Report Recommends Steps to Rebuild the Gulf
BP must make $5 billion down payment for natural resource damages, report says
As images of oily shores and sludge-coated pelicans on the evening news go from shocking to commonplace, groups including the National Wildlife Federation are outlining short- and long-term strategies for making coastal Louisiana less vulnerable to future disasters and restoring wetlands already suffering from decades of land loss before the BP oil spill.
“Common Ground: A Shared Vision for Restoring the Mississippi River Delta,” a report released by NWF along with Environmental Defense Fund and National Audubon Society, advises the Obama administration to negotiate with BP for a $5 billion down payment on expected payments for natural resource damages in the region among other recommendations for rebuilding the shattered Gulf.
“The loss of coastal wetlands to oil contamination may speed up today’s alarming land loss, leaving an already-weakened ecosystem even more vulnerable to storms and other man-made assaults,” says the report, released on the 100th day of BP's oil disaster.
The report warns: “[w]ithout restoration, every disaster will sow the seeds of a more devastating disaster down the line, and the region will continue on a path to eventual destruction. These actions will make the entire area more resilient, protecting the people who live there, the industries critical to our national economy, and the wildlife that call the area home.”
Among other vital steps, the report recommends that the Obama administration:
Immediately negotiate with BP a $5 billion down payment on what they will ultimately be assessed for natural resource damages from the spill and create a separate escrow account for that money.
Amend the Oil Pollution Act to create a separate fund for Gulf Coast and Mississippi River Delta restoration that includes payments from BP for natural resource damage
Seek a supplemental appropriation of $500 million from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for LCA projects and raise the amount available under the trust fund for this disaster to include at least $155 million for the LCA construction program in Fiscal Year 2012.
Complete construction on Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) projects within five years.
The report also singles out the negative effect on the delta of navigation and flood control levees, which have prevented the Mississippi River from depositing the sediment that nourishes the region, and oil and gas extraction channels, which have re-routed damaging saltwater into fragile marshes and cypress forests.
What's at Stake
The Mississippi River Delta, which makes up much of southern Louisiana, is one of the world’s largest and most ecologically and commercially critical river deltas. It spans 3.4 million acres of marsh, swamp, forest, and barrier islands, making it the largest wetland complex in the contiguous United States. The delta is home to nearly two million people, many of whom rely on its natural resources for their livelihood and cultural stability. It also contains many commercially important seafood species, and many threatened and endangered species make their homes in the delta’s habitats, including the Louisiana Black Bear, the West Indian Manatee, the Piping Plover and five species of sea turtles. All were threatened by neglect and wetland deterioration before the Deepwater Horizon collapsed in April, but the last three months have worsened matters; hopefully the current tragedy will also act as a catalyst for renewed focus on habitat restoration.
The report recommends that President Obama, who recently pledged his administration's efforts to making the Gulf Coast better than it was before the oil disaster began, work quickly in concert with Louisiana’s Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration to revive restoration efforts:
“A new federal management structure must drive progress on a vision and plan projects in the short-term. With oil continuing to come ashore, the coastal ecosystem does not have the luxury of time: action that gives a new structure to the federal agency effort must be taken immediately.”