Award-winning Investigative Journalist Robert Parry (1949-2018)

Award-winning investigative journalist and founder/editor of, Robert Parry has passed away. His ground-breaking work uncovering Reagan-era dirty wars in Central America and many other illegal and immoral policies conducted by successive administrations and U.S. intelligence agencies, stands as an inspiration to all in journalists working in the public interest.

Robert had been a regular guest on our Between The Lines and Counterpoint radio shows -- and many other progressive outlets across the U.S. over four decades.

His penetrating analysis of U.S. foreign policy and international conflicts will be sorely missed, and not easily replaced. His son Nat Parry writes a tribute to his father: Robert Parry’s Legacy and the Future of Consortiumnews.

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BP Oil Spill Disaster Fines to be Dedicated to Gulf Coast Wetlands Restoration

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Posted May 2, 2012

Interview with Aaron Viles, deputy director of the Gulf Restoration Network, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


British Petroleum’s Macondo oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico just over two years ago was the worst and most publicized environmental disaster to strike the U.S., killing 11 workers and spilling 200 million gallons of oil into the deep waters of the Gulf as well as the vulnerable – and disappearing – wetlands along the shore.

But, there have been many other oil spills over the past several decades, and their impact has been worsened by the steady erosion of barrier islands and wetlands, which are disappearing at the rate of one football field every hour. In all, the Gulf of Mexico has lost approximately 50 percent of its historic wetlands, and those remaining are under increasing threat.

Before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005; Hurricanes Gustave and Ike in 2008, and before the BP spill in 2010, a project using $14 billion of federal funding was proposed to restore Louisiana's wetlands, but was deemed too expensive and was never launched. Now, with effects much worse, there's the possibility of action precisely because of the BP spill. Between the Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Aaron Viles, deputy director of the Gulf Restoration Network based in New Orleans. He talks about the continuing loss of wetlands and the potentially good news that fines that British Petroleum must pay to the federal government, will be dedicated to projects to restore endangered Gulf Coast wetlands.

AARON VILES: The plans, as you mentioned, are expensive. They were $14 billion before Katrina. After Hurricane Katrina, and Rita, and Gustave, and Ike, they wrapped together the coastal restoration mission with the hurricane protection mission to make sure our communities are safe, because we know these wetlands aren't just important for habitat. The most productive fishery in the lower 48 is in Louisiana, fueled by these marshes. These amazing birds – the pelicans, migrating birds like neo-tropical song birds – rely on this habitat. It's kind of the super-highway for migrating birds. And it's very important for the coastal communities, because the marsh protects coastal communities; it's very real and natural storm protection. The cypress swamps, barrier islands, the shallow sounds and marshes – every two to three miles a storm surge travels over these intact ecosystems, will knock that surge down by a foot. That's why they wrapped the coastal restoration with the coastal community protection. But of course, what that means is that the plan gets a lot more expensive, so instead of a $14 billion plan, now the state has this Sustainable Coast master plan, which would like to spend $50 billion over the next 50 years, to stabilize the coast, to protect communities, and to start building land. It's a pretty good plan; we're pleased with where it is right now. It's super-expensive, but the reality of it is, we now are looking at the real possibility of significant funds to jump start that restoration plan because of BP. So first off, they're going to have to fix the equivalent of what their oil has screwed up within the ecosystem. It's hard to restore deep water habitat, but coastal habitat is easier to restore – to create – by using the Mississippi River.

We know BP has committed a billion dollars to this restoration initiative. They will likely have to pay more. It won't all be in Louisiana, but what Louisiana's committing to is to shunt as much of the money as they can to the restoration component, so that's where the money goes. And then of course the big, huge kind of brass ring for the coastal advocates right now are BP's Clean Water Act fines; so that's independent of the natural resource damage assessment or NRDA, which goes to fix what BP's oil screwed up. These Clean Water Act fines, without federal legislation, would be a windfall for the federal treasury, and because BP's oil release has been historic, their Clean Water Act fine will be historic. Instead of the $200,000 that the EPA collects for clean water violations in any given year, we will be talking about billions of dollars, so the order of magnitude is higher. And depending on how aggressive the federal government – the DOJ (Dept. of Justice) – goes after BP, if they prove gross negligence and they hold them to every barrel the independent scientists say they spilled, we will be talking about 18 billion-plus dollars.

Right now there is legislation – it's called the Restore Act – it's been attached to the transportation bill, so they're doing conferees right now. They will likely include this measure to use 80 percent of BP's Clean Water Act fines to do large-scale Gulf restoration and ecosystem restoration and community recovery with these monies. It won't all go to Louisiana's wetlands, but everything Louisiana gets will go to this marsh restoration initiative and coastal protection initiative, so that could be billions of dollars that will be put in place, basically overnight, to start this process, depending on what the Department of Justice is able to do. So, it's kind of interesting, because out of this disaster we have the best opportunity ever to scale up restoration in a way that will finally begin to be on par with the crisis.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Aaron Viles, if you got all this money from BP, would there also be money coming from the state or federal coffers, or would everybody just say, "Let BP do it"?

AARON VILES: Actually, the landmark legislation from Sen. Mary Landrieu, was the Gomesa Act of a few years back – the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act. It actually lets Louisiana start receiving a cut of the federal resources from the offshore drilling. Folks don't know it, but the second largest source of revenue for the U.S. government – second only to the IRS – is offshore drilling lease revenue. Those revenues are very significant, and for the longest time, adjacent coastal states didn't really get anything out of those revenues, and now the state will be getting about a third of the offshore revenues. That money is all programmed to go into the coastal restoration and protection trust fund. That's being augmented by state revenues that are going in there as well, and everything we get from BP will go into that trust fund. So that's something that's really critical, you know, that there is this kind of transparent and accountable initiative that the state's going to pony up, the feds will pony up, and BP will be putting a big chunk of the down payment to get things started. Because the Gomesa revenue doesn't start until 2017, we're hopeful that legally BP will be held accountable and that the bigger check will get in there before that.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So it sounds like some of this money could start flowing real soon.

AARON VILES: Some of it's happening now. They've done the first round of that billion dollars that BP committed to do the first round of projects, so that's only about $50 million that's been allocated for programs. So they're going to go through that billion dollars, and we'll see where it goes from there. But the Restore Act is in the Senate and the House right now, through this Transportation bill and they've loaded it up with a couple different poison pill environmental pieces on that now, with the Keystone XL pipeline and other things, so they've done a very good job of trying to split the environmental community. So we'll see what happens with that. We hope cooler heads carry the day, but it is Washington, D.C. so there's certainly no guarantee of that. So then, as soon as the Department of Justice gets money from BP, they can go to work very quickly.

Find more information about the Gulf Restoration Network by visiting

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