NEW ORLEANS — The committee that will oversee some of BP PLC’s oil spill fines hopes to put money into restoration projects within 12 months, U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said Wednesday.
She spoke as chairwoman of the federal-state Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which will oversee 80 percent of BP’s Clean Water Act fines. On Wednesday, the council approved its first blueprint for using the money to restore the Gulf Coast’s ecosystem and economy.
The plan calls for regional, science-based projects. It’s short on specifics because state plans aren’t yet complete and BP’s fines are in litigation.
“We need to get money to the states as soon as possible,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told representatives of the four other Gulf Coast states and a variety of federal agencies gathered at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans.
Louisiana’s $50 billion, 50-year plan went through years of scientific review before the Legislature approved it last year, and projects it proposes shouldn’t need more years of review, he said.
He also praised Transocean Ltd., which owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig leased by BP, for pleading guilty and agreeing to pay $1.4 billion in civil and criminal fines while BP, which has agreed to a record $4 billion in criminal fines, is in litigation over civil fines.
“Transocean stepped up to the plate and paid,” Jindal said, but BP has spent more on a $100 million public relations campaign than it has on coastal restoration.
BP says it has spent $26 billion on cleanup, restoration and claims.
Cleanup isn’t restoration, countered Garret Graves, head of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. Jindal said in May that Louisiana will get $320 million from $1 billion that BP has put into another pot for coastal restoration, but Graves said required reviews mean it likely will be years before Louisiana gets the money.
“We were not talking about what folks ‘COMMITTED TO DO.’ We were talking about what folks have actually DONE,” he wrote in an email.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier will decide how much BP must pay under the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.
One way or another, Gulf Coast states will wind up with 54 percent of the money from Clean Water Act fines — or 67.5 percent of the share overseen by the council.
States get 28 percent directly, plus a 2 percent chunk for “centers of excellence” and 24 percent for restoration, economic and tourism projects which they choose but the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council can veto. The council itself will allocate another 24 percent for ecosystem restoration, and NOAA will get 2 percent for a monitoring, observation, science and technology program.
The remaining 20 percent will go into a trust fund to cover the cost of future oil spills.
“The Louisiana coast is collapsing … Delay is the enemy,” David Muth, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program, told the council. He was among dozens of people who got three minutes each to comment.
“Okay. We have this money and we’re waiting,” said Sean Turner, 10, of Prairieville, La., among the hundreds in attendance. “Why wait? We can do it now and save our coast.”
Jackie Washington, of Biloxi, Miss., said she got more from networking with Mississippi state officials and people from other organizations outside the meeting room than she did from the meeting itself.
“It was more of the same … I’ve seen them all and they all say the same mantras,” she said.