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Congress Must Help Restore Coastal Communities

Congress Must Help Restore Coastal Communities


Note: This is a guest post from Chris Mann, senior officer with the Pew Environment Group.

It seems as if there are few issues that can weather the current political storms to bring together a large bipartisan consensus in Congress. Yet, the U.S. Senate — in a vote last month hailed by members on both sides of the aisle — overwhelmingly passed a two-year, $109 billion transportation and infrastructure authorization bill by a bipartisan vote of 74-22. Included in the measure were vital provisions to fund environmental restoration projects in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the 2010 oil spill and an ambitious program to support conservation projects in coastal communities around the country.

House and Senate leaders are negotiating a final transportation package. However, the fate of these crucial proposals to address the health of one of our nation’s most valuable natural resources, our oceans, is far from certain.

By the numbers alone, the impact of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy is sobering. During the 87-day disaster in 2010, nearly 5 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf. It’s also been estimated that the potential three-year loss of tourism revenue to Gulf coastal communities could surpass $22 billion, and scientists still are uncertain what the long-term ecological damage will be.

The Pew Environment Group commissioned a task force of 18 scientists to examine the issue of Gulf restoration. In a report published last September, the investigators found that the Deepwater Horizon blowout was just the most visible, recent problem. Chronic overfishing, poorly planned coastal development, and pollution — according to the researchers’ final report — had already seriously degraded the area’s ecological resilience. Consequently, to move toward effective long-term recovery, federal and state managers must apply a holistic approach to restoration across the region. A dedicated funding source and associated management mechanism are needed, though, to facilitate this change.

In March, the Senate did just that. The measure it passed — known as the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourism Opportunities, and Revived Economy Act — would ensure that 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines associated with the Deepwater Horizon spill are used to address the economic and ecological damage to the Gulf region. This proposal was added to the overall Senate transportation and infrastructure authorization bill by an overwhelming vote of 76-22.

Gulf communities aren’t the only ones watching the outcome of the debate over the transportation measure. Also at stake is another bipartisan provision, the National Endowment for the Oceans. Co-sponsored by Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., it would fund regional coastal improvement projects by using some of the interest derived from investment of Clean Water Act fines from the spill.

More specifically, the endowment would support activities such as fisheries management and coastal restoration through a system of grants to states, universities, nonprofit organizations and other local institutions. And this program could have impacts far and wide, with 35 states potentially eligible for the program’s benefits.

Our combined ocean and coastal areas’ economies contributed more than 2.6 million jobs and more than $222.7 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product in 2009. Projects funded by the National Endowment for the Oceans would help promote the long-term health of these economic engines. Yet while there may be significant support for these two vital ocean proposals in Congress, it’s uncertain whether House and Senate leaders will be able to overcome their differences on the larger bill to pass the provisions.

April marked the second anniversary of one of the largest environmental disasters in our nation’s history. Passing the RESTORE Act and the National Endowment for the Oceans would be an excellent way for Congress to show that America hasn’t forgotten the ongoing environmental and economic impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill.


Related Stories:

Rising Sea Levels Raise Risk of Record Floods

Secret Oil Spill Has Been Poisoning The Gulf for 7 Years

The BP Oil Disaster is Not Over


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Photo Credit: Pew Environment Group

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8:36AM PDT on May 11, 2012

They should but they won't......and forget about any of the animal, mammal and plant life getting any help. Doesn't it bother them that crabs are now being born without claws, fish have lesions and shrimp have no eyes?

The dangers and long term affects for both humans and other species is very real and will be ongoing long after a lot of us have moved on.

11:13AM PDT on May 5, 2012

yes they should, good point, Troy

10:24AM PDT on May 4, 2012

David L--

An oil spill does not have to be in "history's top 10" to devastate an area. The sinking of the Titanic was not one of history's "top 10" shipwrecks, but that doesn't make the loss of lives due to poor preparation/inadequate planning acceptable.

Speaking as one who lives in an East Coast community with an average height of 10 ft above sea level, I welcome any and all measures that would protect our homes, businesses and livelihoods effectively and in an ecologically sound manner. In reading the history of my area, I learned that a number of historically significant structures have already been lost to increasing high waters. I'd prefer that my grandchildren be able to visit Grandma's house after I'm gone--not stare out at the water where it used to be.

Your argument, which appears to be that we should not be concerned about current mismanagement of our coasts because worse disasters have happened in the past, makes no sense: coastal damage is incremental, not just incidental to one disaster. Furthermore, ecological damage in one part of the ocean can affect areas well beyond the epicenter of the damaging incident. You might as well say, "I'm not dead yet, so obviously I will live forever." Personally, I would like to see my town and my world survive long after my demise.

10:00AM PDT on May 4, 2012


8:13PM PDT on May 3, 2012

Yes, more needs to be done

6:49PM PDT on May 3, 2012


6:05PM PDT on May 3, 2012


4:37PM PDT on May 3, 2012

Yes they should!

4:18PM PDT on May 3, 2012


12:20PM PDT on May 3, 2012

Yeah, well, they ought to start with the Gulf disaster, which is still a disaster. But can you imagine Congress doing anything that constructive for the people who lost so much down there? I certainly can't. But they kept the money BP paid them, didn't they? Yes, they were paid quite handsomely while the Gulf citizens suffered. That says a lot, doesn't it? A lot!

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