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Two Years After BP Oil Spill: No Ecosystem Funding Yet

On today’s second anniversary of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon platform, which killed 11 workers and caused the massive BP oil spill, there will be no gifts.

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The Resource and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourism Opportunities and Revived Economy  (RESTORE) of the Gulf Coast Act has been approved by both the House and Senate as an amendment to the mammoth transportation bills Congress takes up every five years or so.

But the RESTORE Act still is not law because the House and Senate have yet to reconcile differing versions of the main bills. And some of those transportation elements are red hot, like the future of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

So, on the day when Gulf residents are looking back at the largest human-caused environmental disaster in U.S. history, they just have to hope the RESTORE Act becomes a reality.

The RESTORE Act establishes a Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, which would collect 80 percent of all the administrative, civil and criminal penalties paid by a “responsible” party in connection with the Deepwater horizon oil spill and any other monies appropriated by Congress.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has both civil and criminal actions going against BP and its drilling partners. Legal experts predict these Oil Pollution Act fines will run into the billions.  

Separate Clean Water Act penalties, which could run from $5- to $20 billion, would be allocated to the five Gulf states (35 percent), the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (60 percent) and to Gulf Coast research (5 percent).  

The Restoration Council’s job will be to develop and finance a comprehensive plan for the Gulf’s ecological recovery.

In the two years since the BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil platform blew up, spilling almost five million barrels of oil into the Gulf off Louisiana, reports of ecological damage have not been hard to find:

- Dr. Wilma Subra, Macarthur Fellow and chemist, found significant levels of oil pollution in oysters and crabs along the Louisiana coastline.

- Dr. Samantha Joye, University of Georgia marine scientist, has published photos from her submarine dives in the area of the spill, showing large areas of the seafloor covered with oil.

– Dr. Darryl Felder, University of Louisiana biologist, reports samples of seafood show lesions, missing appendages and abnormalities, including shell disease in crabs from deep water.

- A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study of heavily oiled Barataria Bay found 32 dolphins underweight, anemic, with low hormone levels and low blood sugar.  Some had liver damage.  One dolphin from the study has since been found dead.

- NOAA’s Jacqueline Michel was quoted in National Geographic magazine saying that as of Feb. 25, 2012,  ”around 450 miles” of shoreline is still oiled.  BP claims to have spent $14 billion on the still unfinished cleanup.

In the two years since the spill, federal and state food safety agencies have been anything if not consistent about the safety of Gulf seafood.  NOAA, however, has recently stopped talking about Gulf seafood safety because of its involvement in DOJ’s case against BP.

Michael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave his last statement on Gulf seafood safety on Jan. 11, 2012.    

Taylor said: “A great deal of effort was invested after the Gulf spill so that we could provide an answer to one question:  Is Gulf seafood safe to eat?  Yes, Gulf seafood is safe to eat, and it is safe to eat for everyone.”

During the first two years, individuals and businesses, taking advantage of an out-of-court settlement fund, received $6.3 billion in compensation for the spill from BP. More recently the  London-based company reached settlements involving filed lawsuits for damages of $7.8 billion.

All that BP has paid out for the cleanup and for damages so far adds up to an amount about equal to its 2011 profits.  An investigation into how much damage was done to the Gulf ecosystem two years ago continues.

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