Today, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (Council) released project submission guidelines for funding projects and proposals under the Council’s Comprehensive Plan. The Council, which was created under the RESTORE Act, is tasked with overseeing how potentially billions of dollars in Clean Water Act fines from the BP Disaster will be spent.
“For years, members of the Gulf Future Coalition have been pushing for public engagement and transparency in how the fines from the BP disaster are spent. We’re discouraged and quite frankly shocked to see an utter disregard for the demands of community members in these proposed project submission release guidelines,” said Jayeesha Dutta, Coordinator of the Gulf Future Coalition. “The people of the Gulf coast whose way of life and livelihoods have been most affected by the BP disaster must have a seat at the decision making table.”
In a July 25, 2014 press release, the Council indicated that, as part of the project selection process, that the Council “anticipates convening community conversations across the Gulf to provide information about the proposal submission and evaluation process as well as to collect public input that will inform the development of the draft FPL (Funded Priorities List of Projects).” However, the proposed guidelines fail to outline such a process, instead leaving it up to the eleven members of the Council to engage the public in advance of the creation of a draft FPL.
“The problems of the Gulf are urgent, but in their haste to start spending RESTORE money, the Gulf Council has again demonstrated their disregard for the public. The Council has blown past the first two steps of involving the public: first they have dictated the process rather than seeking real input on how these decisions should be made; second, they have left it at the discretion of each of the eleven Council members to decide if and how they will involve the public,” said Steve Murchie, Campaign Director for the Gulf Restoration Network.
“What we are left with is a system of eleven gatekeepers, each with their own bureaucracies and agendas, and the public fending for themselves in the hope that one of those gatekeepers will decide that their ideas are worthy of consideration. Some Council members like the Department of Interior have a terrible track record of involving the public. We are hopeful that the Council will realize their mistake and look to examples such as the states of Mississippi and Louisiana, and the EPA, who have demonstrated a real commitment to involving affected communities and constituencies,” said Murchie.
“This is a complete failure of leadership by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Chairperson of the Gulf Restoration Council. At a minimum the federal agencies needed to be under one umbrella, and the Council needed to set real requirements for the states to involve the public,” said Murchie. “We would encourage everyone who cares about restoring the Gulf to contact the Chairperson at firstname.lastname@example.org since apparently that’s the only way an ordinary American can be heard in these decisions.”
Raleigh Hoke is GRN's Communications Director.