Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sierra Club's position -- Strengthen the Gulf RESTORE Bill



August 4, 2011

The Honorable Barbara Boxer
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
410 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg., Washington, DC 20510-6175


RE: Strengthening RESTORE Bill

Dear Chairman Boxer,

On behalf of our 1.2 million members nationwide, which includes more than 75,000 members across the five Gulf Coast states, we are writing to express our appreciation for your continued support on Gulf recovery issues, and to respectfully ask that you strengthen the current Gulf legislation being considered by the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW).

Over the past sixteen months, the Sierra Club has worked alongside our members and allies to ensure that the effort to restore the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystems, communities, and economies is driven from the ground up and guided by the principles of transparency, accountability, and independent science. The Sierra Club has advocated strongly for a public seat at the decision-making table, recognizing that widespread feelings of mistrust and lack of transparency continue to color restoration and slow recovery efforts.

We appreciate that the RESTORE the Gulf Coast bill currently under consideration by EPW would direct 80% of the anticipated Clean Water Act (CWA) fines levied against BP to the five Gulf Coast states. Indeed, this reflects Secretary Mabus’ and the National Oil Spill Commission’s recommendations as well as the repeated requests of countless NGOs and Gulf leaders, including the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club, however, believes the current bill is missing several elements that would ensure meaningful coastal restoration and recovery of the Gulf’s ecosystems and communities. We respectfully request EPW add the following provisions to the bill to address these serious deficiencies.

Provide Accountability & Restore Public Trust
  • Concerns about the mismanagement of federal monies distributed during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina recovery process underscore the need for a transparent, accountable process to apply and distribute CWA funds by: 
  • Creating a Science Advisory Committee comprised of independent scientists from around the Gulf Coast to provide input on restoration project selection, implementation, and monitoring processes. 
  • Requiring an annual legislative audit by the Government Accounting Office or an independent auditor located outside the five Gulf states. 
  • Ensuring the full application of the Administrative Procedures Act.

Create Mechanisms for Public Engagement 
  • Ensure the full application of NEPA by requiring the Gulf states and the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to establish formal public comment periods and holding public hearings during the development of the Comprehensive and State Plans as well as all proposed restoration projects and programs. 
  • Create a permanent Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council (RCAC) comprised of community leaders and stakeholders from the affected Gulf states to improve communications and provide long-term oversight of future oil industry actions. 
Ensure Consistency and Increase Scrutiny of Projects

  • Ensure that all plans and projects developed and implemented under the statute are consistent with the goals and processes of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, and are approved by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. 
  • A Stop Gap/Do No Harm clause is necessary to ensure funds prioritize ecosystem restoration over economic development, such as: “Amounts provided under this bill may not be used for activities that destroy or degrade the health, diversity, or viability of natural coastal or marine ecosystems” and “No more than 10 percent of the funds received by a state in any fiscal year may be expended on projects that are primarily intended for economic development rather than restoration of the natural coastal or marine ecosystem” (Note: A definition of ‘economic development projects’ also is necessary). 
  • Section 4 that deals with 30% Impact Formula Allocation with Oversight by the Council allows for the states to bring the Secretary of Treasury to Federal Court if the Council fails to act within sixty days or disapproves a project. This language is burdensome and creates a hostile atmosphere for decision-making. 
  • Section 5 that identifies disciplines for grant monies annually awarded by the Gulf Coast Centers of Excellence includes, “Offshore energy development” and “Sustainable and resilient growth, economic and commercial development”. This language does not appear aligned with the principles of ecosystem restoration. 

We appreciate your consideration of these issues and look forward to working with you to restore the Gulf and its communities. Thank you for considering this important request. If you have any questions or need further information, please contact Jill Mastrototaro, Gulf Coast Protection Campaign Director, at jill.mastrototaro@sierraclub.org or (504) 861-4835.

Sincerely,

Debbie Sease
Sierra Club, Legislative Director

cc: Members, U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
     Members, U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation