Five years ago, the BP Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana, claiming eleven lives and causing devastating harm to Gulf Coast’s communities and ecosystem. Today, BP, the Gulf States and the Department of Justice reached a settlement agreement on the fines associated with their Clean Water Act penalties and the Natural Resources Damage Assessment.”The needs of the Gulf are urgent and by settling this case we avoid years or even decades of legal appeals,” said Cynthia Sarthou, Executive Director with Gulf Restoration Network. “Although $18.7 billion is a significant sum, we have serious concerns about how much of this money is actually going to be allocated towards restoring the Gulf’s environment and impacted communities. The funds from this settlement provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to repair the Gulf in the wake of the BP disaster and make our coasts and communities stronger and more resilient for future generations. We must not squander this opportunity.” Totaling $18.7 billion, the agreement includes:$8.1 billion for natural resource damages (includes $1 billion in early restoration projects);$232 million to address any unknown natural resource damages;$5.5 billion for Clean Water Act civil penalties (subject to the RESTORE Act); and$4.9 billion for state economic losses.”This an important opportunity for our state leaders to uphold the spirit of the RESTORE Act and commit to spending these funds on good, science-based ecosystem restoration projects,” said Raleigh Hoke, Campaign Director with Gulf Restoration Network. “Their focus should be on short and long-term solutions for restoring both coastal and marine environments, as well as creating resilience in coastal communities.” Since 2011, the Natural Resource Damage Trustees have allocated over $696 million on projects to go towards the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Early Restoration spending, with an additional $134 million in projects currently under review. The settlement ensures that communities across the Gulf will not have to wait for the completion of a potentially lengthy legal process before full restoration begins.With record reports of dolphin deaths, low fish & shrimp counts, dying deep-sea coral reefs, and other marine species under extreme stress, the announcement for a comprehensive settlement is welcome. As these funds make their way to the Gulf Coast, it is important for citizens across the nation to hold our leaders accountable to ensure meaningful restoration for our communities and environment come first.Jordan Macha is GRN’s Gulf Policy Analyst.