Most folks who are knowledgeable about the BP oil spill believe the $1 billion that BP set aside to help the Gulf Coast’s fragile ecosystem recover from last year’s oil spill is grossly inadequate. Cooper Shattuck, the Legal Adviser to Gov. Robert Bentley, recently attended a hearing in Washington before the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife. Cooper had this to say in his testimony to the Subcommittee: “$1 billion doesn’t go as far as it used to. It won’t be enough. It’s just early restoration.” It should be noted that BP reported $5.3 billion in second-quarter profits this year.
Cooper appeared as a special counsel responsible for assessing oil spill damages as the government gets ready to select the first restoration projects. As you will recall, the Obama Administration reached an agreement with BP last year to provide $1 billion to begin early restoration projects. That did not mean BP won’t be held liable for damages from the massive oil spill – it will. But BP provided the $1 billion for early restoration funding by agreement. It should also be noted that the Obama Administration has filed suit against BP.
Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions believes the BP fund is “a good step,” but he said the final tally “is likely to require billions more.” It was good to learn that the top Republican on the subcommittee believes strongly that BP officials are “responsible to the last dollar of their corporate existence.” Federal and local officials on the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Trustee Council are currently assessing the environmental and other long-term damage to the region. Thus far, more than 80 studies have been planned.
The assessment process could take another few years, including at least a year of field work, according to Tony Penn of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Mr. Penn was absolutely correct when he said in written testimony prepared for the hearing that “the task of quantifying the environmental damage from the spill is no small feat.” I don’t believe anybody really knows at this juncture how badly the environmental damage to the coastal states really is. Many lawmakers and officials from the coastal states are concerned the process could take as long as ten years. But most appear to believe that for investment in restoration to take upwards of a decade is totally unacceptable. BP must be made to sign off quickly on the assessment, review and funding activities. Any delay in getting started can only make matters worse.
It’s very significant that Cooper is the new chairman of the Trustee Council’s executive committee. The group plans to select about 14 restoration projects by the end of July. The Council will then negotiate with BP about the choices and hold public hearings. As we have reported, the Gulf Coast states lost billions in income from tourism and other sources because of the spill. Some waterways were actually shut down, with at one point 40 percent of Alabama waters being closed to fishing. Alabama’s tourist industry took a tremendous hit and the full impact is still not known.
To compound matters economically, the oil spill took place as the region was still rebounding from Hurricane Katrina and other disasters. Cooper was correct when he observed that “working with BP to assess damage from the spill hasn’t always gone smoothly.” He pointed out that working with BP has been “an adversarial process,” and that actually may be an understatement of how bad it has been. Hopefully, the federal government will keep BP’s corporate feet to the fire and get prompt action on securing more funds for the restoration projects.
Source: Montgomery Advertiser
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