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Executive order help states along the Gulf affected by spill

17th September 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Mason Harrison
Contributing Writer

Two years after the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill inflicted economic and ecological disaster on the Gulf Coast, federal authorities are setting aside 80 percent of the penalties against British oil giant BP for environmental restoration in Texas, Florida, Alabama, Mis­sissippi and Louisiana. Presi­dent Barack Obama issued an executive order Sept. 10 reaffirming the allocation of funds to help states along the Gulf whose shorelines were oiled recover in the wake of the worst marine oil spill in U.S. waters in the history of the petroleum industry.

In Louisiana, coastal parishes that were in the path of the oil spill will receive funding based on a formula that considers the number of shoreline miles oiled, population and land mass. Parish officials in eligible areas must also have a “comprehensive land use” plan in place prior to getting the new funding, according to an explanation of the federal requirements released by Sen. Mary Landrieu.

BP faces fines that could range from $5 to $21 billion under the Clean Water Act, which levies fines against marine polluters. On the lower end, BP would have to dole out $1,100 for each barrel of oil spilled into the Gulf during a three-month period in 2010 or face higher fines at $4,300 per barrel—an estimated 4.9 million barrels flowed into the Gulf between late April and mid-July—if the company is found to have acted with gross negligence in its handling of the disaster. The Department of Justice is asking a federal judge to consider BP’s actions ahead of the rig explosion that caused the spill negligent in the settlement of a lawsuit with area businesses.

Last summer, lawmakers from Louisiana began pushing for Gulf states to receive the bulk of the penalties assessed against BP for coastal restoration and clean-up. In July, Obama signed the RESTORE Act, allowing the BP fines to be redirected to coastal rehabilitation efforts and the president’s executive order echoes the legislative funding mandate and implements other provisions of the law.

Under the executive order, the current task force assigned to study coastal restoration proposals will be replaced by a standing council comprised of federal and local officials charged with planning Gulf-area restoration efforts; provides for the creation of a trust fund for restoration activities; and redirects federal agencies to assist stakeholders in carrying out all functions related to restoring the Gulf shore.

“I commend the President for executing key provisions of the RESTORE Act and look forward to working with the Administration throughout implementation,” Lan­drieu said in a statement released following the issuance of the executive order. She cautioned, however, that while the order is “an important step” in bringing the Gulf region back to ecological health, “a swift resolution of the court case that holds BP fully accountable is necessary for full implementation of this historic legislation.”

The billions of dollars slated for coastal restoration under the RESTORE Act and Obama’s accompanying executive order represent the largest one-time investment in coastal rehabilitation efforts in the United States, a fact that is being lauded by many national and local environmental groups who had pushed for the BP fines to be redirected to Gulf Coast restoration plans in the spill’s aftermath.

“We thank the President and White House for their continued commitment to the Gulf Coast and look forward to working with them on a comprehensive restoration plan,” a group of environmental activists, including the Environ­mental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wild­life Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Louisiana Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, said in a joint statement. “More than two years after the oil spill, the gulf is still reeling from environmental and economic impacts. This executive order takes important steps forward to ensure that government agencies and officials are working closely together to keep restoration progressing.”

This article was originally published in the September 17, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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