BP oil spill ruling could jumpstart Gulf Coast restoration work

Karin Rives

The September 4 ruling by a federal court that BP acted with “gross negligence” in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster is a big deal for the oil giant, which now faces as much as $17.6 billion in new fines.

But it’s an even bigger deal for those who spend their working days trying to bring soiled Gulf beaches and ecosystems back to life since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded that fatal April Sunday four years ago.

Environmental Defense Fund and the other organizations that make up the Mississippi River Delta Restoration campaign expect some of the penalty money to be channeled to dozens of critical, but underfunded, projects in coastal Louisiana, where they work.

The Louisiana 2012 Coastal Master Plan has identified more than 100 projects that could help the state recover its coastal land areas – which face an array of challenges in addition to the oil spill. The total cost would be $50 billion and to date, few, if any, projects have been funded.

The new ruling against BP won’t automatically earmark money for these projects. But with a penalty as large as $17.6 billion, some funding should begin to flow in and put the master plan in action, noted Ryan Rastegar, the coalition’s program coordinator at EDF in Washington.

The allocation of penalty money will be handled by the Gulf Restoration Council, a government program set up to oversee the restoration and economic recovery of the Gulf Coast region after the Deepwater Horizon spill.

How long this will take is anybody’s guess at this point. BP, which has already spent billions in response to the spill, says it will appeal U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier’s ruling.

We’re crossing our fingers BP won’t be able to hold up justice for another four years. As Rastegar told me, “We really need to get to work.” 

To this day, 200 miles of Louisiana coast remains soiled from the oil spill, and large storms often wash oil and tar balls ashore.

Half of the 200 million gallons of crude oil that spilled into the Gulf remains in the ocean, and the oil’s effects on the ecosystem and wildlife are well documented.

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