Ocean Currents

Public Engagement Missing from Early Restoration in the Gulf

Bayou La Batre, Alabama

This week, over $600 million in early restoration projects were announced by states in the Gulf of Mexico.   This is BP money that is specifically to be used to address the damage caused by the oil disaster.  Some of the projects announced this week, like the oyster reef restoration project in Alabama, and many projects in Louisiana, are likely to be supported by the public and to be appropriate uses of Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) funding. Unfortunately, the public can’t make that determination without access to more information.

We are disappointed to see these projects announced without the inclusion of any sort of environmental or overarching analysis to provide transparency or opportunities for public involvement, not to mention provide the legal basis and policy guidance for addressing the injury caused by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

The NRDA Trustees do not dispute their legal duties under both the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to produce a Restoration Plan and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which would accomplish this. Indeed, it has been two years since they announced that a draft Plan and PEIS would be produced by early 2012. Yet we continue to see an assortment of projects announced without these guiding documents, effectively limiting citizens from full participation in the restoration process as required by law and providing little confidence that these projects in aggregate will make the public whole.

This effort is about restoring the Gulf following the largest oil spill in U.S. history. And giving the public certainty that the government is getting this right is not just a good thing to do, it’s what the law requires.

Before any of the recently announced new projects receive final approval, the public needs additional information about the nature, scope, and the geographic extent of the injury, as well as a Restoration Plan. This is what the law promises, and the Trustees must deliver.

Early restoration projects implemented without the guidance of a PEIS and Restoration Plan undermine the Trustees’ own goal of developing a holistic, ecosystem-based restoration plan because they do not include a full range of alternatives, nor do they provide a level of analysis that gives the public a sense of why some projects were chosen over other options.

Despite the murkiness of how project decisions are made as part of early restoration, one thing is clear: the public stands to lose big in the long run if the Trustees refuse to engage them as a meaningful part of decision-making.

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