A public engagement session was held by the State of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council in New Orleans on February 20th. Below is background information about the RESTORE ACT and the comments that were made by Global Green USA and others at the meeting. Background Information on the RESTORE Act: The RESTORE Act was signed into law by our President on July 6, 2012. RESTORE stands for: Resources Sustainability Tourism Opportunities and Revived Economies. While this is a list of nice words, what the RESTORE Act really means is that 80% of the Clean Water Act penalties paid for by those who were responsible for the 2010 Gulf Oil Disaster will be dedicated to restoring the Gulf. To most people, it is absurd that a law was needed to dedicate this money to ecosystem restoration to recover from the Oil Disaster; however, without the RESTORE Act, the money would have been funneled into the U.S. Treasury and would have never made it down to the areas affected by the disaster.
Here is the shake-down of where the money will go from the Clean Water Act penalties, as signed into law by the RESTORE Act:
- 30%: environmental restoration projects in the comprehensive plan, which will be determined by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.
- 30%: divided amongst the 5 states affected by the oil disaster according to an Oil Spill Impact Allocation Forum.
- 35%: divided equally amongst the 5 states affected by the oil disaster (7% each)
- 2.5%: dedicated to Gulf fisheries monitoring
- 2.5%: to establish a Gulf Coast Centers of Excellence research center
Public Engagement Session: Last night, a public engagement session was held in New Orleans following two other sessions held in Biliox, MS, and Houma, LA, and prior to the last session in Lafayette, LA. The room was crowded and eager to hear what the State and Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council had to say about restoring our coast. First, the State shared its update of the Louisiana Annual Plan and next up was the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. Let's talk about the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. This group is made of six federal agencies across the five Gulf States. They will be in charge of developing and implementing a comprehensive ecosystem restoration plan (30% of RESTORE Act funds is dedicated to this) and will approve projects that are submitted under the Oil Spill Impact Allocation Formula (30% of RESTORE Act funds is dedicated to this as well). In other words, this group will oversee how 60% of the RESTORE Act funds are spent. They have a lot of decision-making power in restoring our coast, and the public had the chance to meet them on Wednesday evening. After their short introductions, they opened the meeting to public comments.
- The most memorable comment of the night was from an 11-year-old named Sean Turner, who loves to fish and spend time on the coast. His comment to the council was, "This is a lot of money and we can't mess this up."
- One meeting held on a weekday evening is not enough public engagement -- and more notice needs to be given before these meetings are held.
- We must dedicate this money to restore the ecosystem.
- More monitoring of seafood and the subsequent results must be released to the public.
- Every citizen in Coastal Louisiana needs to be engaged, from hunters and fishermen to those living in the suburbs.
- Get BP out of here.
- To restore our coast, we must tap into the local knowledge that is already there.
- Restoration plans must include climate change impacts -- especially sea level rise.
Comment Made on Behalf of Global Green USA: As 60% of the RESTORE Act funds will be spent by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, we must ensure that citizen engagement remains throughout the selection and implementation of the ecosystem restoration projects. While we appreciate the opportunity to make comments tonight, this is simply not an acceptable platform of engaging citizens. If we look around the room, you will notice we are missing key stakeholders, including oystermen and fishermen, church leaders, young adults, and those who work in industries along our coast. For Global Green USA's work, it is most important to include wetland owners (both small and large) who possess 80% of state's wetlands. A better platform of citizen engagement is the immediate creation of a Citizen's Advisory Board made up of all the aforementioned stakeholder groups. This Citizen's Advisory Board should remain until the projects are finished.
From the previous presentations, it appears that money will be appropriated to other things besides coastal restoration, including coastal education and community outreach. Both of these items must include the climate change conversation. The State of Louisiana does not believe in the words "climate change." But not engaging these communities about the deadly effects of climate change and sea level rise would be a grave injustice committed on behalf of the State and Federal Government.