The plan includes the essential task of rebuilding the marshes and barrier islands that act as fish nurseries and defenses against storms. Overdevelopment, levee-building on the Mississippi River and mile upon mile of oil and gas pipelines and shipping channels have done enormous damage.
The plan also calls for a serious effort to reduce the flow of excess nutrients that have created an oxygen-starved “dead zone” in the gulf, where fish cannot survive. The presidential task force behind the plan announced $50 million in assistance from the Agriculture Department to help farmers control polluted runoff.
That is only a fraction of the billions of dollars that will be needed for full-scale restoration. The question is where the big money will come from. Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat of Louisiana, has proposed a smart bill that would earmark 80 percent of the civil penalties from the spill to long-term restoration. BP and other companies involved could wind up owing between $5 billion and $20 billion in fines, depending on the degree of negligence. Under normal circumstances, most of this money would disappear into the general treasury.