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Environmental Law Institute Assists Gulf Residents in Restoring Natural Resources

April 20, 2011

(Washington, DC) — The Environmental Law Institute has released a series of tools that help Gulf communities shape ecosystem restoration in the wake of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“Communities have been experiencing, first hand, the dire impacts of the spill,” explained Dr. Kathryn Mengerink, Director of ELI’s Ocean Program, “They are eager to know how they can help further the restoration process, which involves complex scientific and legal issues. Our goal is to give Gulf Coast communities the information they need so that they can meaningfully participate in the government-led process to restore natural resources harmed by the oil spill.”

To answer basic questions about how restoration works, ELI developed fact sheets that give concise explanations of the restoration process, known as Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process, and how the public can ensure it benefits local communities and ecosystems. NRDA is the legal process that the government uses to assess oil spill damage and restore public natural resources. Parties responsible for the spill pay for NRDA and restoration, and the public has the right to participate in NRDA. The fact sheets describe case studies on oil spill NRDAs in other parts of the country, such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez Spill in Alaska. In addition to English versions, the fact sheets are available in Spanish and Vietnamese, the primary languages of many affected Gulf residents. They are available at http://www.eli.org/Program_Areas/ocean_gulfofmexico.cfm.

ELI also provided in-depth training to coastal community members eager to engage in restoration planning. Working with local partners in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, ELI brought together over 100 fishermen, community leaders and non-profit representatives for half-day workshops on how to make restoration work for gulf communities. Presenters included NRDA experts with experience in the Exxon Valdez process, scientists, and government representatives. Participants asked important questions and brainstormed next steps for making their voices heard.

ELI Law Fellow Nina Robertson added, “The oil spill disaster is unprecedented, as are the number of different restoration and compensation efforts underway. Our work explains what the law requires, what is being done to restore the Gulf, and how communities can help shape what restoration looks like.”

In addition to factsheets and the workshops, ELI is tracking oil spill litigation online at http://www.eli.org/Program_Areas/deepwater_horizon_oil_spill_litigation_database.cfm.