It was reported last month that BP will be forced to cover all ecological losses in Alabama resulting from the Gulf spill. Both state and federal officials expressed that view at a presentation on the ongoing Natural Resources Damages Assessment last month. The assessment forms the basis of the government’s pending lawsuit against BP and is broad in scope, encompassing everything from dead birds to the months the public was unable to fish or enjoy sunset walks on a clean and oil-free beach. The goal of the effort is to restore the natural world and compensate humans for the loss of the use of Gulf resources during the spill and the recovery period.
It will take years to determine the full extent of damages seen in the wild, particularly subtle problems, such as weakened immune systems or impaired reproductive success in fish, birds and other creatures. But, it will be necessary to put a dollar value on problems of that sort. That is now at the heart of the NRDA process. The proceeds of the government’s lawsuit will be for enhancing the ecosystem and people’s enjoyment of it.
A major source of oil spill recovery money largely restricts spending to environmental projects, even though the program gets some of its money because of economic damage. This comes from statements made by officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They said those rules are mandated in the law governing the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). Federal law mandates a review and restoration process following environmental disasters. In the wake of the Gulf oil spill, assessments are being conducted, both onshore and offshore, in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana and Texas. Once the damage is quantified, BP, majority owner of the leaking well, along with all other responsible parties, must pay to fix the damage.
Trustees are supposed to work together to make those decisions relating to restoration, as no double recovery is permitted and the NRDA guidelines carry a rebuttable presumption in court. Trustees include federal government agencies and representatives of each Gulf state. To ensure full restoration is achieved, the trustees act jointly to determine how the money is spent.
There will also be oil spill money available from fines assessed under the Clean Water Act. The law currently sends such money to a trust fund for future oil spills, not to the affected states. Sending the money to states will require legislation in Congress. That action will ultimately determine who controls the funds. Clean Water Act fines against BP and other parties responsible for the massive oil spill could range from $5.4 billion to $21.1 billion. That will not include the funds available under the NRDA.
The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 calls for NRDA to study the “injury to, destruction of, loss of, or loss of use of, natural resources” as a result of incidents such as oil spills. Economic damage is tallied under the “loss of use” provision. The section of the law authorizing recovery projects makes no mention of economic restoration, saying only that officials “shall develop and implement a plan for the restoration, rehabilitation, replacement, or acquisition of the equivalent, of the natural resources.” According to reports, the closest thing to economic recovery that NRDA money can be used for is increasing public access to natural resources. That would include such things as fishing piers and boat ramps.
Source: Mobile Press Register
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