After years of litigation and paperwork, a federal judge on Monday gave the final approval the $20.8 billion agreement from BP marking officially settling the federal government’s case against the petroleum company for its role in 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The preliminary agreement — including Alabama’s $2.3 billion individual settlement — was announced in July, but the finalized consent decree firmly establishes how funding will be received over the 15-year settlement period beginning in 2017.
With the exception of 2018, BP will make yearly payments of $379,310,345 through 2031 for a total of $5.5 billion in civil penalties. Another $8.1 billion will be paid Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) in annual installments of $489,655,172, added to the $1 billion BP has already paid.
Of the $8.1 million NRDA funding, Alabama will see more than $295 million, but could also benefit from projects funded by another $1.6 billion earmarked for Gulf-wide and open ocean restoration efforts.So far, the around $100 million of NRDA funding has come to Alabama. However, most of that went to the Gulf State Park Enhancement Project, which was recently flagged for violating federal law by utilizing $58.5 million of BP funds for the construction of a state-operated lodge and convention center.
State officials are continuing on with the project, though — opting to go back and conduct “additional technical analysis” overlooked when the convention center was initially approved.
On Monday, the NRDA Trustees who have overseen the plans for the $8.1 billion released the following statement on the finalized settlement:
“The Trustees recognize the historic significance of this settlement — the largest recovery of damages ever for injuries to natural resources. This settlement is a momentous step towards restoring the Gulf of Mexico and brings an unprecedented amount of funding dedicated to this iconic ecosystem.”
After months of public comment, the NRDA Trustees — comprised of representatives from all five Gulf states and several federal departments — made a final decision on the finalized plan for the funding in March. That plan can be read online at gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov.
As for the $5.5 billion in civil penalties, those funds will move into the funding streams of the RESTORE Act, which should translate to approximately $708 million for the state of Alabama — monies for projects approved by Alabama’s Gulf Coast Recovery Council.
The council’s executive director, Eliska Morgan, hasn’t been available for comment since the settlement was approved on Monday, but recently told Lagniappe the group would be setting up a meeting “very soon.”
With the legal work finalized, the funding that hasn’t been set aside for specific projects will now be in the hands of the entities each state has designated to oversee their allocation. Locally, Alabama recovery council should be in a position to start making concrete plans for projects as well.
“With a final consent decree in place, it is now up to the state and federal agencies tasked with restoration to make good on their commitments to restore the Gulf from Texas to Florida, and from the coast to the offshore,” said Bethany Carl Kraft, director of the Ocean Conservancy’s Gulf restoration program. “The oil disaster wreaked havoc on the economy, communities and environment of the Gulf region; these settlement dollars came at a very dear price. It is our responsibility to invest them wisely on transformative restoration projects that will chart a new future for the Gulf of Mexico.”
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