NRDA and Clean Water Act Penalty Legislation on the Gulf Coast

This blog was written by Tammy Herrington, Mobile Baykeeper Deputy Director.

The BP Oil Disaster took a toll on the Gulf Coast in a number of ways.  Communities are facing concerns over loss of natural resources, loss of economic resources, and impacts to public health.  Almost immediately, the shrimping and oyster industries shut down, leaving many across the Gulf without jobs.  As oil continued to flow and waters were closed to fishing, thousands of commercial fishermen, charter boat captains and countless other businesses across the Gulf lost their livelihoods.  Once oil began washing ashore, Gulf Coast tourism was severely affected.  Visitors began cancelling reservations to condominiums, restaurants and other coastal businesses due to the fear of oil on our beaches.  In addition, as oil was burned offshore, dispersants were sprayed and local residents faced a growing fear over public health and safety.

Those of us along the Gulf Coast feel strongly that we cannot lose the lessons from our nation's biggest environmental disaster.  We must partner together to created a unified message for restoration.  The two obvious opportunities where we can work together to address the environmental damage to our region are through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) and the potential opportunity to obtain Clean Water Act fines for the Gulf Coast.

The NRDA process works to identify the extent of resource injuries, the best methods for restoring those resources, and the type and amount of restoration required.  Public comments will be collected through the NOAA website through May 18th at http://www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov/restoration/give-us-your-ideas/.   Because NRDA resources are finite, evaluation teams are unable to monitor the entire shoreline of all five impacted states.  Therefore, we are also encouraging residents of the Gulf Coast to submit field observations through www.saveourgulf.org.  By submitting information, including the GPS coordinates of your location and photographs of what you observe, we can work to further inform the NRDA process.  By clicking on the field observation tab on the website, you can find the full instructions on how to submit data.

Another way you can help, no matter where you are across the United States, is to tell your legislators that you support 80% of the Clean Water Act fines from the disaster to return to the Gulf Coast for restoration.  Many are surprised to find that these BP fine dollars do not automatically return to the impacted area but go into the general budget.

So far, several bills have been introduced into the House and Senate asking that these fines be returned to the Gulf.  In the House, H.R. 56 was introduced by Representative Scalise from Louisiana, H.R. 480 by Representative Castor from Florida; and most recently, a House Resolution was introduced by Representative Bonner from Alabama.  In the Senate, bills have been introduced by Senators Landrieu and Vitter from Louisiana and another by Senator Nelson from Florida.  Because our communities and eco-system can't afford a long fight between our political decision makers, we urge congressional leadership to pass a strong restoration bill as soon as possible.

The bills introduced all ask for the penalities to return to the Gulf Coast but have minor differences in the specifics of how they would be managed and what the fines would cover. Gulf Waterkeepers are currently drafting a letter to the entire Gulf coast congressional delegation in the support of specific pieces we believe must be included in any legislation passed.  Once drafted, we will share this information online through saveourgulf.org and our individual websites.  Until then, we ask you to let your congressional leaders know you support BP fine dollars returning to the Gulf Coast by going to http://saveourgulf.org/updates/stand-gulf-coast-waterkeepers.
 

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