E&E: Senators to hear about ongoing restoration efforts

Annie Snider, E&E reporter
Published: Monday, July 28, 2014

This story was updated at 8:05 a.m. EDT.

Four years after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig gushed millions of
barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the Senate this week will check
in on the state of restoration efforts.

Although many of the scientific studies looking at impacts of the spill
are under wraps because of the ongoing civil case against BP PLC, the
information that is available suggests that elements of the ecosystem
are still reeling.

Hundreds of bottlenose dolphins have stranded in southeast Louisiana’s
Barataria Bay, a phenomenon the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration has linked to the spill (Greenwire, Dec. 18, 2013).
Studies have also shown that Atlantic bluefin tuna populations, which
have declined by 82 percent from the 1970s thanks mostly to
overfishing, are apt to develop irregular heartbeats as a result of a
chemical in oil from the spill (Greenwire, Feb. 14).

But money for restoration work has been slow to make its way to the
Gulf. In the wake of the spill, BP agreed to pay $1 billion for early
restoration efforts, but the lion’s share of that money — $627 million
— was only just committed to projects this June. And critics have
argued that the chosen projects lean too heavily toward compensating
for lost human use and don’t do enough to restore the ecosystems and
species in the deep water, where the spill occurred.

Money associated with a criminal settlement related to the spill has
been headed to the Gulf recently, though. Under the settlement, the
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation received more than $2.5 billion
for restoration work. The foundation made its first round of grants,
worth $100 million in sum, last fall (E&ENews PM, Nov. 14, 2013).

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s
Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, which is
hosting tomorrow’s hearing, is likely to be especially interested in
implementation of the RESTORE Act. Passed as part of the 2012 highway
bill, the RESTORE Act will send 80 percent of civil fines under the
Clean Water Act from the spill to the five Gulf states.

The largest share of money to come under the RESTORE Act is expected to
be fines from BP, but with the trial dragging on, it’s unclear when any
of those funds could arrive. However, some money from other companies
with a hand in the spill has already made it into the Gulf Coast
Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund set up by the law. That money can’t go
anywhere, though, because the Treasury Department has yet to finalize a
regulation laying out how the money can be spent. The rule was proposed
in September of last year and underwent a 60-day public comment period
(Greenwire, Sept. 6, 2013).

Stakeholders saw a step forward Friday, though, when the federal-state
council set up to manage funds flowing through the RESTORE Act unveiled
plans for receiving and evaluating project proposals.

“The RESTORE Council’s announcement is a positive step toward restoring
the Gulf ecosystem,” Kara Lankford, interim director of the Ocean
Conservancy’s Gulf Restoration Program, said in a statement. “A sound,
science-based process for selecting projects that includes external,
independent scientific review is critical to successful Gulf

Schedule: The hearing is Tuesday, July 29, at 10:30 a.m. in 253

Witness: TBD.
Special thanks to Richard Charter

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