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Remarks at the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council Meeting, New Orleans, Louisiana

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Welcome everyone. I’m pleased to call to order the second meeting of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. It’s great to be in New Orleans.

Let’s start by having Council Members briefly introduce themselves, and then we will immediately hear from the distinguished governor of Louisiana. Thank you again, Governor Jindal, for hosting us in your beautiful state.

Thank you, Governor Jindal. Thanks to everyone on this Council. Perhaps most importantly, thank you to everyone in the audience today.

The input that Gulf residents have provided so far – particularly through the public engagement sessions in each state – has been invaluable in reaching this point.

If we continue to work in a collaborative spirit, I’m confident that we can implement the RESTORE Act in a way that reinvigorates economies, creates jobs, and rebuilds our environment for generations to come. In short, we can help ensure the long-term health, prosperity, and resilience of the entire Gulf region.

That’s exciting to me as I begin serving as chair. And I’m committed to leading this Council in a way that brings all of the resources of the Commerce Department to bear, from economic development to tourism promotion to science-based restoration of the Gulf’s natural resources, and much more.

President Obama and all of us in the Administration know how vital the Gulf Coast region is to our nation. When we think of the beaches, the seafood, the unique communities, and the rich cultural heritage, we realize that the Gulf Region is part of who we are as Americans. In addition, this region also includes key U.S. assets such as energy resources and 10 of America’s 15 largest ports.

This Council has an unprecedented opportunity to preserve and strengthen the Gulf in many ways. We want more people throughout the country and around the world to see the Gulf Coast as a wonderful place to visit, work, play, and live. And I should note that restoring the natural ecosystem and restoring the economy are interconnected goals.

This Council still faces the challenge of not knowing the ultimate amount and timing of available funding, but we’re moving forward regardless.

Today, we will vote on a comprehensive plan that was developed with the help of residents and leaders throughout the Gulf Region – including many here today. This plan will guide our efforts to restore, protect, and revitalize the Gulf Coast.

Justin Ehrenweth, the Executive Director, will talk more about the plan in a moment, but I’ll provide the broad strokes.

The plan’s purpose is threefold: Establish overarching restoration goals for the region; describe how the Council will solicit, evaluate, and fund projects and programs for ecosystem restoration; and describe the process for approval of State expenditure plans.

Importantly, the plan incorporates the Council’s five overarching goals: 1) Restore and Conserve Habitat; 2) Restore Water Quality; 3) Replenish and Protect Living Coastal and Marine Resources; 4) Enhance Community Resilience; and 5) Restore and Revitalize the Gulf Economy.

The plan sets long-term priorities. It places science at the heart of decision-making. And it commits to delivering tangible results for the people who live and work in the Gulf.

We need a smart plan that will help us tackle issues efficiently and effectively as soon as we get funds. I believe this is that plan, so thank you again to everyone who contributed to it. We must continue to push forward. And we’re doing just that.

First, today, we are going to hear from leaders of several Gulf restoration initiatives about how we can coordinate the many efforts underway to restore the Gulf. I want to thank them for being here.

Second, I’m pleased to say that the Treasury Department has said that it will be issuing draft regulations regarding project funding very soon. There will, of course, be a public comment period and we look forward to the input of Gulf residents, including those here today.

Third, we are working in advance to remove regulatory barriers and address environmental compliance issues. We’re doing this early in the process, in the planning stages, so everything is ready from our end and we don’t get delayed in the future.

And fourth, our hope is that we will begin selecting and funding projects within the next 12 months. That’s an ambitious goal, but I think it’s achievable.

Clearly, we will continue to need everyone’s help in the months ahead. For example, we need to create a structure to solicit even more public input. After all, the president has been clear that he wants our efforts to be driven by ideas that come from the Gulf, not Washington.

We need to hear from folks like all of you about your ideas in areas such as how to best restore the health of our fisheries, how to build hubs of innovations from technologies that will inevitably arise from coastal restoration efforts, and how to ensure long-term resiliency overall.

On that note, let me just close my opening remarks by saying “thank you” in advance to everyone who came out today. I deeply appreciate your partnership as we work together to help the Gulf Coast reach its fullest potential in the 21st century. Please give yourselves a round of applause as we continue with the meeting.

The Council understands how important it is to work with our partners. All of the key players must collaborate closely to advance common goals, to reduce duplication, and to maximize benefits to people in the Gulf as we go forward with our new plan and other efforts. Before I turn to those partners, though, I will turn to Justin Ehrenwerth, the Council’s Executive Director, for a brief overview of the Plan, which will be followed by our vote on it.