NEW ORLEANS (CN) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday evening appointed Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, a body charged with restoring the long-term health and economy of the region.
Other appointments to the council announced in a White House news release were Texas Gov. Greg Abbott; Florida Gov. Rick Scott; Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant; Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey; Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue; EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has also been designated to serve as the new chair of the body; Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross; Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke; Army Secretary Mark Esper; and Kirsjen Nielsen, the newly-minted secretary of Homeland Security.
The council was established in 2012 as a bipartisan entity to monitor land loss and the health of the coast.
One of the council’s primary responsibilities initially was to develop a comprehensive plan to restore the ecosystem and economy of the Gulf region.
A comprehensive plan, entitled ” Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy,” was released by the body in August, 2013. It was updated in December 2016 to include then-recent developments in Gulf restoration, such as the resolution of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill civil claims against BP.
Funding for projects included in the plan comes in part through the RESTORE Act, which establishes the council as an entity separate from the federal government.
Now that a plan has been approved for the region, the council is charged with overseeing its implementation and to carry out other responsibilities.
The council oversees money available through the Gulf Restoration Trust Fund. Sixty percent of the funds available through the trust fund are earmarked to carry out the plan. Under the RESTORE Act, 30 percent of the funds from the trust fund are allocated to the Gulf Coast States individually, according to the state’s specific restoration plans.
The Gulf Coast ecosystem is vital to national security and the economy, which include industries such as commercial seafood, oil and gas production, recreational fishing, tourism, and the shipping industry. Ten of the nation’s 15 largest ports are in the Gulf Coast, which account for nearly a trillion dollars in trade annually.
The Gulf of Mexico represents one of the most diverse environments in the world, which includes over 15,000 species of sea life. The vitality of the economic benefits of the Gulf Coast are dependent upon the health of Gulf waters. Erosion of coastal lands, due to violent storms and infrastructure set up for commerce and oil and gas development threatens the livelihood of the people and economy along the coast.
Over the past decade, the coast has lost critical wetland habitats, faced erosion of barrier islands that protect coastal lands from hurricane winds, imperiled fisheries and has seen water quality decline. Among the significant negative impacts to the health of the Gulf was the April 20, 2010, explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig 50 miles offshore from Louisiana.
The disaster killed 11 men, injured another 17 more and set off the worst offshore oil spill in the history of the U.S., which lasted 87 days.
The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council was created through federal efforts to support the Gulf Coast that came during the oil spill.
On June 15, 2010, then-President Barack Obama issued a request to a national commitment to the recovery of the Gulf region, not only from the oil spill, but to address broader challenges to the ecosystem, brought on by devastating wetland loss, storms and other stressors.
The recommendations from a report that followed, put out by then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, ” America’s Gulf Coast: A Long Term Recovery Plan After the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill,” laid the groundwork “for passing legislation to fund restoration efforts, as well as the development of strategies and plans to guide the region toward a comprehensive approach to restoration that takes into account the environmental, economic and cultural value of the Gulf Coast region.”
A representative from Edwards’ office Thursday said the governor was traveling on business in Shreveport and did not have a statement related to his appointment to the council immediately available.