On Monday Barack Obama issued another executive order that creates a new government bureaucracy that will oversee restoration efforts in five Gulf States due to the 2010 BP oil spill. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (GCERC), which is created by the EO, will be using eighty percent of the fines imposed on BP to assist in the restoration. No word has been given in regards to the remaining twenty percent of the fines.
Executive Order 13554 of October 5, 2010, was issued after the blowout and explosion of the mobile offshore drilling unit Deepwater Horizon that occurred on April 20, 2010, and resulted in the largest oil spill in U.S. history (Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill). Executive Order 13554 recognized the Gulf Coast as a national treasure and addressed the longstanding ecological decline of that region, which was compounded by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. In doing so, Executive Order 13554 established a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force (Task Force) to coordinate intergovernmental efforts, planning, and the exchange of information in order to better implement Gulf Coast ecosystem restoration and facilitate appropriate accountability and support throughout the restoration process.
Since the implementation of Executive Order 13554, the Federal Government’s Gulf Coast ecosystem restoration planning efforts have advanced significantly. The Task Force’s Gulf of Mexico Regional Ecosystem Restoration Strategy (Strategy), created with input from Federal, State, tribal, and local governments, and thousands of involved citizens and organizations across the region, serves as a comprehensive restoration plan for addressing ecological concerns in the Gulf of Mexico. In light of the release of the Strategy, the ongoing work of the Natural Resource Damage Trustee Council (Trustee Council) under the Oil Pollution Act, and the recent passage of the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2012 (RESTORE Act) (title I, subtitle F of Public Law 112-141), this order affirms the Federal Government’s Gulf Coast ecosystem restoration efforts and realigns responsibilities to ensure the most effective governmental planning and coordination to reach these goals.
The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force (GCERTF) was created in 2010 and was charged with “development of a restoration strategy that proposes a Gulf Coast ecosystem restoration agenda.” The EO terminates the GCERTF and establishes the GCERC.
Obama also named the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture to serve as designated federal trustees in the project.
Garret Graves, executive assistant to Gov. Bobby Jindal for coastal issues, praised the selection of EPA and the Agriculture Department to the remediation council, saying both, in particular EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, did important work helping the task force establish important ecosystem restoration goals.
But he said dissolving the task force, which he co-chaired with Jackson was a mistake because it has not completed working out a way to reduce the bureaucratic delays that have been an impediment to past coastal restoration and flood control projects and can continue to be burden, even now when the Restore Act promises to provide substantial funding. Graves said the new council that will determine how to spend Restore Act money doesn’t have the statutory authority to recommend changes in bureaucratic procedures to speed key environmental projects.
“I commend the president for establishing the Task Force and Administrator Lisa Jackson and New Orleans native did a phenomenal job herding the cats on the task force,” Graves said. “The December 2011 strategy document identified key bureaucratic obstacles that have been impeding hurricane protection for our communities and coastal restoration for decades.”
“However, we have strong concerns with the void created by dissolving the Task Force,” he said. “The establishment of the task force and the promise of cutting through the red tape and dysfunction was like getting invited to a big night in New Orleans with dinner at Commander’s Palace and great live jazz. Instead, I feel like we just got dropped off in the Maurepas Swamp to survive on bullfrog sushi.”
Ms. Jackson also stated, “Thanks to the leadership of task force co-chair Garret Graves of Louisiana and representatives from Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, participation from 11 federal agencies, and extensive input from members of the public, the strategy identified three key actions needed to restore the Gulf’s natural resources – stopping the loss of wetlands, reducing the flow of nutrients into the Gulf, and enhancing resiliency among coastal communities.”
“As the Task Force’s responsibilities transition to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, I look forward to continuing our work and, along with my colleagues, remain firmly committed to advancing the region’s economic and environmental health and ensuring the Gulf comes back stronger than before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” Jackson said.
Today, local and national conservation organizations thanked President Obama for issuing an executive order reinforcing the White House’s commitment to Gulf Coast restoration in the wake of the 2010 gulf oil disaster. The order was issued two months after the President signed the RESTORE Act into law, which will direct 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties paid by BP and others responsible for the 2010 gulf oil disaster to the Gulf Coast states to use for restoration.
“We thank the President and White House for their continued commitment to the Gulf Coast and look forward to working with them on a comprehensive restoration plan,” said a joint statement by Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. “More than two years after the oil spill, the gulf is still reeling from environmental and economic impacts. This executive order takes important steps forward to ensure that government agencies and officials are working closely together to keep restoration progressing.”
“Through today’s executive order and the Department of Justice’s recent assertion that BP was ‘grossly negligent’ in the 2010 gulf oil disaster, the federal government is showing a true prioritization of gulf restoration,” the groups continued. “The people, economies and ecosystems all along the gulf need BP to be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. The sooner BP pays its fines, the sooner gulf restoration can become a reality.”
The group is calling on BP to pay its fines, which may be as high as $20 billion, if found negligent. What they are not talking about is Barack Obama’s own negligence at the time of the spill, nor do I expect them to do so.