On April 4, a federal judge approved the $20 billion settlement. “Today’s approval by Judge Carl Barbier means that billions of dollars for the largest environmental restoration effort in American history can finally be put to work,” a coalition of environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, and National Audubon Society, said in a statement. “This is a unique opportunity for state and federal agencies to work together toward a more resilient Gulf of Mexico.”
The biggest environmental settlement in history is, it turns out, a little bigger than first thought.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and five Gulf Coast states announced a $20.8 billion settlement with BP Monday, an amount that at first glance looks like an increase over the $18.7 billion that was announced in July. However, the new amount, according to BP, includes money the company has already spent or disclosed on the spill, so it doesn’t mean the company will be spending $2 billion more than it agreed to in July.
“Taken as a whole, this resolution is both strong and fitting. BP is receiving the punishment it deserves,” Lynch said. “The steep penalty should inspire BP and its peers to take every measure necessary to ensure that nothing like this can ever happen again.”
Of that $20.8 billion, more than $8 billion will go towards environmental restoration efforts in the Gulf region. About $5 billion of that will fund the restoration of Louisiana’s coastal marshes, according to the Draft Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan, which was also released Monday by the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees Council. Louisiana’s marshes were hit hard by the Gulf oil spill — a 2012 study found that the disaster, which smothered and killed wetland grasses, sped up the loss of Louisiana’s marshes.
The restoration plan outlines five broad goals: to “restore and conserve habitat; restore water quality; replenish and protect living coastal and marine resources; provide and enhance recreational opportunities; and provide for monitoring, adaptive management, and administrative oversight to support restoration implementation.” It also outlines 13 priorities for restoration, including wetlands, water quality, oysters, sturgeon, sea turtles, marine mammals, birds, and creatures that live on the sea floor.
Over the years, scientists have worked to determine just how much the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 men and spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, has impacted the Gulf’s ecosystems. One scientist, who’s been studying the spill’s impact on coral reefs, said in 2014 that the “footprint of the impact of the spill on coral communities is both deeper and wider than previous data indicated.” A report earlier this year found that at least 20 animals in the Gulf are still being harmed by oil. And one researcher told ThinkProgress last year that the oil from the spill is becoming “part of the the geological record” of the sea floor.
Environmental groups praised the release of the draft restoration plan, and the analysis of how the spill affected the Gulf environment that came along with it.
“The oil disaster damaged hundreds of miles of shoreline (and) killed more than 1 million birds, mammals and other wildlife — and we will not know the full environmental effects of the spill for decades to come,” the Audubon Society, Environmental Defense Fund, and other groups said in a joint statement. “The (assessment) process will help bring the Gulf back to the state it was before the spill, and the release of this plan is a positive step toward that end.”
The groups also said they were pleased that the settlement, which still needs to be approved by a judge, is close to being finalized.
The rest of the settlement is divided among Clean Water Act penalties, which account for about $5.5 billion, and the $5 billion that will be given to Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. In addition, about $600 million will go towards other costs that arose from the spill, and up to $1 billion will go towards localities seeking economic damage from the spill.
“Today is a day of justice for every family and every Gulf community whose health, land, water and livelihoods were threatened by the Deepwater Horizon disaster,” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement. “This settlement puts billions of dollars to work to help restore the gulf, and holds BP publicly accountable accountable for changes to its practices, to prevent this kind of disaster from happening again.”