Tallahassee, FL - Oil giant BP will send $1 billion to the federal governments and the five Gulf coast states under an agreement announced Thursday to restore habitat damaged by the Deepwater Horizon spill.
Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas will receive $100 million each. The remaining $500 million will be divvied up between the states by federal agencies also involved in cleanup efforts.
“While there is still much more to be done to hold BP and other (responsible) parties accountable for the damage done to our state, this marks an important first step in restoring our natural treasures to pre-spill status,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard said the money is welcomed and will be quickly spent.
“Because we have worked diligently to assess the environmental damage resulting from the spill, we are well positioned to be able to quickly begin performing important restoration projects and use Florida's share of the early restoration funds to assist our coastal communities with their continued recovery from the spill,” Vinyard said.
Most of Florida’s shoreline did not receive oil or tar. But environmentalists said Florida’s coastal resources were affected.
“We are glad BP and the Trustees recognized the urgency of initiating restoration immediately,” said Eric Draper, Executive Director of Audubon of Florida. “Halting wildlife population declines and beginning the slow process of restoring coastal habitats now will ultimately save money and time later.”
States can use the money to fund projects such as the rebuilding of coastal marshes and beaches, conservation of sensitive areas for ocean habitat for injured wildlife, and restoration of barrier islands and wetlands that provide natural protection from storms.
The agreement does not affect the liability of BP, Transocean, Halliburton or any other entity for natural resource damages or other liabilities.
Local officials have been pushing for the company to finance the next round of cleanup and are waiting for a response. Taylor “Chips” Kirschenfeld, Escambia County’s senior scientist and division manager for water quality, said hundreds of tar mats remain submerged just offshore.
Until the patches, some as large as football fields, are removed, tar balls will continue to roll up on Panhandle shores when kicked up by storms.
“BP says they want to make this the way they were before the spill, Kirschenfeld said. “We’re fine with that. The oil was not there before the spill, so it should not be there after the spill.”
Environmental groups said Thursday they will focus now on making sure the money is spent on restoration.
“The challenge now is to stay vigilant and make sure this money is spent on the environment, and not siphoned off by special interests,” said David Guest, Earthjustice Managing Florida attorney. “We want to make sure this doesn’t turn into a slush fund for the Chamber of Commerce.”