Damage assessments are the critical first step taken on the path to achieving restoration of natural resources injured through the release of oil or hazardous substances. They are used to determine the nature and extent of injury and the amount of damages caused by the release. Once damages are determined, the U.S. Department of the Interior's (DOI) Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program (NRDA Restoration Program) attempts to negotiate a settlement with the parties responsible for the release of oil or hazardous substances for the cost of the restoration, the interim loss of use of the land or natural resource by the public, and the reasonable costs incurred by the NRDA Restoration Program to assess the damages. If the NRDA Restoration Program is unsuccessful in negotiating a settlement, the United States can then take the responsible parties to court.
The physical and scientific evidence of natural resource injury forms the basis for the Department’s claim for appropriate compensation through settlements that enable the NRDA Restoration Program to contribute to the DOI’s goals of protecting the nation’s natural and cultural resources. Information regarding the nature and extent of the injury, and the means by which they are determined, also help establish the goals of the restoration plans and influence the determination of when those goals have been successfully reached.
The NRDA Restoration Program continues to make progress in conducting many of its damage assessment cases on a cooperative basis with responsible parties. As a matter of practice, responsible parties are invited to participate in the development of assessment and restoration plans. The DOI has been involved in over forty cooperative assessments across the country, where the responsible parties have elected to participate in the damage assessment process, and provide input into the selection of various injury studies and contribute funds for or reimburse the DOI’s assessment and restoration planning costs.