In 2010, about a month after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, I was allowed to sit in a tribal council of the indigenous Houma Indians.
As the oil continued to pour into the Gulf of Mexico, which it would do for two more months, I watched a man describe, through tears, how he had always looked to the waters of the Gulf and drawn confidence, knowing he could provide for his family by accepting its gifts. Now all he could feel was fear.
Money can’t replace that kind of loss any more than it can bring back the 11 men who lost their lives in the accident.
But we can make a real difference – and in that context the BP settlement is a tremendous step forward.
A critical time for the Louisiana coast
Under the BP agreement, Louisiana will receive more than a third of the money – $6.8 billion of the total $18.7 billion – and $5.8 billion of that is specifically targeted toward restoration.
The overall restoration total for Louisiana will likely be just under $8 billion, including early restoration dollars and criminal settlements.
These are significant resources at a critical time. Land loss across the coast of Louisiana, exacerbated by the spill, continues at a fearful rate.
But we are making progress against that loss, and with the solid state commitment that now exists, and effective plans in place, these resources will allow us to battle back in earnest, with a clear-eyed view toward success.
In particular, the state plans to re-engage the enormous power of the Mississippi River and its sediment through a series of sediment diversions – using the land-building capacity of the river by reconnecting it to the delta it originally built.
These diversions will carry sediment back into the wetlands, restoring these natural land-building processes and boosting flood protection for New Orleans and other vulnerable communities in the area.
This science-based, innovative approach offers solutions at a scale that match the challenges in the Mississippi Delta, now home to the largest restoration effort under way in the world.
Lives and security were lost, but there’s a future
Details matter, of course, and details remain to be decided as the BP “Agreement in Principle” is turned into a consent decree. We need to remain involved and vigilant.
But it does seem clear that this agreement helps us avoid years of litigation while bringing funding levels that can truly make a difference.
Steve Cochran is the director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Mississippi River Delta Restoration project. He works to restore the natural functioning of the river while addressing the needs and health of southern Louisiana’s diverse communities.