Louisiana seeks BP’s approval for oil spill recovery plan

Last week, Louisiana announced its agenda for recovery from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, lifted the ban on recreational fishing and called on the FDA to do the same for commercial catches. However, items in the plan including the amount of control BP has over the safety certification of the state’s commercial fishing catch and the construction of sand berms are raising questions.

The restoration of recreational and commercial fishing is one of the key components of Louisiana’s response plan. Fishing is a major part of the state’s economy and the ban caused by the oil spill dealt a major blow to the local economy. Last Wednesday, Louisiana opened up nearly 86% of its waters to sport fishing and announced that it was working to create a certification plan that willl ensure the safety of its commercial fishing catch. However, it appears that funding for the plan will come from BP rather than the state, the federal government or an independent source. According to the announcement:

“Louisiana has submitted proposals to BP to conduct a five-year fishery resource-monitoring plan and to increase testing and sampling. Contingent on BP approval of this funding, Louisiana plans to conduct 400 samplings of shrimp, crab, oysters, and finfish each month in all coastal parishes and waters to guarantee the safety of the state’s seafood and fisheries and to complement the ongoing water sampling. {…}

Governor Jindal noted that Louisiana submitted a long-term seafood safety plan to BP on May 29, 2010, to fund the creation of a Louisiana Wild Seafood Certification Program that will enable the state to oversee seafood processing from catch to retail. This will allow for Louisiana seafood harvesters and processors to certify that their products adhere to best practices, guaranteeing quality for American consumers and demonstrating that people in Louisiana stand behind their products. Governor Jindal called on BP to immediately approve the funding for this long-term seafood safety and marketing plan.
(Emphasis added.)

The FDA has oversight over the safety of commercial seafood sold to the public and Governor Jindal is already pressuring the agency to allow commercial fishing in the same areas currently open to sport fishing while it works to gain approval from BP on its certification proposals.

The Governor’s plan also pushes to restore Louisiana’s coastal areas to the level that existed in the 1930s before the oil spill or even hurricane Katrina. In the plan, Jindal contends that Louisiana has been losing 29 square miles of coast land since the levee system was installed on the lower Mississippi River in the 1930s. A problem that, he says, has only been exacerbated by successive disasters. The Governor estimates it will take $96 billion to recover the areas lost thus far and points to the $9 billion in coastal projects currently authorized at the federal level as a way to get started. In the meantime, he’s moving ahead with other agenda items which are more controversial – the construction of sand berms.

Jindal has clashed with the federal government as well as marine scientists on his agenda as they question both the scientific assumptions and practicality of the plan, especially the Governor’s support for sand berms. Several scientists have said that sand berms won’t work and even if they do may cause more harm than good over the long term.

Despite this, the Governor’s current agenda still calls for continued sand berm construction. In his announcement, Jindal points to the current $360 million six berm project already under construction and leaves the door open for the project’s expansion. Jindal put significant pressure on the Army Corps of Engineers to start the project despite opposition and fiercely defends it. Last week, the Governor and Former Louisiana State University marine sciences professor Len Bahr argued over the effectiveness of the berms with dueling photo shoots. In his, Bahr contends that the berms are being washed into the ocean, a claim which prompted the Governor to put out his own photos which he says show the berm working as planned.

As for other restoration projects, such as wildlife clean up and monitoring the Governor is seeking money from BP and is asking for $250 million in funds already appropriated to hurricane protection repairs to be re-appropriated into his restoration agenda.