WASHINGTON — Louisiana’s top coastal restoration official told a U.S. Senate subcommittee on Tuesday that BP should be commended for providing $1 billion to repair natural resources caused by its oil leak, but that the public should have more control over how the money is spent.
Garret Graves, senior adviser to Gov. Bobby Jindal on coastal issues, told the U.S. Senate subcommittee on water and wildlife that coastal states now must first get BP approval before implementing repair efforts.
“What other situation do you have where the defense is allowed to govern and rein in the plaintiffs in terms of activities they carry out through exercising the funding?” Graves said.
“It provides a situation where the public’s resources and public trust is not properly represented,” Graves said.
Graves, who also serves as chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, was testifying on the Natural Resources Damage Assessment, which requires parties responsible for damaging natural resources to pay for the cleanup.
The BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion last year killed 11 men and resulted in a three-month discharge of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
BP has funded the initial money but is expected, along with subcontractors, to have to pay billions more to restore natural resources before the process is over.
Graves also expressed concern that the process will take too long. Some estimates say the mitigation could take up to 20 years, he said.
“We can’t allow these resources to sit in a degraded state for decades,” Graves said. “It’s unacceptable.”
Graves represents Louisiana as one of several trustees to a council that includes representatives from other coastal states and the U.S. Interior Department and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, better known as NOAA.
The council has already mapped out restoration plans, some of which could be implemented by the end of the year.
Under the NRDA process, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard use $1 billion in funds from the Oil Liability Trust Fund to make immediate repairs.
About $900 million has already been spent from the trust fund, Graves said. That leaves the BP money as the main source for repairs, Graves said.
Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, of Louisiana, sits on the subcommittee to the U.S. Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee. He expressed concern that NOAA does not have baseline studies that could show the impact the spill has had on fisheries.
Vitter has introduced legislation that would accelerate the NRDA process. Vitter and Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana, also have introduced legislation that would direct 80 percent of any BP fine money to the five states for natural resources restoration.