Unlike the old joke about the dog catching the car and then puzzling, “What do I do now?” we actually do know what to do now that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill case is settled. The numbers, even though they are significantly lower than many anticipated, are still staggering in terms of restoration funding for the Gulf of Mexico — $18.7 billion. The dollars to fund actual restoration projects will be directed into two primary funds. Some $5.2 billion will go to the Gulf Restoration Trust Fund administered by the Gulf Restoration Council, of which Texas is a member. The trust funds will be allocated using a predetermined formula and Texas will benefit from several of these “pots” of monies. Centers of Excellence in each of the Gulf States — including Texas OneGulf, led by the Harte Research Institute (HRI) — will get some 2.5 percent of the settlement for research and monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico. Use of these funds are not restricted to recovering from the oil spill but may be used to address any of a broad range of environmental issues facing the Gulf. The largest part of the settlement, $7.1 billion, is for natural resource damages. This is in addition to $1 billion already paid out for early restoration projects. Along with interest and other charges the total will equal $8.7 billion. These funds may be used only for restoring actual damages from the spill. Another $5.9 billion will go to states for recovery of economic damages.
The Texas RESTORE Act Advisory Board, led by TCEQ Commissioner Toby Baker, has quietly but effectively been putting the structure into place to help make sure the restoration funds coming to Texas are effectively put to work. Because of that planning Texas was the first Gulf State to have its Centers of Excellence officially designated and that gives us a great head start in the restoration process. Still there are many challenges ahead to make sure these funds are used wisely. Texas has made a good start with the purchase of Powderhorn Ranch, protection of bird rookery islands, construction of artificial reefs and park restoration to name just some of the early focal areas. Now that the settlement is announced and we have a finite dollar figure, we must determine which of the many restoration proposals will be funded. This is where the Texas OneGulf Center of Excellence can play a significant and positive role by helping ensure that whatever projects are considered are soundly based on the best available science, have the greatest chance for success and make the most significant contribution to the health and productivity of Texas coastal waters and the Gulf.
This is also where the citizens of Texas have the opportunity to weigh in about how they wish to see these funds used. This fall, the Texas RESTORE board will be holding hearing along the coast for that purpose. There is a website where you can submit your ideas — restorethetexascoast.org — and keep up with the latest news. Most importantly we all need to be active participants in this historic restoration opportunity and process.
We hope to never have to suffer through another Deepwater Horizon again, but we want to demonstrate that when we have the funds we can use them to “make a difference,” as Ed Harte admonished HRI when he founded it with his initial gift of $46 million almost fifteen years ago. Ed was a visionary and I think this role was just what he envisioned when he gifted TAMUCC with the funds to establish HRI. Our goal is to live up to that vision, and with the help of the people of Texas — who love the Gulf of Mexico just as did Ed— we will succeed.
Larry D. McKinney, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies
To learn more about the settlement, visit http://harteresearchinstitute.org/bp-settlement