Academic journal article Vanderbilt Law Review

Coastal Wetland Restoration and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Academic journal article Vanderbilt Law Review

Coastal Wetland Restoration and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Article excerpt

Both the 2005 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the 2010 BP oil spill have focused attention on the need to restore coastal wetland habitats along the Gulf of Mexico of the United States. As restoration is required by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, restoring coastal wetlands will be required as part of BP's legal obligations. Although plans to restore the Mississippi River Delta are well on their way, the damages to the Gulf Coast wetlands caused by the Deepwater Horizon spill are still occurring and have yet to be fully assessed. At this critical time for wetland restoration in the Gulf, it is important to be clear about the ecological and economic challenges and issues that need to be addressed in restoring the Gulf Coast wetlands after this series of sequential disasters. This Article reviews the current state of knowledge on the ecological restoration of coastal wetlands and critically examines current approaches to restoration under Natural Resource Damage Assessments. The Article then discusses the key ecosystem services of coastal wetlands that we need to be concerned with in restoration and briefly explores examples of economic valuation of these services. It is clear that much more work is required in this critical area of ecological and economic analysis, given that restoring coastal wetlands along the Gulf is becoming a major policy focus.

I. INTRODUCTION ........................................................................... 1821

II. POST-SPILL WETLAND RESTORATION .................................... 1823

A. Trends in Wetland Loss and Restoration ................ 1825

B. Compensatory Wetland Mitigation ........................... 1828

III. EVALUATING RESTORATION OPTIONS .................................... 1830

A. Habitat Equivalency Analysis ................................... 1831

B. Pros and Cons ............................................................... 1835

IV. ECOLOGICAL AND ECONOMIC ISSUES ..................................... 1839

A. Ecological Issues ........................................................... 1840

B. Economic Issues ............................................................ 1843

V. CONCLUSION ............................................................................... 1848

I. INTRODUCTION

Both the 2005 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill have focused attention on the need to restore coastal wetland habitats along the Gulf Coast of the United States. Although the spill affected all five Gulf states - Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas - the shoreline impacts have been greatest for Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 ("OPA"), the restoration of coastal wetlands will be required as part of BP's legal obligations.1 Although plans to restore the Mississippi River Delta are well on their way, and some wetland projects have been implemented, the damages to the Gulf Coast wetlands caused by the BP spill are still occurring and have yet to be fully assessed.2 At this critical time for wetland restoration in the Gulf of Mexico, it is important to be clear about the ecological and economic challenges that need to be addressed in restoring the Gulf Coast wetlands after this series of disasters.

Part I of this Article reviews the current status of post-BP oil spill wetland restoration efforts in the Gulf. I discuss recent trends in wetland loss and restoration in the region. Even before the oil spill, a number of federal, state, and local wetland restoration initiatives had been launched. As the Natural Resource Damage Assessment ("NRDA") for the oil spill will likely inject more funding and political support for widespread coastal restoration in the Gulf states, it is important to understand how both current and previous restoration in the region have fared.

Part II focuses on the actual methods of the NRDA, which will likely emphasize compensatory restoration of coastal wetlands. …

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