Commerce Department Supports Gulf Restoration Council's Actions to Improve the Health and Resiliency of the Gulf Coast Region

Dec092015

AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
Wednesday, December 9, 2015

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker today delivered remarks and chaired a meeting of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council in Biloxi, Mississippi. During the meeting, the Council approved the Initial Funded Priorities List (FPL) totaling approximately $183 million of ecosystem restoration projects. Using funds from the settlement with Transocean Deepwater Inc., the Council is providing initial investments to address critical needs of 10 watersheds across the Gulf to help restore the region’s ecosystem and strengthen economic resilience. 

The Council also voted to adopt the final rule that allocates funding between the five Gulf Coast States made available through the Spill Impact Component of the RESTORE Act. These funds will support investments in actions and projects that will ensure the long-term environmental health and economic prosperity of the Gulf Coast region.

Projects and programs on the FPL will help to revitalize the region through skills training for local communities, improvements in water quality, and habitat restoration critical to juvenile fish and endangered birds and sea turtles. The Department of Commerce, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with support from the Economic Development Administration and the Minority Business Development Agency, has projects included in the list which will:

  • Support local communities through workforce development and training in restoration related skills;
  • Restore over 2,200 acres of critical wetlands in Florida, Alabama, and Texas that would improve water quality and restore habitat; and
  • Establish monitoring and data standards to support science-based decision-making and evaluate restoration progress across the entire Gulf region.

Background

The Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast Act of 2012 (RESTORE Act) established the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (Council) and the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund.

The Council is chaired by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, and members include the Governors of the States of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, as well as the Secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Homeland Security, the Army and the Interior, and the Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Council is responsible for helping to restore the ecosystems and economies of the Gulf Coast region by developing and overseeing implementation of a Comprehensive Plan and carrying out other responsibilities. Read more about the Comprehensive Plan, the RESTORE Act and the Council at www.RestoreTheGulf.gov.

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Governor Bryant for hosting this meeting.  I am honored to serve as Chair of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.  And pleased to join the members of the Council and all the partners and stakeholders of the region here today.

The Gulf region’s economy and its environment are not only the twin heartbeats of life for its residents in this area but they provide critical lifeblood to our nation.

This region is a hub for much of our country’s import and exports, including 10 of the nation’s 15 largest ports. The environmental ecosystem, with its extraordinary habitats, wetlands, beaches and other natural resources, are vital to the way of life in the Gulf and drive its economy– through commercial fishing, shipping, oil and gas production, and tourism and other industries.

The 2010 oil spill was a disaster that played out across five states. Habitats were lost or damaged. Wildlife was hurt. Water quality was degraded. Fishing and swimming were unthinkable. The economy was devastated.

The RESTORE ACT provided this community with the opportunity to build a stronger, healthier, more resilient region. And this Council has been dedicated to making that goal a reality.

From Day One, we have worked to build a robust organization that would achieve our goals. We knew it was important to set up our headquarters here – and not in Washington – so we could serve the region’s five states and communities more efficiently and effectively. We built an organization from the ground up; going from a start-up to a fully functioning agency. We assembled a good team and we began a coordinated region-wide effort to restore and protect the environment, reinvigorate local economies, and create jobs.

We knew that getting the capital needed was only part of the process. Working with the people most affected would be our top priority and critical to bringing this region back the right way. Over the last three years, we have engaged with tens of thousands of Gulf community members through individual meetings, listening sessions, webinars, community meetings and conversations and public comments.

My background is in the private sector. I know how important it is for the people who are the most impacted to have a direct say in the process.

Years of dedicated engagement by those of you today and others, have helped to shape the work of the Council.  I am proud that we have involved the community in almost every aspect of our progress, from setting our 5 overarching goals to establishing foundational processes. Gulf residents had a direct say in the formulation of priorities and projects.

You emphasized the need to invest in clean water and healthy habitats; to enhance community resilience; to rebuild barrier islands and marshes; to monitor and measure results, to ensure those impacted had an opportunity to get back to work; and to create economic and environmental sustainability for the long-term.

We heard from people in all five states. One 10 year old boy from Louisiana said he wanted his local habitat restored so he could fish again. Members of the Vietnamese-American fishing community in Coastal Mississippi and Alabama asked us to restore their fishing waters so they could get back to shrimping and shucking.

Communities in Louisiana asked us to help address the severe coastal land loss. Residents in Florida asked us to improve their water quality. Many simply requested that we use available resources wisely.

We have listened and we believe every decision for the region has come from the region. If approved today, we will invest and prioritize $183 million in restoration projects that will deliver tangible results – and also establish a foundation for the future.

If approved, those projects will: restore more than 200,000 acres of critical habitat that support fish and birds; support local communities through workforce development and skills training in restoration related industries; improve water quality by working with private landowners to reduce nutrient loads; start the planning and design for large-scale projects to address coastal erosion in Louisiana. And in answer to those who told us to invest wisely, I am happy to report that these investments leverage over $1.27 billion in other funds.

It is important to note that the funding voted on today is just the beginning. So, as we celebrate this milestone day, and are pleased that dollars are finally going to projects, we also have to look to the future.  

With the recent BP settlement, federal, state and local governments, Tribes, and Gulf coast communities will have the resources needed to make significant progress toward restoring ecosystems, economies, and businesses in the region over the next 20 years. While we were able to address many of your comments and incorporate many of your ideas in the initial projects, we will be able to do more.  

Because the money has been committed to a variety of funding streams,  for us to maximize our benefits to the Gulf Coast, we must work together to advance our common goals and support our shared restoration missions.

As the funds are dispersed over the next two decades, we have the opportunity to restore the environment, reinvigorate the economy, and create jobs in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Florida, and Alabama – in all of the communities affected by this disaster.

This is an unprecedented level of funding to enhance the region as a whole.  It should be our moral challenge to work together. If people go it alone, they will have an impact, but it will not be nearly what it could be if we work together. We should ensure our future projects are complementary and beneficial to all people in this region. We should make sure our individual efforts add up to our collective potential. And we should be able to say: we are doing right by the people and communities of the Gulf and future generations to come.  Thank you. 

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Last updated: 2015-12-09 13:25

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