Gulf Coast recovery ongoing

Published 3:37 pm Friday, December 21, 2012

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

It’s a “Hurry Up and Wait” situation for the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which held its first official meeting last week in Mobile. The council is charged with developing a comprehensive plan to restore the Gulf Coast states’ environmental and economic damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

The problem is that the council doesn’t have any money. When the RESTORE Act was passed by the U.S. Congress, it designated that 80 percent of the civil penalties connected with the Clean Water Act violations would go to the Gulf Coast states. However, a settlement of those penalties has not occurred, and Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank said there is no “crystal ball” to check to determine when funds actually will become available.

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Despite the lack of funding, the RESTORE Act required the council, which supplants the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, to have a proposed restoration plan developed within six months of the passage of the bill.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley welcomed the council, Secretary Blank and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to Alabama and thanked the task force for its work. Gov. Bentley pointed out that Alabama’s coastline accounts for 23 percent of the tax revenue that comes to Montgomery to fund education and essential services. He also recognized the contribution of Alabama’s Congressional Delegation of Sen. Richard Shelby and Sen. Jeff Sessions and Congressman Jo Bonner for their work to get the RESTORE Act passed in Congress.

“The oil rig explosion on April 20, 2010, triggered an unprecedented crisis and response,” Gov. Bentley said. “By the time the well was capped, some 4.9 million barrels of oil had been released into the Gulf of Mexico. This resulted in significant impacts on our ecosystems and economic activity. The nation was impacted by the spill, and each coastal state had different catastrophic damages. The oil spill underscored the crucial linkage between the environment and the economic health of the Gulf of Mexico. People along the Alabama Gulf Coast, like many other areas, depend on the natural beauty and seafood bounties for their livelihoods.”