Texas still waiting for $100M in restoration funds from BP oil spill
Officials have received 188 suggestions from public on how to spend BP oil spill money
AUSTIN — Texas has been promised at least $100 million for coastal restoration in the wake of the massive BP oil spill that harmed the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.But no Texas projects have been announced, and an official involved with the talks did not sound optimistic about getting dollars flowing quickly to causes like protecting marshland or sea life.
The process of allocating dollars has been “much more complicated than we first anticipated,” said Don Pitts, a state coordinator with Texas Parks and Wildlife, which helps screen potential projects.
As part of an agreement last year, Texas is slated to get at least $100 million of BP spill money, and possibly more, for coastal restoration. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida were also promised at least $100 million each. Unlike Texas, those states are already using the money to move forward with two projects each, though the bulk of the funds haven’t been disbursed.
Texas officials have so far received 188 suggestions from the public on how to spend the money, according to Pitts. The ideas include items such as improving bird habitat at a state park in Harris County to restoring dunes in Brazoria County.
The state has submitted a condensed list of projects to BP for approval, Pitts said. But the oil company hasn’t acted, and Pitts said he “can’t guess what BP is thinking.” The condensed list is not available to the public, and the process could take years.
Craig Savage, a BP spokesman, said in an email that he “can’t discuss on-going negotiations.” As to why Texas projects were slower to receive approval than other states, he noted that “trustees,” or representatives, of each Gulf state were involved in the decision-making process, and “any trustee has the right to [object to] a project” even if it is not in their jurisdiction.
Earlier this year, a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality official told the Tribune that he had expected some Texas projects to be announced by the end of summer, which did not happen.
In addition to the $100 million, which comes to Texas through an a spill-related federal process called Natural Resource Damage Assessment, the Texas coastline is also eligible for restoration funding from other spill-related sources. Under BP’s landmark criminal settlement agreement with the U.S. government this month, Texas should receive about $191 million for projects that would reduce damage to the coast from the BP spill or mitigate damage from future spills. The money will be administered through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which specializes in disbursing government dollars. (The agreement still awaits court approval.)…
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By KATE GALBRAITH — THE TEXAS TRIBUNE