Task Force Hope?

I began the week talking and strategizing about how important a federally-led effort is for comprehensive Gulf restoration, and am closing it out with a reminder of how much more needs to be done to even mitigate the BP impacts.Monday morning found me in Pensacola, attending the first meeting of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, called for in Gov. Mabus’s Gulf Recovery plan, and quickly created through an executive order by President Obama. Chaired by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the Task Force is a who’s-who of federal agency folks, a rep from each state government, and will be led by Executive Director John Hankinson, who we’re familiar with from his time heading up EPA region 4. He’ll be the “chief cat herder” as my boss said in this article.The meeting consisted of some opening remarks by the Administrator, intros from all the Task Force members, and then a lunch break (seriously). Once we returned, we were split up into break out groups and gave input on how the task force should be interfacing with the public and what issues it should tackle. Despite the clear direction of the EO, many in attendance wanted health issues front and center, and the break out groups also uniformly called for a community/ngo seat at the table. A point I made in our breakout was that we don’t need to recreate the wheel on restoration. Despite happy talk from Washington, and a fair amount of goodwill from Congress post-Katrina, DC still hasn’t delivered on authorized restoration efforts. Near term, priority restoration projects in the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) study (a scaled down, inadequate version of 1998’s Coast: 2050 plan) were authorized in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). But the money hasn’t followed. With a pricetag of $7 billion, only $100 million has been appropriated. The White House finally included $35 million for coastal restoration in their most recent budget (pre-BP, & tellingly, the most ever allocated by a WH budget). Mississippi has fared a bit better, with approximately $425 million appropriated for their Mississippi Coastal Improvement Program (MSCIP).Despite the victory of the MRGO closure, key efforts to restore the 20K plus acres of damaged wetlands still haven’t been funded. Through the Coastal Impacts Assistance Program (CIAP) directing oil revenues to states that are damaged by the industry, Louisiana was allotted a total of $497 million from 2007 through 2010. As of March 16, 2010, Louisiana has received only $131 million in CIAP grants for over 50 projects. This is something that the folks in the room on Monday can directly address and remedy.On the issue of nutrients, Federal and state governments have been less proactive, despite a longer history of engagement. This effort will need significant political will to proceed, despite it’s central role in ensuring whether Louisiana restoration efforts are successful.Clearly, more is demanded of Congress as well. We need them to act now to direct BP fines and penalties to Gulf restoration. The clean water act and endangered species act penalties would be on top of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment monies, and as such, should go beyond simply restoring BP’s impacts on the Gulf, but could jump-start the above restoration plans, and other necessary fixes. Without Congressional action, this amazing windfall of $5-$20 billion will simply go into the federal treasury. Please take a moment to ask them to act on the BP fines and penalties today.Beyond the long term restoration, I saw again this week, the ongoing impacts to out wetlands from BP’s crude. Check out Jonathan’s blog for the details. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.Aaron is GRN’s Campaign Director. Follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/GulfAaron.

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