Deepwater Horizon Nautral Resource Damages Assessment: Where Does The Money Go?
The effort to assess and remediate the environmental effects of the Deepwater Horizon Spill (the Spill) began while the oil was still gushing and will continue for many years. Recognizing that the Spill would cause profound damage to both the Gulf’s natural resources and to the livelihoods of Gulf residents who depend on those natural resources, the federal government undertook a natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) just weeks after the Spill began. The idea behind natural resource damage provisions is for the responsible party to do what is necessary to make the environment “whole” again, as if the accident never happened. In what is certain to be the largest NRDA undertaken under any statute, the task of making the Gulf “whole again” will last long after outrage sparked by the Spill has faded from the public mind. Although it will take a long time, it will be important to follow the Deepwater Horizon NRDA process through to its completion to ensure the damaged natural resources are cared for. This Article examines the last phases of the NRDA process outlined in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA). After the initial, comprehensive Preassessment phase, NRDA Trustees are responsible for developing a Restoration Plan, collecting money from the responsible parties, and finally, implementing restoration projects. This Article explores the requirements and experiences of the money collection and restoration implementation phases of an OPA NRDA and discusses some of the controversies and uncertainties involved in the collection and distribution of restoration money.