To advance the ongoing natural resource restoration planning process following the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, NOAA and the Department of the Interior (DOI) today announced plans to develop a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) in cooperation with state co-trustees as part of the ongoing Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). The first step in the PEIS process will be public scoping meetings in each of the affected Gulf Coast states.
In a notice published in the Federal Register, NOAA, DOI, DOD, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas are taking the next step in the ongoing effort to restore the Gulf of Mexico environment to its pre-spill condition. This comes as scientists from those agencies are conducting a comprehensive assessment of the injury to the Gulf Coast region's fish, wildlife and habitats caused by last year's oil spill. The public scoping process will evaluate a range of activities and alternatives that could restore, rehabilitate, or replace injured resources and compensate the public for the loss of human uses of those resources.
"The overall goal of this process is to hold the parties responsible for the spill fully accountable to restore, rehabilitate, replace or acquire the equivalent of natural resources and services injured by the oil spill," said Jane Lubchenco, PhD, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "The PEIS will build a framework for future restoration actions, ensuring that the public's voice is incorporated into those designs."
At these PEIS meetings, members of the public will learn about the environmental impacts of the spill, get an early picture of the region's natural resource restoration needs, and may submit comments on the types of programs and projects they would like to see incorporated in future restoration strategies in response to the oil spill. Members of the public also may submit their comments online at www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov, where the full meeting schedule will be posted by the end of February.
"This is a really important time for the public to become fully engaged in the restoration planning process," said Chris Doley, director of the NOAA Restoration Center. "By sharing their views on types of restoration efforts they feel are appropriate to address resource impacts, the public can help define the overall shape of the plan that will restore the Gulf to its pre-spill conditions."
"This represents the latest step in our shared commitment to closely involve the public in the restoration of the Gulf Coast ecosystem," said Cindy Dohner, the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Southeast regional director who is serving as the Secretary of the Interior's authorized official for the Deepwater Horizon NRDA. "These natural resources make up one of the world's most diverse and complex ecosystems and are a vital part of the region's tourism economy and citizen's way of life. That's why this engagement is so important."
The comments provided during scoping will help define the parameters of a draft PEIS on which the public will again be invited to comment later this year. In addition to providing an avenue for initial comments, the scoping meetings will give the public the opportunity to learn more about various aspects of the damage assessment.
NRDA is the legal process authorized by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and other laws, to determine the type of environmental restoration needed to compensate the public for harm to natural resources as a result of a spill. The PEIS is part of the overall NRDA effort, whose final restoration plans will be enacted by BP and the other parties responsible for the spill with no expenditure of taxpayer funds. The NRDA process is separate from the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, announced by President Obama last October. While separate, it will work to coordinate its planning with the final NRDA Restoration Plan.
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