plan does not say how money from the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund will be allocated for the next 10 years and it does not include a project priority list.
Pritzker said the council will work closely with other organizations receiving Deepwater Horizon funding to avoid duplication of effort and to combine efforts.
That includes the ongoing Natural Resource Damage Assessment process to determine what ecosystem damage occurred and what it will cost to fix the damage.
In addition, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will have more than $2.5 billion over the next five years from criminal plea agreements with Transocean and BP, according to the report.
The National Academy of Sciences has $500 million from the Transocean and BP criminal plea agreements that will go toward human health and environmental protection as well as spill prevention and response.
Also, the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund received $100 million from a BP criminal plea agreement to be used for projects that will benefit migratory birds, according to the report.