The Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), represented by Earthjustice, has filed suit in Washington, D.C. challenging the decision of the U.S. Department of the Interior and other federal agencies to allow money intended to repair damage to the Gulf of Mexico from the 2010 BP disaster to instead be used to subsidize a beachfront convention center in Alabama.
On October 2, 2014, the Department of the Interior, along with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Agriculture, issued a decision approving a final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) and Phase III Early Restoration Plan (ERP) which allocated $58.5 million dollars of Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) funds to subsidize a hotel and convention center in Alabama’s Gulf State Park.
In the Early NRDA restoration process, BP agreed to put up $1 billion to begin repairing the damage to wetlands, water bottoms and wildlife caused by the BP disaster. The Alabama convention center is one of 44 projects selected for implementation in the third phase of NRDA Early Restoration. The Department of the Interior and other federal agencies are designated as Natural Resource Damage Trustees, and are required to ensure that NRDA funds are actually used to repair or replace natural resources.
Since Alabama announced its plan to subsidize a convention center with BP disaster restoration money in 2012, GRN, as well as thousands of citizens across the Gulf, have weighed in to indicate that this is an inappropriate project on which to spend limited restoration funds. Despite this significant outcry, the NRDA Trustees are allowing Alabama to squander $58.5 out its $100 million share of the funds to ‘restore’ the public’s ability to look at the beach through the window of a conference room.
Attorneys who filed the lawsuit are seeking to have the court declare that the federal agencies violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Oil Pollution Act by approving the project. They are also seeking a court order that would prevent the agencies from authorizing the use of the restoration funds for the convention center project.