On the second anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, Congresswoman Kathy Castor is renewing her call for the Justice Department to enter a legal settlement with the oil company that would put the environmental and economic needs of the Gulf Coast at the forefront. Castor has been advocating for 80 percent of the federal Clean Water Act settlement proceeds to be directed toward the Gulf of Mexico. Castor serves as co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Gulf Coast Caucus.
"Two years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster devastated the Gulf of Mexico, the work to repair the Gulf of Mexico is not done," Castor said. "While some restoration efforts have begun, a comprehensive Gulf recovery plan pursuant to legislation has stalled. Legislation to devote 80 percent of the BP fines and penalties under the Clean Water Act is mired in politics, and it appears more likely that the Justice Department and BP will devise a settlement that will guide the terms of Gulf recovery. I urge them to do so expeditiously as the long-term health of one of America's greatest ecosystems and economies is at risk."
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dramatically improve the environmental and economic vitality of the Gulf of Mexico and related communities and businesses," Castor said. "The Gulf of Mexico supports millions of jobs in the tourism, fishing, recreation and wildlife industries. All of these jobs rely upon a healthy and resilient Gulf of Mexico."
The University of South Florida has been at the forefront of Gulf research and recognizes the need for more research dollars.
"Sampling after the fact of the Deepwater Horizon spill revealed a significantly degraded marine environment in the Gulf of Mexico," said Steven A. Murawski, professor of biological oceanography and the former director of scientific programs and chief science adviser for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service. "Attributing that degradation to its source and revitalizing the Gulf requires a sustained, robust scientific monitoring program that allows us to periodically evaluate the condition of the Gulf and take necessary management measures to improve the health of the ecosystem. The health of the Gulf of Mexico marine ecosystem is influenced by a host of stresses including nutrient inputs, ongoing loss of marsh and mangrove habitats, pollution from oil and gas exploration and production -- including the Deepwater Horizon event - and commercial and recreational fishing. In order to restore the health of the Gulf and maintain its bounty we desperately need a sustained, robust environmental monitoring program, which largely does not exist today."
In her letter (attached), Castor outlined the following recommendations to include in a settlement agreement:
· Endowment for Gulf of Mexico long-term scientific research and Gulf of Mexico Centers for Excellence
· Gulf of Mexico Observation System to monitor the Gulf similar to ocean observing systems across the U.S. and its waters
· Boost Gulf fisheries sustainability, monitoring and research
· Independent Sea Grant program to fund restoration projects carried out by sea grant colleges and universities
· Gulf of Mexico Seafood Marketing Program to promote the Gulf seafood that accounts for one quarter of the nation's seafood catch
· Boost Gulf of Mexico National Estuary Programs
· Ensure natural resource damage assessment money and programs are not duplicated
A thoughtful settlement could provide an opportunity for improvement over legislative plans, like the imperfect RESTORE Act. For example, the vast nature of the Gulf and its communities and the need for long-term investment could result in more than 80 percent of the fines and penalties under the Clean Water Act being directed to Gulf restoration.