The Task Force delivered the final strategy on Friday, December 2 to President Obama, who established the Task Force by executive order, to continue the Administration's ongoing commitment to the Gulf region [See WIMS 10/6/10]. The group is made up of representatives from the five Gulf States and 11 Federal agencies, including EPA, CEQ, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce (NOAA), Department of Defense, Department of the Interior, Department of Justice, Department of Transportation, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Science and Technology Policy and White House Domestic Policy Council.
The strategy is the first restoration blueprint ever developed for the Gulf to include input from states, tribes, Federal agencies, local governments and thousands of involved citizens and organizations across the region. The plan represents a commitment by all parties to continue to work together in an unprecedented collaboration to prepare the Gulf region to transition from response to recovery and address the decades-long decline that the Gulf's ecosystem has endured.
EPA Administrator Jackson said, "After the Deepwater Horizon disaster, this Task Force brought together people from across the Gulf Coast in unparalleled ways to talk about how we tackle both the immediate environmental devastation, as well as the long-term deterioration that has for decades threatened the health, the environment and the economy of the people who call this place home. It has all come to this moment -- when we move from planning and researching to supporting real, homegrown actions aimed at restoring this vital ecosystem."
With the release of the final strategy today, the Task Force marks the beginning of the implementation phase of the strategy by announcing new initiatives, including $50 million in assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service to help agricultural producers in seven Gulf Coast river basins improve water quality, increase water conservation and enhance wildlife habitat. USDA's multi-year environmental restoration effort, known as the Gulf of Mexico Initiative, or GoMI, represents a 1,100% increase in financial assistance for Gulf priority watersheds.
The natural resources of the Gulf's ecosystem are vital to many of the region's industries that directly support economic progress and job creation, including tourism and recreation, seafood production and sales, energy production and navigation and commerce. The final strategy was developed following more than 40 public meetings throughout the Gulf to listen to the concerns of the public. Among the key priorities of the strategy are:
1) Stopping the Loss of Critical Wetlands, Sand Barriers and Beaches -- The strategy recommends placing ecosystem restoration on an equal footing with historic uses such as navigation and flood damage reduction by approaching water resource management decisions in a far more comprehensive manner that will bypass harm to wetlands, barrier islands and beaches. The strategy also recommends implementation of several congressionally authorized projects in the Gulf that are intended to reverse the trend of wetlands loss.
2) Reducing the Flow of Excess Nutrients into the Gulf -- The strategy calls for working in the Gulf and upstream in the Mississippi watershed to reduce the flow of excess nutrients into the Gulf by supporting state nutrient reduction frameworks, new nutrient reduction approaches, and targeted watershed work to reduce agricultural and urban sources of excess nutrients.
3) Enhancing Resiliency among Coastal Communities -- The strategy calls for enhancing the quality of life of Gulf residents by working in partnership with the Gulf with coastal communities. The strategy specifically recommends working with each of the States to build the integrated capacity needed through effective coastal improvement plans to better secure the future of their coastal communities and to implement existing efforts underway.