Q. What is the Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan?
A. The Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan provides a framework to implement a coordinated, Gulf Coast region-wide restoration effort in a way that restores, protects, and revitalizes the Gulf Coast. The Plan (1) establishes overarching restoration goals for the Gulf Region; (2) incorporates recommendations and findings of the Strategy; (3) describes how projects and programs under the Council-selected Restoration Component will be solicited, evaluated, and funded; (4) outlines the process for the development, review, and approval of State Expenditure Plans; (5) includes a list of any project or program authorized prior to enactment of the RESTORE Act, but not yet commenced; and (6) provides the Council’s next steps. The Council expects to release a Final Plan this summer. The Draft Plan is the first version of a Plan that will change over time. Over the next few years, development and implementation of this Plan will be iterative leading to a comprehensive, region-wide, multi-objective restoration plan based on the best available science.
Q. There seems to be elements of the Plan required by the RESTORE Act that are missing such as a 10-year funding strategy. Why are these elements not included?
A. The Council did not include these elements in this iteration of the Plan for several reasons. First, there is uncertainty as to the overall amount and availability of funds deposited in the Trust Fund. Second, the procedures to guide Trust Fund expenditures have not yet been issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Third, the Council is committed to gaining public input on this Plan. Fourth, the Gulf Coast States are in the process of developing State Expenditure Plans to guide the disbursement of funds that will be allocated to the States based upon the extent of impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Q. How will the goals outlined in the Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan (Plan) influence the Council’s actions?
A. The goals provide the Council’s desired long-term outcomes for Gulf restoration. The goals provide an overarching framework for an integrated and coordinated approach for region-wide Gulf Coast restoration and to help guide the collective actions at the local, state, tribal and federal levels. The goals acknowledge the interdependency between the Gulf Coast region’s environment and economy, and the importance of comprehensive, coordinated action to successfully restore and sustain the health of the Gulf Coast region.
Q. What are the Council’s goals?
A. The Council has five overarching goals: (1) Restore and Conserve Habitat – Restore and conserve the health, diversity, and resilience of key coastal, estuarine, and marine habitats. (2) Restore Water Quality – Restore and protect water quality of the Gulf Coast region’s fresh, estuarine, and marine waters. (3) Replenish and Protect Living Coastal and Marine Resources – Restore and protect healthy, diverse, and sustainable living coastal and marine resources. 4 (4) Enhance Community Resilience – Build upon and sustain communities with capacity to adapt to short- and long-term changes. (5) Restore and Revitalize the Gulf Economy – Enhance the sustainability and resiliency of the Gulf economy.
Q. How will the Goals, Objectives, and Evaluation Criteria be used under the Council- Selected Funding Component?
A. The Council will use the Goals, Objectives, and Evaluation Criteria of the Plan to guide its ecosystem restoration funding decisions. The Goals provide the Council’s desired long-term outcomes for Gulf Coast restoration; the Objectives outline the broad types of activities that are expected to achieve the Goals and will be refined over time to be more specific and measureable as more information is known about the ultimate amount and availability of funding. The Evaluation Criteria will be used to evaluate proposals and give highest priority to the programs/projects that best achieve comprehensive, sustainable ecosystem restoration.
Q. How were the Criteria established? Will others be added?
A. The Evaluation Criteria were established by the RESTORE Act. The Council may develop other criteria and has specifically requested feedback from the public on if and what supplemental criteria should be added.
Q. How can I get my project/program funded?
A. The proposed process for selecting projects under the Council-Selected Restoration Component requires all projects and programs to be submitted by an individual Council member. However, the Council will provide opportunities for the public to offer ecosystem restoration ideas through its website, mail, and public meetings. Council Members will consider these ideas when developing their proposals.
Q. How do I get my project before the Council for consideration?
A. The Council will provide a portal on its website to collect ideas for projects and proposals. In addition, public meetings and mail submissions will also provide opportunities for any interested party to offer their ideas to Council Members. Finally, Council Members can also receive project and program ideas through their own processes. The Council will publish and seek public comment on a proposed list that contains projects and programs under consideration for funding as an addendum to the Comprehensive Plan. The public will be able to comment on the list. As funds become available and at the direction of the Council, the U.S. Treasury will transfer funds to the appropriate Council Member through a process that will comply with Treasury and other Federal regulations and other applicable laws.
Q. How will the Council evaluate the projects?
A. The Council staff will make sure each Council Member’s proposal is complete and that it describes each project or program, including the scope and funding necessary for each project or program included in the proposal. Once this initial review is completed, the Council will evaluate the projects and programs using the evaluation criteria and any supplemental criteria.
Q. When will the Council start funding projects?
A. Due to uncertainty around a variety of factors associated with ongoing litigation, the ultimate amount of administrative and civil penalties that may be available to the Trust Fund and the timing of their availability are currently unknown. Additionally, the procedures to guide Trust Fund expenditures have not yet been issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The Council continues to work to ensure that it is ready to move efficiently and effectively to implement a restoration plan once funds are received.
Q. What types of projects and programs will the Council fund?
A. The Council-selected Restoration Component will be used for ecosystem restoration in the Gulf Coast region. The Council will select and fund projects and programs that restore and protect the natural resources, ecosystems, water quality, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches, and coastal wetlands of the Gulf Coast region.
Q. Will there be an opportunity to comment on the projects and programs the Council selects for funding?
A. Yes, once the Council selects projects and programs for potential funding, the Council will publish a list as an addendum to the Plan and provide opportunity for public comment.
Q. Is there a difference between the Council-Selected Restoration Component and the Spill Impact Component?
A. While the Council will select and fund projects and programs to restore the ecosystem with Council-selected Restoration Component funds, the Spill Impact Component funds will be invested in projects, programs, and activities for ecosystem restoration and economic development identified in an approved State Expenditure Plan. Each Gulf Coast State will develop a State Expenditure Plan describing how it will disburse the amounts allocated under the Spill Impact Component. These projects, programs, and activities will be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the requirements of the RESTORE Act as well as the Goals and Objectives of the Comprehensive Plan.
Q. What is the approval process for a State Expenditure Plan? When will State Expenditure Plans be available for public comment?
A. State Council Members may submit a State Expenditure Plan for Council consideration at any time after the publication of this Plan and the promulgation of appropriate regulations. There is no specific time frame required for State Expenditure Plan submission, but no funds may be expended from a State’s allocation pursuant to the spill impact formula before the Council approves the State Expenditure Plan and an associated initial project, program, and activity list. The Council will review each State Expenditure Plan to ensure it is consistent with Goals and Objectives provided in this Plan and ensure all requirements are met. The Council will also consider the State Expenditure Plan’s compatibility with other State Expenditure Plans when evaluating issues that cross Gulf Coast State boundaries.
Q. What can we expect next from the Council?
A. The Council intends to incorporate public feedback and release a final plan this summer. The Council will refine the Objectives and Evaluation Criteria to the extent necessary to make them more specific and/or measurable, develop regulations establishing the Oil Spill Restoration Impact Allocation formula, and develop a project and program priority list that the Council intends to fund over the next three years.
Q. What is the Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment?
A. Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C §§ 4321-4335, and its implementing regulations at 40 C.F.R. Parts 1500–1508, the Council is required to consider all reasonably foreseeable alternatives and the environmental effects of its proposed actions and to inform and involve the public in its environmental analysis and decision-making process. The draft PEA summarizes the current environment of the Gulf Coast region, describes the purpose and need for the Plan, identifies the “No Action” alternative, describes the process for selecting a proposed alternative, and assesses the potential environmental consequences of the alternatives based on the available information. Any requisite environmental compliance will be performed on proposed projects or programs prior to their selection by the Council for funding.
Q. Why is the Council releasing a Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment?
A. The Council has determined that a Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) is the appropriate level of analysis to perform at this time; the Council has not made a determination that the proposed Plan itself will have a significant effect on the human environment for NEPA purposes. The Plan identifies the Goals and Objectives for the Council, and does not authorize any specific projects or programs or reach decisions on funding allocations and therefore no direct environmental effects flow from the Plan. The Council developed this PEA to assist it in determining whether the Plan as proposed results in potentially significant impacts to the quality of the human environment, in which case the Council would prepare an Environmental Impact Statement.
Q. Why is the Council putting an Executive Director in place now?
A. As the Council moves to the next stage, it is important to have dedicated day to day leadership and management to provide long-term continuity and to help ensure that we are positioned to thoughtfully and expediently implement a restoration plan once funds are available.
Q. If the Council doesn’t have any funds, is the Executive Director working for free? Will he continue to serve as Chief of Staff to the Deputy Secretary of Commerce?
A. Due to uncertainty around a variety of factors associated with ongoing litigation, the ultimate amount of administrative and civil penalties that may be available to the Trust Fund and the timing of their availability are currently unknown. Additionally, the procedures to guide Trust Fund expenditures have not yet been issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Despite these constraints, Members of the Council are detailing staff and providing resources to work to ensure that it is ready to move efficiently and effectively to implement a restoration plan once funds are received. Justin Ehrenwerth will be detailed from the Department of Commerce to the Council until administrative funding is available from the Trust Fund and will be stepping down from his role as Chief of Staff to the Deputy Secretary of Commerce.
Q. When is the Council moving to the Gulf?
A. The Council will identify permanent facilities in the Gulf Coast region once funds become available.
Q. What is the RESTORE Act and what does it do?
A. The RESTORE Act dedicates 80 percent of Clean Water Act administrative and civil penalties paid to the United States by responsible parties after July 6, 2012 in connection with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the Gulf Region for ecological and economic recovery efforts. The money is set aside in a Trust Fund overseen by the Treasury Department. Projects and programs funded through the RESTORE Act will generate investments in economic development, tourism promotion, and science-based natural resource restoration in the states impacted by the spill -- Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
Q. How will the money be spent?
A. The RESTORE Act divides the funds into five buckets and sets parameters for how these funds will be spent: • 35% of the funds are divided equally among the five Gulf Coast states for ecological and economic restoration. Eligible activities include: restoration and protection of natural resources; mitigation of damage to natural resources; workforce development and job creation; improvements to state parks; infrastructure projects, including ports; coastal flood protection; and promotion of tourism and Gulf seafood. • 30% of the funds will be administered for restoration and protection according to the Comprehensive Plan developed by the Council. • 30% of the funds are dedicated to the Gulf Coast states based on a formula. This formula will be based on the number of miles of shoreline that experienced oiling, the distance from the Deepwater Horizon mobile drilling unit at the time of the explosion, and the average population as of the 2010 Census. Each state is required to have a Council approved plan in place for use of these funds. • 2.5% of the funds are dedicated to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Science, Observation, Monitoring and Technology Program. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will establish a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration, Science, Observation, Monitoring and Technology Program for marine and estuarine research, ecosystem monitoring and ocean observation, data collection and stock assessments, and cooperative research. • 2.5% of the funds are dedicated to the Centers of Excellence Research Grants Program. The Centers of Excellence Research Grants funding is distributed through the States to nongovernmental entities to establish centers of excellence that will focus on the following disciplines: coastal and deltaic sustainability; restoration and protection; fisheries and wildlife ecosystem research and monitoring; offshore energy development; sustainable and resilient growth; and comprehensive observation, monitoring and mapping in the Gulf.
Q. How will the interest generated by the Trust Fund be used?
A. The RESTORE Act provides for the ways that the interest from the Trust Fund must be used to augment the funds in the Gulf. Under the law, fifty percent of the interest will be utilized by the Council and the remaining fifty percent will be divided evenly between the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Science, Observation, Monitoring and Technology Program and the Center of Excellence program.
Q. Will a State need to seek approval from the Council to use funds for a particular ecological or economic restoration project?
A. Not in every case. The RESTORE Council has purview over two components of funding. The first component (30%) will be spent by the Council according to this Comprehensive Plan. The second component (30%) will be spent according to state expenditure plans, which, under the RESTORE Act requires approval by the Council.
Q. What happens if a particular State and the Council disagree on the use of funds?
A. The Council will strive to reach consensus on all matters before it and work diligently to resolve any differences.
Q. Who will be responsible for oversight to ensure that funds are used correctly?
A. As directed by the law, the U.S. Treasury is developing regulations for the administration and oversight of RESTORE Act funding. These regulations will include Trust Fund expenditure processes and financial tracking requirements.
Q. Is there an end date on the RESTORE Act? Is there a time by when all funds need to be expended?
A. The RESTORE Council will terminate once all the funds in the Trust Fund have been spent. There is no deadline for when the funds must be spent.
Q. How does the Council decision-making process work?
A. Council decisions on significant actions require affirmative votes by the Chairperson and a majority of the five States.
Q. What is the Council?
A. The RESTORE Act established a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (the Council), which is comprised of members from the five affected Gulf States’ Governors, the Secretaries from the U.S. Departments of the Interior, Commerce, Agriculture, and Homeland Security as well as the Secretary of the Army and the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Q. What does the Council do?
A. The Council will work with States, local communities, Tribes, and non-Federal interests to help restore the ecosystem and economy of the Gulf Coast region by developing and overseeing implementation of a Comprehensive Plan and carrying out other related responsibilities.
Q. Who chairs the Council?
A. The Gulf States recommended and President Obama appointed the Secretary of Commerce as the Chair of the Council.
Q. When does the Council expect to have funds to implement projects?
A. Due to uncertainty around a variety of factors associated with ongoing litigation, the ultimate amount of administrative and civil penalties that may be available to the Trust Fund and the timing of their availability are currently unknown. However, on January 3, 2013, the United States announced that Transocean Deepwater Inc. and related entities have agreed to pay $1 billion in civil penalties for violating the Clean Water Act (CWA) in relation to their conduct in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In accordance with the consent decree, Transocean paid its first installment of civil penalties plus interest ($404,241,095.89) to the Department of Justice. On March 21, the Department of Justice transferred 80% of this amount to Treasury for deposit into the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. The Council will not be able to access these funds until the Treasury regulations governing administration of establishing the Trust Fund are finalized. We are working to ensure that the Council is ready to move efficiently and effectively to implement a restoration plan once funds are available.
Q. How is the Council’s work different from the work of the Task Force?
A: The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, initiated in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, developed goals and a framework for regional restoration. General types of projects were discussed, but not specific projects. Building from this foundation, the Council will develop project criteria and process for selection of specific projects to invest in.
Q. Will the recent BP criminal case settlement impact the Council’s efforts?
A. Penalties obtained as part of any criminal plea arrangement are not covered by the RESTORE Act and will be distributed pursuant to the terms of the resolution of that criminal case – the Council does not have a role in directing the criminal penalties.
Q. What is the Natural Resources Damage Assessment and Restoration process?
A. The Oil Pollution Act authorizes certain federal agencies, states and tribes, collectively known as the natural resource trustees, to evaluate the impacts of oil spills through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Process, to seek funding from responsible parties, and to develop and implement a restoration plan to restore the natural resources to their status before the spill and to compensate for lost use of those resources. . The trustees are responsible for studying the effects of the spill, identifying injuries to natural resources resulting from the spill, and developing the best methods for restoring those resources, and the type and amount of restoration required. The responsible parties pay for costs of the assessment and restoration of the natural resources. For the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the natural resource trustees are: NOAA, DOI, EPA, USDA, and the States of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
Q. What is the difference between the Council and the Natural Resources Damage Trustees and the Assessment and restoration process it supervises?
A. The funds from the RESTORE Act and funding from the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) and restoration process can both be used for recovery of the Gulf Coast, but the efforts are distinct and separate and the eligible uses are different under each funding source. To the extent possible, the NRDA trustees and the RESTORE Council will endeavor to coordinate and capitalize on efficiencies to maximize the restoration of the natural resources and the economies that depend on them. Under the Oil Pollution Act, the responsible parties pay to restore natural resources damaged by the oil spill as well as the value of the lost use of those resources. The legal process of identifying and quantifying natural resource damages is called a natural resource damage assessment (NRDA). NRDA funds can be used to assess the damage, and to restore and compensate for natural resources damaged by the oil spill. Responsible parties for an oil spill may be separately liable under the CWA for civil and criminal penalties for conduct that caused the oil discharges that pollute U.S. waters. Under the CWA, liable parties may be required to pay penalties that, in the absence of RESTORE, would go to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. RESTORE redirects eighty percent of CWA administrative and civil penalties to Gulf restoration. Unlike NRDA funds, some of the RESTORE Act funds can be used for both ecosystem restoration projects and economic recovery of the Gulf Coast and the projects do not need to be directly tied to impacts from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
Q. Will the Council start to consider specific project and plans even before any funds become available?
A. The Council will actively look at existing restoration plans as a part of the efforts to develop the Comprehensive Plan.
Q. Will the Council establish advisory committees?
A. The Council will establish advisory bodies as it determines necessary, such as a citizens’ advisory committee and a science advisory committee. This is one of the subjects on which the Council is seeking public comment.