Briefing highlights importance of ecosystem services in Gulf of Mexico

On November 16, the Consortium for Ocean Leadership joined with the Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea (COMPASS) and the National Research Council of the National Academies to sponsor House and Senate briefings on restoring the ecosystem services that support economic vitality in the Gulf of Mexico.

The briefing highlighted findings from a recent National Academies report that examined changes to ecosystem services in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The report intends to provide guidance on methods to identify and assess important ecosystem services in the Gulf region in the wake of the oil spill.

Reps. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Kathy Castor (D-FL) made appearances at the briefing, expressing their support for legislation that would foster economic and environmental recovery in the region.  Scalise and Castor co-chair  the House Gulf Coast Caucus. Rep. Scalise is a sponsor of H.R. 3096, Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States (RESTORE) Act of 2011. The RESTORE Act would dedicate at least 80 percent of penalties paid by the responsible parties under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to Gulf Coast states to invest in the long-term health of the coastal ecosystem and bring about environmental and economic recovery in the region. Companion legislation (S. 1400) has been introduced by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA).

The Greater Houston Partnership, Chamber Southwest Louisiana, and Greater New Orleans Inc., joined with several other commerce organizations in writing to House and Senate leaders in support of the bill. “The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the five states of the Gulf Coast region was almost $2.4 trillion in 2009, representing 30 percent of the nation’s GDP,” the letter states. “We believe that enacting the RESTORE Act is vital to the environmental and economic recovery of a region still dealing with the devastating impact of the disaster.”

According to one of her congressional aides, Rep. Castor has not cosponsored the RESTORE Act because she is working with Rep. Scalise on improvements to the bill, but she has voiced her support for getting 80 percent of the CWA fines for the Gulf region. Rep. Castor has sponsored H.R. 480, the Gulf of Mexico Economic and Environmental Restoration Act of 2011, a similar bill that would also direct 80 percent of BP’s fines towards Gulf Coast restoration.

The briefing’s speakers included David Yoskwitz of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies; Nancy Rabalais, Executive Director and Professor at Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium; Heather Allis, Lead Scientist at the Natural Capital Project; Robin Barnes, Executive Vice President of Greater New Orleans Inc. and Timothy Reilly, Managing Partner at CatVest Petroleum Services, LLC. David Malakoff of Science magazine moderated.

Click here to read a brief summary of the full report.

Photo Credit: NASA

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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  1. Giving over 80% of funds from a national program intended to serve all 50 states without a specific timeline seems too political motivated for my tastes. I did not read the entire bill (isn’t finished being written) so I don’t know if in fact there is a stated period of time as to how long the gulf states would receive these monies. If there is a specific period of time that these monies would be given to the gulf states, it would have my support. However, if no specific time is written into the bill, it becomes just another political football. Rather than giving money to places it is needed, it goes to predetermined places or mined off by powerful politicians.

  2. Hi Luise, you can read the actual bill text of the lawmakers’ proposals by going to this link: and plugging in the bill numbers (H.R. 3096 for the Rep. Scalise bill and H.R. 480 for the Castor bill). My understanding is the 80 percent relates to penalties directed specifically at those responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

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