Yesterday, Judge Barbier, the judge presiding over a multi-phase trial related to the BP oil disaster, ruled that BP was grossly negligent and demonstrated willful misconduct for its role in the massive 2010 Gulf oil spill. Judge Barbier went even further, stating that BP, in fact, acted “recklessly”. The ruling gave me, and hopefully other citizens of the Gulf, a sense of justice. We’ve known for four years now that BP was responsible for this disaster and quite possibly could have prevented it had they taken into account the risks involved in deep water drilling and planned accordingly. Their reckless behavior caused this spill and the citizens and natural resources of the Gulf will be dealing with the devastating impacts for many years to come.
Speculation about the amount of Clean Water Act (CWA) fines BP may have to pay is once again a hot topic of conversation with this latest announcement. BP’s profits are in the billions of dollars and the fines should be sufficient to make them and other companies vigilant about safety compliance and disaster preparation. Still unsettled is the amount of oil that was spilled during the 87 days before the well was finally capped. Ultimately, most of the CWA fines will be coming back to the Gulf region to restore the environment and economy. In addition to CWA fines, BP must be held accountable for direct environmental damage done by the spill, as required under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). As scientific data on oil spill impacts continues to pour in, it is crucial to hold BP accountable not just for violating the CWA but also for ecological damage through NRDA.
Federal, state and local decision makers are faced with the immensely important task of deciding where and how these monies are ultimately spent. The top priority should be to make sure that those funds are invested in restoration projects that restore the bays, marshes, wetlands, world-class fisheries and ocean habitat that are the backbone of our region’s economy.
This is likely our generation’s only opportunity to restore an ecosystem so vital to our way of life here on the Gulf coast and so economically important to the nation. Unfortunately, funding on this scale often brings many temptations for unwise or inappropriate spending. Rather than random acts of restoration, we need comprehensive, meaningful environmental restoration, and we need to invest in the science that will allow us to take the pulse of the Gulf and better understand its health.
Getting restoration right requires local citizens, decision makers, and community leaders to commit to a comprehensive approach and a reliance on science—not politics—to drive the process.