The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

December 5, 2012

Feds funnel millions into Gulf Coast

— HOUSTON (AP) — Days before a newly formed council focuses on long-term Gulf of Mexico cleanup, a report released to The Associated Press shows that one federal agency has committed more than a half-billion dollars to the region in the past two years, nearly one-fifth of it on projects directly linked to recovery from the 2010 oil spill.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, one of the so-called "trustees" involved in divvying up projects and cash from a settlement with BP PLC, detailed in a progress report it will present next week at the meeting in Mobile, Ala., its Gulf Coast projects, the money it has invested and the acres impacted. The report was released to the AP in advance.

Some projects were started shortly before the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon platform blew up in April 2010, killing 11 people and spilling hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf. Others began during efforts to cleanup and protect wildlife immediately after the environmental catastrophe. And in at least one case, an oil spill recovery project has been so successful, it is being expanded nationally, said NRCS chief Jason Weller.

The Gulf Coast, long in environmental decline, came into the national spotlight after the spill, when images of oil-covered birds and massive slicks dominated national news for weeks. Agencies like the NRCS that have long battled the region's ecological problems — often with little backing or attention — hope that now there will be a cash infusion for long-term projects that could help turn the tide.

"From a national tragedy we've sort of stumbled on something here that's having a national impact from a conservation standpoint," Weller said, referring to a migratory bird program now being expanded to the Northern Plains and the West Coast.

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