The third phase of the BP oil spill civil trial is happening this week in New Orleans. As MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, this phase will determine how many hundreds of millions of dollars in restoration money will flow to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Under the RESTORE Act, 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties from the Deepwater Horizon spill will be dedicated for restoration projects and research in the five Gulf states. For Mississippi, that could mean as much as $1.8 billion if BP is assessed the highest possible fine.
"We hope that the civil penalties will be used to directly benefit the environment that was damaged," says Johnny Marquez, director of the Coastal Conservation Association of Mississippi, a group that represents recreational anglers. "There are lots of uses of course for funds, and people will be looking for economic improvement. But we believe that a healthy environment is a healthy economy so we hope that the funds will be directed directly to environmental projects."
These projects could include marsh restoration, artificial reefs, shoreline reconstruction and fisheries research.
Thao Vu, director of the Mississippi Coalition for Vietnamese-American Fisherfolk and Families, says the commercial fishermen she represents would like to see the funds used to restore the gulf's fisheries.
"Their livelihood is critically dependent on a healthy habitat, clean water, a healthy ecosystem," she says. "And they should be a part of restoration. They should be prioritized to get some of the restoration work because they have the skill sets. They have the traditional ecological knowledge. They know the waters, they have the boats, they have the equipment, and they have the crew."
BP could pay a total of as much as $13.7 billion in Clean Water Act penalties, though the company argues it should pay less.