Lagniappe for the Mississippi River Delta—and the Gulf of Mexico

Last Thursday began with a buzz of speculation for those of us in the Mississippi River Delta Restoration campaign. The Justice department was going to announce a settlement with BP of the criminal charges arising from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Attorney General Holder then announced the largest criminal settlement in history: $4.5 billion. But to our delight, there was more—$1.2 billion of the money BP will pay to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will be directed to Mississippi River diversions and barrier island restoration in hard-hit coastal Louisiana.

The Mississippi River Delta provides critical breeding, wintering and migratory stopover habitat for 100 million individual birds each year. The type of projects funded by the BP settlement will help restore the delta, which is eroding into the Gulf of Mexico at an average rate of a football field every hour. Flickr photo by Dan Pancamo.
These diversions—actually river re-introduction projects—are critical to restoring a naturally functioning delta, and changing the trajectory from wetland loss to wetland gain in one of the most important wildlife habitats in the world.

Decades of National Wildlife Federation involvement in efforts to restore the Mississippi River Delta are about to see fruition.  This was not just serendipity. It followed on the passage of the RESTORE Act and the adoption of the 2012 Louisiana Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast, two signature achievements in 2012—the result of years of hard work and dedication by NWF and its many partners. It is no coincidence that both of these accomplishments were referenced during the AG’s press conference.

Furthermore, an additional $1.2 billion will be distributed through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to the remaining Gulf States—Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas, for restoration purposes. That is great news for NWF’s efforts to restore the Gulf of Mexico.

We are still anticipating a much larger payment from the resolution of the civil case against BP for their violations of federal environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act. For now, we welcome that the Department of Justice chose to craft the criminal settlement in the way announced Thursday.

Importantly, the Justice Department made it clear that BP will enjoy no tax advantages from this payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and that this will not be used to offset any part of its civil penalties. And Justice also made it very clear that it intends to pursue the civil case vigorously, if BP does not proffer an acceptable settlement.

Thanks to the RESTORE Act we anticipate a great deal more money for restoration, but this restoration money from the criminal case is truly lagniappe, as we say in New Orleans.

Take ActionMake sure the Department of Justice holds BP fully accountable for the 2010 disaster in the Gulf!