Gulf Coast spill money is starting to flow

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On Monday, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced a second round of grants from its Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund. The fund – established as part of the plea agreement between BP, Transocean and the federal government over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill – distributes money paid into the fund by BP and Transocean to states affected by the spill.

Each of the affected states (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida) are to receive a set proportion of the overall funds. Of the $99 million in grants announced this week, Texas projects received $13.2 million. Eventually, Texas can expect to receive around $203 million in grants from the fund.

The NFWF fund is not to be confused with the similar funds created by the RESTORE Act. Passed by Congress in 2012, RESTORE sets aside 80 percent of the civil and administrative penalties paid due to the Deepwater spill, which are similarly divided among the states. The pot of money under RESTORE is considerably larger, and could be as much as $18 billion (though Texas’ share would be considerably less).

Dedicated R Street followers will recall that we have repeatedly called for vigilance with respect to how the RESTORE Act funds are spent. Money should be used to address market or government failures; shouldn’t commit the state to ongoing future expenses once the fund expires; and should be focused on the areas affected by the storm.

Unlike the RESTORE Act funds, the NFWF grants are decided by a private foundation, so the same level of oversight isn’t really applicable. Still, it’s worth taking a look at the sorts of projects getting funded by NFWF, especially since several of the project grants were developed in consultation with various Texas state agencies. Encouragingly, most of the Texas grants involve restoration of coastal marshes. R Street’s 2013 Policy Study on RESTORE specifically cited wetland restoration as a potentially beneficial use of funds.

A full list of Texas projects is available here.

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