Deepwater Horizon: Final damage assessment and restoration plan released

The BP Natural Resource Damage Trustees on Friday released their final plan that details the extent of the environmental damage caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and how the Trustees plan to restore the environment over the next 15 years.

The Trustees consist of the Gulf states, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, and four federal agencies, Department of Commerce: NOAA, Department of the Interior, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The draft plan was released in October 2015 along with a consent decree settling all remaining claims against BP. The settlement is expected to be finalized in late spring.

According to Ocean Conservancy, a non-profit environmental advocacy group based in Washington, although the final plan provides a few more details regarding the frequency of public meetings (which will happen annually), the Trustees have neglected to respond meaningfully to a number of concerns regarding how they will plan for, administer and ultimately implement the expenditure of over $7 billion in funding for restoration.

“Ocean Conservancy and a number of others expressed grave concern regarding the Trustees’ proposed governance structure, which outlines a distributed structure that essentially breaks one Trustee Council into eight different Councils that will operate with nothing but a verbal commitment to coordinate their efforts across the Gulf,” the group said.

Bethany Carl Kraft, Director of Ocean Conservancy’s Gulf Restoration Program, said: “While the underlying vision of comprehensive restoration is laudable, the Trustees’ approach to implementation is largely disappointing, especially for those who are concerned with the magnitude of the impacts in the Gulf of Mexico itself.”

According to Carl Kraft, “Unfortunately the Trustees have chosen to largely ignore our plea to explicitly designate financial resources for restoration in the open ocean commensurate with the impacts. The disaster occurred in the deep waters of the Gulf, impacts continue to this day, and they are expected to continue for decades into the future. Comprehensive and effective restoration require that adequate resources are directed to the recovery of marine resources that Gulf communities depend on for their livelihoods.”

Ocean Conservancy group also said that, in the final plan, the Trustees have made a number of “troubling decisions that jeopardize a comprehensive restoration approach”. First, the group said, they refused to cap administrative expenses for the federal trustees, which will come directly out of the open ocean fund. They also declined to reallocate previously funded lost recreational use projects that have nothing to do with marine resources, the group added.

Finally, the Trustees have included new language potentially expanding the scope of projects that can be funded from the open ocean fund, jeopardizing full recovery of impacted marine resources, the environmental advocacy group concluded.

“Full recovery requires investments across the spectrum of impacted resources, from the coast to the blue water. The extent of the impacts in the marine environment demand a dedicated source of funding that cannot be raided over the next 15 years,” said Carl Kraft.

“The science behind the Trustees’ summary of injuries and their proposed framework of restoration goals and types appear to be sound. We remain concerned that the biggest threat to the Trustees’ success in achieving their own vision of a comprehensive, ecosystem-based approach to restoration are the Trustees themselves. Only time will tell if their decision to prioritize expedient decision-making will cost the Gulf dearly.”

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