BATON ROUGE – With the $20 billion BP oil spill settlement now a reality, Louisiana can move forward with long-expected restoration plans, a state spokeswoman said during a recent interview.
"Next steps for funds associated with natural resource damages include drafting the first in a series of project-specific restoration plans for public review and approval," Johnny Bradberry, the Governor’s Executive Assistant for Coastal Activities, said in an email interview with the Louisiana Record. "Similarly, projects to be funded with dollars subject to the RESTORE Act will be identified and publicly vetted."
Bradberry said plans for the funds have been in the works since long before the settlement agreement was reached.
"Discussions with the public and partner agencies regarding potential projects for inclusion in oil spill restoration have been underway since 2013 and have continued to be refined as additional information was received," she said. "We are well positioned to put oil spill dollars to work as funding becomes available."
Louisiana will receive a minimum of $6.8 billion from the settlement with BP announced last week, according to a state press release. The $20 billion settlement is the largest paid by a single entity in federal law enforcement history.
The settlement stems from the April 20, 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon Macondo oil well drilling platform that unleashed the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history. A sea-floor gusher that had been tapped by the platform, operated by Transocean under contract for BP, flowed for 87 days with federal government estimates of 4.9 million barrels released into the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven were killed in the initial explosion.
In the flurry of lawsuits that followed, BP sued Transocean, cementer Halliburton and blowout-preventer manufacturer Cameron, claiming those companies bore at least partial blame for the disaster. In September 2014, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier found BP guilty of gross negligence and willful misconduct under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Barbier apportioned 67 percent of the blame to BP, 30 percent to Transocean and 3 percent to Halliburton.
A consent decree entered by a federal court in New Orleans on April 4 is expected to resolve civil claims against BP. The settlement resolves the U.S. government’s civil penalty claims under the Clean Water Act, as well as claims about natural resources damages claimed under the Oil Pollution Act. The settlement also covers Gulf states and local governments' economic damage claims.
The state's press release breaks down the settlement like this: Up to $8.8 billion for natural resource damages, including $1 billion in early restoration projects; $5.5 billion for Clean Water Act civil penalties, plus interest, per the RESTORE Act; $600 million for other claims; $4.9 billion to the Gulf states in a parallel settlement to resolve economic damage claims; and $1 billion to resolve similar claims of Gulf region local governments.
For its part, Louisiana will receive a minimum of $5 billion for natural resource damages, including $368 million already set aside for early restoration projects and a minimum of approximately $787 million for Clean Water Act civil penalties, according to the press release. Louisiana also expects to receive $1 billion for state economic damages, according to the press release.
"We believe the settlement – the largest recovery of damages ever for injuries to natural resources – provides key funding to restore these massive environmental impacts," Bradberry said. "In addition to the $6.8 billion outlined in the settlement for Louisiana, there is a significant amount of funding related to Clean Water Act civil penalties that will be allocated at the discretion of the RESTORE Council. It is up to us and fellow members of the council to ensure that those dollars are allocated in a manner consistent with the RESTORE Act to be sure Louisiana receives our fair share of the recovery."