Frequently Asked Questions - FAQs

What is a “natural resource damage assessment"?

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund) defines “natural resource damage assessment” as the process of collecting, compiling, and analyzing information, statistics, or data through prescribed methodologies to determine damages for injuries to natural resources.

What is the difference between resource “injury” and resource “damage"?

“Injury” refers to the actual adverse impact or loss of the natural resource resulting either directly or indirectly from exposure to a release or threat of release of oil or a discharge or release of a hazardous substance. An injury assessment investigates and explains the extent of adverse impact to the natural resource.

“Damage” is the amount of money sought by the natural resource trustee as appropriate to compensate for the injury through natural resource restoration or replacement projects.

What is the definition of “natural resources"?

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund) defines “natural resources” or “resources” as land, fish, wildlife, biota, air, water, groundwater, drinking water supplies, and other such resources managed by or otherwise controlled by the United States, any state or local government, any foreign government, or any Indian Tribe. CERCLA natural resource damage regulations have categorized natural resources into the following five groups: surface water resources, groundwater resources, air resources, geologic resources, and biological resources.

What is trusteeship? Who in the U.S. Department of the Interior is a trustee?

Congress authorizes states, tribes, and federal resource management agencies to act on behalf of the public as “trustee” for the purpose of bringing a claim to recover damages necessary to restore or replace injured public resources managed or controlled by the respective states, tribes, or federal agency.

U.S. Department of the Interior trusteeship includes natural resources such as BLM-managed public lands, the National Park System, National Wildlife Refuges, migratory birds, threatened and endangered species, interjurisdictional fisheries, Tribal resources, and public uses (such as recreation) that are dependent on those resources.

While the Secretary of the Interior is designated as the trustee, the day-to-day responsibility to act on behalf of the Secretary is delegated on a case-specific basis to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service. In nearly all cases, these bureaus carry out damage assessment activities in partnerships with other affected federal, state, and tribal co-trustees.

Who is responsible for natural resource restoration?

Natural resource restoration is paid for by funds recovered from settlements with responsible parties, not at the expense of the taxpayer. In addition, settlements often include the recovery of the costs incurred in assessing the damages. These funds are then used to fund further damage assessments.

Does the Restoration Program only restore resources at the spill or contamination site?

Regulatory definitions do not specify a preference for restoration in the location where it was injured. Practice has shown that the preferred restoration alternative can occasionally be in a location geographically removed from the original spill or release.

Does the Restoration Program (or NRDAR) restore natural resources injured by fires, flood, or other natural disasters?

The responsibility of NRDAR is to assess and restore natural resources injured specifically by oil spills or hazardous substance release. Government programs that restore natural resources damaged by fires, floods, or other natural disasters do exist, but they exist separate from NRDAR. However, NRDAR may get involved if an oil spill or hazardous material released during a natural disaster is the result of negligence.

How long does the assessment and restoration process take?

There is no fixed amount of time for the damage assessment and restoration process to take place. Each case is unique and the amount of time can vary significantly. Damage assessments are often quite complex and often take years to complete. However, some cases are less complex and take less time to complete.

How does the public get involved in natural resource restoration?

There are several ways for the public to get involved with natural resource restoration. The program relies on input from the public during the restoration planning phase through public meetings and forums. Before implementation, restoration plans must undergo public review to ensure broad support for the actions to restore the injured resources.

Additionally, individual and group volunteers are often encouraged to participate in many restoration implementation activities. Because each project is localized, the best way to find out more information about getting involved is to contact a local trustee bureau office or a local trustee partner. U.S. Department of the Interior trustee bureaus include the National Park Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Bureau of Land Management.

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