The vice chairman of a task force set up by President Barack Obama to restore the Gulf Coast criticized BP PLC this week for what he described as the oil company’s increasing reluctance to repair the damage inflicted by last year’s enormous oil spill.
Garret Graves, the vice chairman of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, said that BP has become harder to work with on a restoration plan to be completed by October.
“BP appears to be pulling the drawbridges up a bit and it’s not a phase we really support,” Graves said. He did not elaborate on his comments made during a break in a task force meeting in New Orleans.
The panel, made up of Gulf Coast and federal officials, is developing a plan to repair the damage to the Gulf Coast following last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP faces huge fines for the damage caused by the spill that began with the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf. The explosion killed 11 workers and federal authorities estimate more than 200 million barrels of oil spewed from the busted rig before it was capped July 15.
Louisiana officials have been critical of BP for allegedly reneging on promises the company made in November to help the state set up quick restoration projects. The state had hoped BP would pay to restore oyster grounds and wetlands damaged by the spill and build a fish hatchery to help replenish fish stocks.
“It’s amazing to me to see the active, ongoing loss that’s occurring and no remedial actions taking place to try to stop the bleeding under emergency restoration,” Graves said.
Graves also serves as the head of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, an agency under Gov. Bobby Jindal working to restore coastal Louisiana.
Louisiana officials say they will try to fund the projects with state funds and bill BP later.
BP did not immediately comment.
Since last summer, the company has been running an advertising campaign claiming that it would “make it right” and help the Gulf Coast recover.
The spill is the latest hit to a fragile coastline already suffering from decades of severe ecological damage. Louisiana has lost about 2,300 square miles of coast since the 1930s due to levee building, oil and gas drilling, timber harvests, shipping and development.
The White House restoration panel — which is overseen by Lisa Jackson, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency — will recommend how to use the heavy fines BP will likely have to pay for the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
The plan is to use the fines — which could potentially run to the billions of dollars — on projects to restore beaches, marshes, water quality and wildlife in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
Under the Clean Water Act, BP faces fines of up to $1,100 for each barrel of oil spilled. If BP were found to have committed gross negligence or willful misconduct, the fine could be up to $4,300 per barrel. That means that based on the government’s estimate of 206 million gallons released by the well, BP could face civil fines of between $5.4 billion and $21.1 billion. BP disputes the government’s spill estimate and says the government overstated the amount of oil spilled by 20 to 50 percent. BP also faces potential criminal fines.
When the fines will be assessed is still up in the air amid ongoing legal wrangling.
Louisiana lawmakers want to make sure 80 percent of all potential fines will be used on restoration efforts.
The restoration could include diverting freshwater from the Mississippi River into sediment-starved marshes, pumping mud to build new land, rebuilding barrier islands and planting new marsh.
The commission Obama set up to investigate the spill has backed that idea and urged Congress to set aside the money for restoration.
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