At a public meeting in Spanish Fort Wednesday, Dec. 17, the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council announced it will direct the first round of oil spill penalties under its control toward economic and infrastructure projects, using RESTORE Act money from the fines paid by Transocean — a cash amount that will reach $56 million by March 2015.
Jimmy Lyons, director for the Alabama State Port Authority and vice chair of the state council, said the decision to put the first round of funding toward economic projects was based, at least in part, on the majority support already expressed for ecological projects. But, further research into how much money has been poured into economic endeavors reveals quite the opposite of the state council’s assertions.
According to BP, over $2 billion has been paid to Alabama in claims, advances, settlements and other payments — the majority of which has gone to fund various economic projects, such as business and government claims, tourism promotion and seafood testing. To date only $52 million has been spent on ecological restoration in Alabama, which includes living shoreline, watershed planning and fisheries data collection projects.
Ocean Conservancy would like to encourage the council to reconsider their position and fund projects that achieve a triple bottom line of a strong economy, healthy environment and safe communities. It’s short-sighted of the council to solely focus on projects with an economic or infrastructure benefit. There is a finite amount of money available and an infinite amount of projects to be funded. Therefore, the council should focus this funding on projects with multiple benefits to the Alabama Gulf Coast.
It is also important to remember the RESTORE Act was passed through Congress in the wake of the largest environmental disaster in the United States. If nothing else, the BP oil disaster taught us that Alabama’s economic stability and environmental health are intrinsically linked. Let’s hope we don’t have to be taught this lesson again for it to hit home.
Interim Director, Ocean Conservancy Gulf Restoration Program