July 21, 2010

CARDIN ASKS SECRETARY SALAZAR FOR DETAILS ON ASSESSING THE ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE DONE BY THE BP OIL SPILL

Letter sent in advance of hearing to be held Tuesday

U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, has written to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar expressing concern over the role BP is playing in assessing the damage it has inflicted on the Gulf region and questioning whether resource agencies at the Department have sufficient tools to timely assess the environmental damage done to the Gulf region and elsewhere because of the BP oil spill.
 
Senator Cardin's letter comes just one week before Senator Cardin chairs a hearing of the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee on this topic entitled, "Assessing Natural Resource Damages Resulting from the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster." Through a legally required natural resource damage assessment process, federal agencies identify the extent of resource injuries, the best methods for restoring those resources, and the type and amount of restoration required. This process is critical for holding the responsible parties accountable for the environmental damage they've caused and will help determine the scope and scale of restoration work.
 
"If we can't trust BP to tell us how much oil had been leaking into the Gulf of Mexico for nearly three months, why should we trust them when it comes to assessing the damage they have done to our environment?" asked Senator Cardin. "I want to be sure that the federal government, which takes the lead in assessing the environmental impact of this catastrophe, has the tools and resources necessary to accomplish this critical task."
 
The text of Senator Cardin's letter to Secretary Salazar is below.
 
 
July 20, 2010
 
The Honorable Ken Salazar
Secretary
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street
Washington, D.C., 20240
 
Dear Secretary Salazar:
 
Since the BP Deepwater Horizon exploded and began this nation's greatest manmade environmental disaster, we have shared a goal to ensure BP and its partners are held responsible for the resulting economic and environmental destruction. Efforts are underway to compensate Gulf Coast residents for their economic losses.  Agencies in the Department of Interior will play a critical role in assessing, mitigating, and restoring our environmental resources. I am writing to you today because I am concerned that agencies at the Department have not been given all the tools necessary to best fulfill this responsibility.
 
Through a legally required process known as the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), the National Park Service (NPS) and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), along with other federal agencies, conduct studies to identify the extent of resource injuries, the best methods for restoring those resources, and the type and amount of restoration required. This process is critical for holding responsible parties accountable. The NRDA will dictate the scope and scale of the restoration work.
 
It has come to my attention that NPS and FWS must rely to a troubling extent on approval from BP before beginning any assessment work. Laws and regulations that surround the NRDA and the administration of the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund require NPS and FWS consult with BP on proposed studies; a process that can take several weeks and may allow the responsible parties to delay and obstruct time sensitive work. To ensure their ability to collect data and avoid delay, other agencies have established funding mechanisms, such as reimbursable agreements, which allow them to begin assessment work while the required consultation process unfolds. The Department of Interior should immediately create such a mechanism to enable FWS and NPS to conduct their natural resource damage assessment work in a timely fashion.
 
Next Tuesday, July 27, I will hold a hearing in the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on assessing natural resource damages in the Gulf. I will question the Fish and Wildlife Service on the issue of timely funding for assessment work. I expect that the Department will be in a position at that time to announce how it will address it going forward including any recommendations for Congressional action.
 
I look forward to assisting the Department in this and its other critical efforts to end the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and to restore the health and cherished way of life to the Gulf Coast region and its people. 
 
Sincerely,
 
 
 
Benjamin L. Cardin
United States Senator