St. Petersburg, FL
Twenty environmental and community-based groups urged the government agencies in charge of restoration efforts in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill to include public input and base research and monitoring on science.
More than a year after the Macondo well blowout spewed unprecedented volumes of crude oil, hydrocarbon gases, and chemical dispersants into the Gulf environment, those coastal communities continue to suffer from adverse health impacts and a damaged economy. The long-term threats to wildlife and the coastal and marine environment remain largely unknown.
Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, and 18 additional groups called on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and all of the Trustees involved in the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (“NRDA”) process to hold BP and the other responsible parties fully accountable for both for short and long-term research and monitoring as well as for restoration of damages and injuries discovered later.
Specifically, the groups call for an open and transparent process when establishing the priorities in spending the funds. Public input and engagement is a must for the petitioners and they ask that public consultation be required before any major decision is made. The groups point out that adoption of an “open table” where all citizens can participate and be heard offers the greatest promise of a just and lasting restoration effort. Public scrutiny will also help prevent misuse of restoration funds.
“Meaningful public engagement is necessary to build trust in the NRDA process and to instill confidence that BP and the responsible parties will be held fully accountable for damages to Gulf waters and resources,” noted Jill Mastrototaro, director of the Sierra Club’s Gulf Coast campaign. “One of our highest priorities is that the Trustees establish a Public Advisory Council that would include Gulf-based community and environmental leaders and independent scientists to ensure Gulf’s resources are fully restored.”
The groups submitted the formal comments as part of the restoration planning by NRDA trustees.
“Lessons learned from the Exxon Valdez experience should inform the procedure for current NRDA injury assessment and restoration planning as well as future restoration,” said the groups in the comments.
“We learned a lot when the Exxon Valdez destroyed much of Alaska’s Prince William Sound and we need to apply the best of these lessons here,” said Cynthia Sarthou of Gulf Restoration Network. “One of these is the need to establish a strong, independent science panel.”
“No one can predict the consequences the Gulf will suffer from the oil spill,” said Earthjustice attorney Marianne Engelman Lado. “BP needs to be held accountable for the long-term needs of monitoring and research to determine the effectiveness of these restoration measures and to detect any lingering effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.”
The restoration plan needs to include monitoring of the broad range of habitats and species damaged by the spill. “We are talking about species, such as red snapper, blue fin tuna and brown shrimp that spawned soon after the spill and were exposed to surface and subsurface oil out in the ocean,” said Devorah Ancel, an attorney with the Sierra Club. “But we also need to look at effects on coastal and wetland ecosystems as well. We need sound science to concentrate on the future of all of these creatures and species in the wake of the spill.”
The groups point to the danger of a short term restoration effort, after which BP walks away. Another danger flagged is that some damaged areas or species are studied while others are ignored. Without a fair and independent group of scientists to help steer the recovery effort, otherwise good willed officials might miss addressing certain damaged areas or species.
Read the comments.