July 05--We're pleased this phase of the BP oil disaster is behind us. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood were on the Coast on Friday to announce they were bringing to the state about $1.5 billion of the latest $18.7 billion settlement with the energy giant.
We think Mississippi should have received more than 8 percent of the money BP will pay for environmental and economic damage caused by the 2010 oil gusher at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. But the state has already received $659 million, and a total of $2.2 billion could go a long way toward undoing the damage caused by the catastrophe.
If we all remain diligent. We are hopeful our state officials will spend the money wisely and for the purposes it is intended. But we and others stand ready to verify how and where and with whom it is spent.
We believe we have reason to worry.
One word that was strangely absent in the settlement announcement Thursday was "transparency." That's strange because we were personally promised a transparent process when it comes to spending the windfall.
But that was a promise made by Trudy Fisher, who is no longer director of the Department of Environmental Quality.
Now we find the well-worn shroud of secrecy has already begun to fall.
The court filings, reported the Associated Press, have a confidentiality order that bars any of the parties from going into specifics. So, it appears the details will be worked out in secret.
Eventually, the state will decide exactly how much of the settlement will go to environmental restoration and how much to economic development. That vagueness is troubling given the state's reputation for misspending by previous regimes at the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
Going forward, we'd like to see an easy-to-use website that lists all projects, the contractors involved in them, the amounts being paid and their progress. It should have all the requests for bids or proposals, too. Put it all under the heading "where the money is going."
GoCoast 20/20 was the commission Bryant created to "establish a vision" for spending the money. It did a great deal of good work, but now its website is outdated. For example, Fisher is still listed as a member and as working for DEQ.
She has been replaced at that agency. Bill Walker, former DMR director, is listed as a member. He's in federal prison.
It's hard to take that site seriously. And taxpayers shouldn't have to bounce back and forth from GoCoast to RESTORE to NOAA to Transparency websites to track down vital information. But they are.
"As these funds make their way to the Gulf Coast, it is important for citizens across the nation to hold our leaders accountable to ensure meaningful restoration for our communities and environment come first," wrote Jordan Macha, Gulf policy analyst with Gulf Restoration Network, in an email shortly after the settlement was announced.
We agree and we welcome the help.
This money should be regarded as a sacred trust belonging to the people of the Coast who suffered significant ecological and economic loss because of BP's spill. They deserve transparency, accountability and justice in the dispensing of the funds.
This editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions expressed by columnists, cartoonists and letter writers are their own.
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