Gulf Coast Resources Bill



STATEMENT OF THE DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE, ON RESTORING JOBS, COASTAL VIABILITY AND ECONOMIC RESILIENCE IN THE GULF OF MEXICO: H.R. 3096, THE RESOURCES AND ECOSYSTEMS SUSTAINABILITY, TOURIST OPPORTUNITIES, AND REVIVED ECONOMIES OF THE GULF COAST STATES ACT OF 2011 

December 7, 2011

The Department of the Interior and its agencies, which are responsible for a wide array of conservation and natural resource activities along the five-state Gulf Coast region, appreciates the opportunity to submit views on HR 3096 and share with you what our employees are working on in the region.

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill was the latest disaster to adversely impact one of the world's most important and diverse ecosystems, an ecosystem that plays an enormous role in our national economy.

Our Presence Along the Gulf Coast

The Department of the Interior (DOI) manages more than 40 national wildlife refuges and eight national parks covering nearly 4.2 million acres of freshwater, tidal, and terrestrial habitats.The Gulf Coast region is home to 38 f protected species – 29 of which are endangered.Nearly half of the southeastern population of brown pelicans, recently taken off the list of protected species, lives along the northern Gulf Coast. Moreover, the region's coastal wetlands and marshes provide vital wintering habitat for millions of migratory birds and there are more than 400 avian species that migrate, winter, or live along the Gulf Coast.

The Gulf of Mexico's ecosystem is one of the most ecologically diverse and complex in the world, and it is an integral part of the Gulf Coast region's economy.The Gulf of Mexico region boasts a wide range of sub-ecosystems with unique features and habitats, and Gulf waters are home to a rich diversity of species.Its coastal areas contain half of the coastal wetlands in the United States.Habitats associated with the Gulf of Mexico include barrier islands with sandy beaches, dunes and tidal flats; bays and estuaries with emergent marsh, sea grasses and oyster reefs; coastal bird nesting islands; forested wetlands and coastal woodlots including bottomland hardwoods, longleaf pine, and coastal shrub lands.Offshore deep water supports unique and biologically rich marine communities such as dense communities of corals, sponges and other invertebrates.

Recreational and commercial fishing is a multi-billion dollar industry critical to the economies of the states and the nation.More than 44 percent of all marine fish caught by recreational anglers in the U.S. in 2009 were taken from the Gulf of Mexico.Revenue from fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing in the Gulf region's states topped $22 billion, according to a national survey of wildlife-dependent recreation.

The Gulf Coast Region's population in 2010 was 20.9 million more than doubling since 1970. The region's population is expected to increase by 15 percent by 2020.The Gulf and its natural resources produce 30 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product; and 33 percent of the nation's seafood.From 2007 to 2009, more than 75 percent of the total U.S. shrimp landings and over 60 percent of oyster landings were from the Gulf of Mexico.

Crude oil production is over 1.6 million barrels per day in the federal waters of the Gulf, and is 54 percent of total U.S. production based on a three-year average from 2008 to 2010.A little more than half (52 percent) of total U.S. natural gas production comes from the Gulf based on a three-year average from 2007 to 2009.

Ongoing Natural Resource Damage Assessment

After the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, DOI along with NOAA began the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration process (NRDAR), which is authorized under existing statutory authorities.The Deepwater Horizon NRDAR seeks to quantify the amount of damage to Gulf of Mexico ecosystems by collecting, compiling, and analyzing information, statistics, or data through prescribed methodologies to determine injuries to natural resources.Currently, DOI staff is actively engaged in the injury assessment phase in close collaboration with NOAA and Gulf state trustees and will continue through the complete NRDAR process for some time.After the assessment is complete, current law allows the Natural Resource Trustees to submit a demand to responsible parties of the oil spill, specifying the damages sought.

On April 21, 2011, BP agreed to provide up to $1 billion toward early restoration in the Gulf of Mexico to address injuries caused by the oil spill.Therefore, besides working on activities derived from the NRDAR process, the Trustees and BP are striving to identify and reach agreement on projects that can be implemented under this unprecedented early restoration effort.Accordingly, DOI is working with its fellow Trustees and the public to identify restoration projects including projects that will benefit Federal lands impacted by the release of oil.

Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force

In addition to the NRDAR restoration efforts, DOI is a member to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force.As part of its mandate in Executive Order 13554, the Task Force must coordinate efforts of Gulf Coast states, the federal government, Tribes and local governments to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the implementation of Gulf Coast ecosystem restoration actions.The Gulf of Mexico Regional Ecosystem Restoration Strategy was released earlier this week and marked a collaborative effort among five Gulf Coast states and 11 federal departments and agencies including DOI.The Task Force collaborated with all member agencies including the Department of the Interior, and received additional input during a public input and feedback period from academics, non-profit partners, industry, and the public.

The Strategy, which can be downloaded at http://epa.gov/gulfcoasttaskforce, addresses critical conservation and restoration issues facing the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and outlines four goals for restoration across the region: Restore and Conserve Habitat; Restore Water Quality; Replenish and Protect Living Coastal and Marine Resources; and Enhance Community Resilience.Going forward, the Task Force will focus on coordinating efforts to restore the Gulf Coast ecosystem and address barriers to implementation, such as science needs, regulatory complexities and funding.

Key Interior Efforts to Support Gulf Coast Restoration

Restoring the Gulf Islands National Seashore: Past dredging of navigation channels has deprived barrier islands in the Gulf Islands National Seashore of millions of cubic yards of sediments. The National Park Service (NPS) and Army Corps of Engineers are working on two projects to restore Gulf Islands National Seashore. A funded ($439 million) program to begin in fall 2012 will return approximately 20 million cubic yards of sediment to the West and East Ship Islands and fill the Camille Cut (Mississippi).

The NPS and Army Corps are also developing a project to start in November 2012 to restore approximately 300,000-400,000 cubic yards of compatible sediment to the Florida barrier islands at an estimated cost of $6 million that is proposed to be funded by the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustee Council.

Restoring Disturbed Lands and Protecting Jean Lafitte National Historic Park: Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve is working to restore 442 acres of canal and spoil banks back to emergent wetlands or shallow water habitat. The project will improve hydrology over an estimated 23,000 acres of wetlands, with an estimated construction cost of $700,000. Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve plans to construct 45,200 linear feet of dikes to protect shoreline of three lakes and restore 1,650 acres of associated marshland in the Preserve, with an estimated cost of approximately $58 million.

Expanding Gulf Coast National Wildlife Refuges: There are 41 National Wildlife Refuges located in the five Gulf Coast states. These refuges protect and recover endangered species, provide essential migratory bird habitat and support a diverse array of native plant and animal species while enhancing the sustainability and resiliency of the Gulf coast. The Gulf Coast refuges, along with other conservation lands and working landscapes, provide important ecosystem services such as biological diversity, pollination, carbon sequestration, clean water, flood protection, erosion control, and recreation.

Restoring and conserving additional natural areas will limit loss of critical coastal habitats for migratory birds, support endangered species recovery, protect important nesting areas and secure important ecosystem services for coastal communities. To meet this need, the Fish and Wildlife Service has targeted priority expansions in five Gulf coast national wildlife refuges, for a total of more than 160,000 additional acres.

Building Science-Based Conservation Partnerships in the Gulf: The Department of the Interior has taken a leadership role in science based conservation of the nation's land, water, wildlife and cultural resources through the formation of Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) across the country, with four LCCs providing science support in the Gulf. These partnerships have engaged the states, federal agencies, NGOs and research institutions to provide science support across a diversity of Gulf habitats, ensuring that the appropriate resources and expertise are engaged in this effort. The Department is committing over $5 million annually to Gulf LCCs.

Underpinning Gulf Coast Restoration Activities with Sound Science: The U.S. Geological Survey is committed to a science plan in the Gulf that supports the four major goals of the Strategy. For example, USGS will commit $4 million to build on and expand upon existing efforts by the Coastal and Marine Geology Program to understand and assess ecosystem and community vulnerability as a consequence of human activities (including restoration projects) and natural change and define actions needed prepare coastal communities in their efforts to anticipate and respond to landscape changes and evolving vulnerability from storm surge, subsidence, erosion, and sea-level rise.

H.R. 3096

H.R. 3906 is nearly identical to a companion bill in the Senate, S. 1400, the "Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2011."

The Administration continues to support the dedication of a significant amount of civil penalties to the Gulf region to fund Gulf-wide ecosystem restoration activities from an environmental and economic perspective.The oil spill exacerbated the long-term deterioration of the Gulf ecosystem.We do not yet fully appreciate the long-term impacts of the largest oil spill in American history. Any additional funding provided would help meet critical recovery needs that fall outside of the Oil Pollution Act for the long-term ecosystem, economic, and health recovery of the Gulf. 

We do have some questions about several provisions in the bill and are happy to provide technical assistance and work with the Committee to address these concerns.

Conclusion

We believe the increased attention to both the challenges and opportunities in front of us will greatly benefit the 21 million citizens who call this extraordinary coast their home.The region plays a key role in our national economy and we strongly support bolstering ongoing collaboration to secure an economic and environmental revival along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this statement to the Committee.We will be happy brief Members and Committee staff and answer any questions you may have.