Our guest blogger is Kiley Kroh, Associate Director for Ocean Communications at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
The Department of Justice announced Thursday that oil giant BP has agreed to commit $1 billion toward early restoration projects in the Gulf of Mexico. The $1 billion comes from a $20 billion fund that BP set up last year to pay for natural resource damages and to compensate victims of the spill, and is considered a “first step toward fulfilling BP’s obligation to fund the complete restoration of injured public resources.”
Such a down payment on Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) liability was a central component of the Center for American Progress recommendations for immediate action on the part of BP and other responsible parties to prove their commitment to the long-term rehabilitation of the Gulf. The agreement will accelerate the restoration process, but, as The Times-Picayune reports, is also “a way for BP to limit its ultimate liability”:
The advance payment plan was first proposed by Louisiana state officials last year as a way to reduce the wetlands damage they expected the spill to cause, and as a way for BP to limit its ultimate liability under the federal Oil Pollution Act, which requires companies responsible for oil spills to be liable for damages caused by spills from the time they occur until all of their effects have been mitigated.
The funds will be divided into projects selected by each of the five affected states and the federal agencies — National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Interior — that make up the Natural Resource Trustees. Possible projects include rebuilding coastal marshes, replenishment of damaged beaches, conservation of sensitive areas for ocean habitat for injured wildlife, and restoration of barrier islands and wetlands.
Determining liability through the NRDA process is a long, bureaucratic procedure that will likely take several years to resolve. Clearly, devastated communities and sensitive environmental areas in the Gulf can’t wait any longer than they already have for remediation to begin — so today’s announcement is certainly a move in the right direction. However, it is just the first step. Full recovery of the Gulf Coast region will require a comprehensive and open scientific assessment of damage caused by the largest oil spill in U.S. history, as well as an enforceable commitment by BP to truly “make this right.”