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Environmental groups say gulf spill money lacking

| Thursday, April 18, 2013, 7:21 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Three years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill polluted the Gulf Coast's ecosystem and hammered its economy, the region is still waiting on billions of dollars in fines and other payments from BP.

“One of the things that's particularly difficult is, the longer you wait to restore an ecosystem, the harder it gets (to fix),” said Sara Gonzalez-Rothi, a senior policy specialist at the National Wildlife Federation. “It's time for justice for the gulf.”

Saturday marks the third anniversary of the 2010 spill, but only a fraction of the billions in fines and other money owed by BP has trickled in for use on restoration projects, environmental groups say.

Local, state and environmental groups are banking on money from several sources, including:

•A $4 billion settlement between BP and the Justice Department to settle criminal charges related to the 11 men killed when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. More than half will go to the Gulf Coast.

• A $400 million settlement between Transocean, owner of the rig, and the Justice Department, also to settle criminal charges. About $300 million is earmarked for the region.

• A $20 billion trust fund set up by BP to pay claims filed by individuals and businesses hurt by the spill.

• Civil penalties under the Clean Water Act that could total $17.6 billion to be paid by BP and $1 billion to be paid by Transocean. Those penalties will be decided in a civil trial underway in New Orleans. Most of the fine money would go to the gulf.

• An undetermined amount from the Natural Resources Damage Assessment for restoration projects. BP has promised to pay $1 billion for early restoration projects. BP says it has spent $25 billion helping the gulf region recover, largely though clean-up and restoration projects and claims paid to individuals and businesses.

“BP has funded 10 projects, including efforts to restore dunes, marshes, oyster habitats and bird- and sea-turtle-nesting habitats,” said Scott Dean, a BP spokesman.

But Gulf Coast groups say the region is still struggling.

Environmental groups say an unusually high number of sick dolphins are washing up on shore. They're finding tar balls on beaches, particularly after big storms.

“Yet, we really have had no significant money to start to address this, despite the fact that BP promised that everything would be made right,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network.

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