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Obama administration moves long-term Gulf plan forward (9/29)

The Obama administration has put forward what it calls an “aggressive” restoration plan, including a call for dedicated funds, to help strengthen the gulf region’s environment, economy, and health following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, according to the White House.

The restoration plan, written by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, was submitted to the president today. A key recommendation in the report is that Congress dedicates a significant amount of any civil penalties obtained from parties responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill into a Gulf Coast Recovery Fund to go toward addressing long-term recovery and restoration efforts in the gulf. The president has decided to follow this recommendation, and congressional action is critical to the overall effort.

To manage the funds and to coordinate recovery projects, the Mabus report recommends that Congress authorize a Gulf Coast Recovery Council. As designed, the recovery council would include representatives from the states and federally recognized gulf tribes. The recovery council would work to ensure that local governments and citizen stakeholders also play a critical role.

The president will not let the recovery process wait until Congress acts to approve the recovery council, according to the White House. He soon will sign an executive order to establish the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. A bridge to the recovery council, this intergovernmental advisory body will coordinate restoration programs and projects in the gulf region. It will focus on efforts to create more resilient and healthy gulf coast ecosystems, while also encouraging support for economic recovery and long-term health issues. Given her extensive environmental experience, ability to work successfully with stakeholders, and roots in the gulf coast region, the president has named Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson to serve as task force chair.

“President Obama has said many times that our commitment to the families and environment in the gulf extends far beyond capping the well. We’re sending that message loud and clear today: our work is not complete until the people and the environment they rely on are on the path to restoration and recovery,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “I’m proud to take on leadership of this task force. As someone charged with protecting health and the environment, and as someone who grew up as part of the gulf coast community, I welcome the opportunity to make a difference for the people here.”

The task force will be expected to coordinate with the Department of Health and Human Services on public health issues and with the Department of Commerce and other federal departments and agencies, as appropriate, on ways to improve the economic impact of ecosystem restoration.

The Mabus report recommends continued support for individuals, families, and businesses to help them navigate the claims process, and to give assistance to communities to identify additional needs. It urges a media campaign – paid for by the oil spill’s responsible parties – to help restore public confidence in the seafood industry and promote tourism in the area. The report examines ways that the gulf can take advantage of opportunities in emerging industries. The report also identifies critical needs for health and human services across the region and recommends continued engagement with the nonprofit sector.

In June, as the urgent oil spill response efforts were still underway, President Obama tapped Secretary Mabus, a former governor of Mississippi and a son of the gulf, to develop the framework for long-term recovery. The president was clear that he wanted the plan to come from the gulf, and not be imposed from Washington, D.C. on the gulf. Mabus spent countless hours hearing from thousands of local residents, businesses, and elected officials to create the foundation for this report.

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