Guest Blog: Exxon Restoration Fund Process Should Maintain Strong Public Participation
Background: The Exxon Valdez Trustees Council (EVOSTC) was established after the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill to oversee restoration of the injured ecosystem through the use of the $900 million civil […]
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Background: The Exxon Valdez Trustees Council (EVOSTC) was established after the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill to oversee restoration of the injured ecosystem through the use of the $900 million civil settlement. The Council consists of three state and three federal trustees (or their designees). The Council is advised by members of the public and by members of the scientific community.

The EVOSTC is accepting public comments until December 16, 2020 on various proposals (scroll down on page to see proposals).  Take a minute to read the comments below, and submit your comment here.

EVOS Trustee Council Draft Resolutions

https://evostc.state.ak.us

Draft Resolution A – to eliminate annual Trustee Council public meetings

We oppose Resolution A.

Our perspective is that: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Having annual meetings is essential to continue adaptive management and meaningful public participation in the Restoration process.

The 1994 Restoration Plan, approved by the governments to guide the Restoration program, requires an Adaptive Management approach to Restoration, with annual or multi-year work plans. This is essential in order to integrate and apply results of the EVOS research program in restorative actions to assist in the recovery of the injured environment. Resolution A would essentially end this approach.

In addition, Resolution A would make it considerably more difficult for the public to remain actively engaged in the Restoration program. The 1991 MOA and Consent Decree approved by the court require “meaningful public participation” in all aspects of the Restoration program, and thus Resolution A would violate the 1991 MOA and Consent Decree.

Additionally, eliminating the annual meeting and work plan process, as proposed in Resolution A, would lock-in Trustee Council decisions for many years, and thus limit decision-making abilities of future Trustee Councils in future administrations.  

It is not overly burdensome for Trustee agencies to meet annually to consider and decide annual work plans, or review and refine multi-year projects.

The injured environment has yet to fully recover. EVOS Restoration is an important government responsibility, and must continue to be such.

Thus we respectfully urge the Council to decline Resolution A.

Draft Resolution B– to eliminate annual public review of multi-year projects

We oppose Resolution B.

Again, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Annual review of multi-year projects is essential to refining Restoration projects, and continuing to incorporate new results of EVOS research into project design and implementation.

The 1994 Restoration Plan, approved by the governments to guide the Restoration program, requires an Adaptive Management approach to Restoration, with annual or multi-year work plans. This is essential in order to integrate and apply results of the EVOS research program in restorative actions to assist in the recovery of the injured environment. Resolution B would essentially end this approach.

In addition, eliminating annual review of multiyear projects, as proposed in Resolution B, would make it considerably more difficult for the public to remain actively engaged in the Restoration program. The 1991 MOA and Consent Decree approved by the court require “meaningful public participation” in all aspects of the Restoration program, and thus Resolution A would violate the 1991 MOA and Consent Decree.

Additionally, eliminating the annual review of multi-year projects would limit discretionary authority of future Trustee Councils in future administrations.

It is not overly burdensome for Trustee agencies to meet annually to consider and review multi-year projects.

The injured environment has yet to fully recover. EVOS Restoration is an important government responsibility, and must continue to be such. Annual review of the program is essential.

Thus we respectfully urge the Council to decline Resolution B.

Draft Resolution C – to combine the research and habitat sub-accounts into one account

We oppose Resolution C.

In a perfect world, with balanced Restoration attention to both research and habitat protection, combining the two accounts (as they were prior to 1999) would be inconsequential and perhaps reasonable.

But in the past 20 years, there has been a strong bias in the Restoration process against habitat, and in favor of spending most remaining funds simply on science. Science is a tremendous, successful, necessary institution, but in its essence is simply observation, not action. Protecting habitat is action, based on science. In the EVOS Restoration program, we simply have to apply what we already know, and that must include protecting ecological habitat in the oil spill region from further degradation.

It is noted that the Restoration program has not achieved a large parcel habitat protection agreement in over 20 years! This unfortunate trend was based on politics, not science.

While the Restoration process in the 1990s was somewhat balanced between habitat and research, for the past two decades it has focused primarily on research. This is not an effective use of limited Restoration dollars, and betrays the fundamental basis of the 1991 Consent Decree. There are several large parcel habitat acquisitions remaining for the Council’s consideration that should be addressed.

Thus, we oppose combining the two accounts, as proposed in Resolution C. In fact, we propose that some funds be transferred from the research account into the habitat account to at least bring them into parity with one another. Habitat protection is every bit as important as science.

The injured environment has yet to fully recover, and the Council has many opportunities remaining to acquire and protect habitat to replace injured resources and services.

Thus we respectfully urge the Council to decline Resolution C.

Draft Resolution D– to eliminate restrictions on funding Restoration projects outside the existing oil spill boundary

We support Resolution D.  

It is an ecologically sound amendment to the 1994 Restoration Plan.  The 1991 Consent Decree did not discuss or require an oil spill boundary, or that Restoration expenditures be limited to the immediate geographic area.  The spill boundary established in the 1994 Restoration Plan was arbitrary, unnecessary, and scientifically unsupportable. Many said so at the time. It makes no ecological sense. 

In particular, the area east of the eastern boundary line is critical to the functions of PWS and the rest of the oil spill region “downstream” to the west. Clearly the entire Copper River Delta, Bering River, Martin River, and Controller Bay are integral to the ecosystems to the west.  As well, the straight-line eastern edge of the spill boundary in the Gulf of Alaska, and the southwest boundary, defy ecological connections of marine ecosystems.

Thus, we strongly endorse the language change proposed in Resolution D, to eliminate the previous limitations to conducting Restoration projects outside of the arbitrary spill boundary in the 1994 Restoration Plan.  The Trustee Council needs discretion to be able to conduct Restoration activities where it deems necessary and appropriate, unencumbered by such arbitrary boundary lines, including replacement of injured resources and resource services with uninjured resources and services. 

Rick Steiner is a marine conservation biologist, and was a professor with the University of Alaska from 1980-2010, stationed in Kotzebue, Cordova, and Anchorage.  He was involved in all aspects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill; served on the emergency response command team, recommended establishment of the RCACs and PWS Science Center, worked to formulate and pass OPA 90, and proposed the government/Exxon settlement that led to the formation of the Restoration program.