After Oil Spill, Don’t Shortchange Gulf


Note: This is a guest post from Martha Collins, a resident of St. Petersburg and a gulf representative for the Pew Environment Group

The network TV news crews may have long since left, but the work of repairing the environmental and economic damage from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is far from complete. During the course of the spill, roughly 4.9 million barrels of crude flowed into the gulf — an amount of oil that, by some estimates, could have heated just over 13,200 American homes for an entire year.

It will likely be years, or even decades, before we know the full extent of the effects of the catastrophe on the regional marine ecosystems. Researchers have documented that populations of herring, clams and sea otters still haven’t recovered from the Exxon Valdez spill, which occurred more than 20 years ago. In 2001, more than 48 years after an oil tanker sank off the coast of Point Reyes, Calif., tar balls were found on its shores. The sooner we can dedicate resources toward repairing the damage from last year’s disaster, the better equipped regional leaders will be to address the impact of the spill on the health of the gulf’s ecosystem.

But more than a year and a half later, despite numerous pledges of support from leaders in Washington, much of the remediation work still remains to be done. Fortunately, a pending bipartisan proposal in Congress, with support in both the House and Senate, could help the region start 2012 off on the right path by creating a new, dedicated source of funding for long-term gulf restoration efforts.

President Barack Obama has repeatedly stressed his commitment to do “whatever is necessary to protect and restore the Gulf Coast.” We’ve heard similar statements from other influential voices. In its 2011 report, the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling recommended creation of a well-funded, long-term ecosystem remediation plan. This included directing 80 percent of civil and criminal penalties assessed under the Clean Water Act to regional projects. Similar proposals have been featured in findings by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, led by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

By reforming how we use penalties generated by enforcement of existing clean water laws, Congress could provide the much-needed funds for gulf recovery efforts. Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency can collect $1,100 per barrel of oil spilled in federal waters, or up to $4,300 if there is a finding of gross negligence from any party responsible. Based on the estimated 4.9 million barrels released during Deepwater Horizon spill, fines could range from $5.4 billion to $21.1 billion.

That’s a substantial sum. But under today’s law, these dollars are simply directed into the general U.S. Treasury — they do not have to be used for gulf restoration. And in light of the budgetary challenges facing Congress, this pot of money is starting to attract attention from politicians looking to fund other priorities.

In an effort to keep these funds in the gulf region, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators — including members from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — introduced in August the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economy of the Gulf Coast Act (RESTORE). The bill would establish a regional environmental remediation trust fund; support the ailing travel, tourism and seafood industries; and create a federal-state council to implement a comprehensive rehabilitation plan for the coast.

Furthermore, the RESTORE Act would establish a science and technology program to focus on, among other things, coastal and marine fisheries research, ongoing water quality monitoring and recovery efforts for damaged ecosystems. A bipartisan companion bill recently introduced in the House by Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., with the support of more than 20 other members, also calls for a majority of spill penalty funds to be used for regional remediation initiatives.

Gulf Coast residents and the environment suffered severe losses from the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. It is only right that the region receives the majority of the penalty money from the spill to help fund the massive efforts needed to heal the ecosystem. Congress should pass the RESTORE Act and set the gulf region on the path to recovery.


Related Stories:

BP Faces New Round of Citations for Gulf Oil Spill

New Oil Spill Contaminates Gulf Near Former Deepwater Horizon

Shell’s Rape of Nigeria Continues: Another Oil Spill


Photo: U.S. Coast Guard


Terry V.
Terry V5 years ago


Earth Cry

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim6 years ago

We were the ones who spilled this toxic crude into the water and now we need to clean up our own mess. It's only fair for all the living beings affected by this.

Yvonne Fast
Yvonne F6 years ago

I don't trust those companies for a minute of the day! Thanks for sharing and I hope the very best for the Gulf!

Douglas S.
Douglas S6 years ago

Thank you

Martha Eberle
Martha E6 years ago

Well, of course the funds should be dedicated to the Gulf -- where is the BP money?!!!

Jane Barton
Jane Barton6 years ago

Well that's the joke of the year, all our government EVER does is "fiddle with the books" and lie to the public. What's new?

Shirley M.
Shirley M.6 years ago

Ensuring funds for raised for environmental disasters - and anything else we raise funds for - get to their intended destination is, I would have thought, a no-brainer. They should never be swallowed up in general Treasury funds, so if we need bills passed to protect these funds, so be it.

In fact, transparency in how governments and other entities spend public monies would be a great thing. No more 'fiddling the books' - or at least making it much harder to do so!

John Mansky
John M6 years ago

Thank you for the article...

jayasri amma
jayasri a6 years ago

thank you for article

Ernest R.
Ernest R6 years ago

Actually the environmental and economic damage to the gulf can never be repaired, no matter the commitment or funding available. There has not even been any success in restoring the growing dead zone where the Mississipi empties into the gulf. The gulf is a unique environmental treasure that has provided food and livelyhood for thousands so it is vital to block access to repeat environmental criminal offenders like BP. What ? BP has reseived permission to resume drilling in the gulf ? No further comment.