In the wake of the BP spill, putting a price on nature

Seagulls stand on the beach as concern continues that the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may harm animals in its path in Gulfport, Miss.

Steve Chiotakis: One year ago to the day, one of the oil wells BP operates in the Gulf of Mexico blew out and burned. Eleven crew members were killed. Since the oil spill, BP has paid out billions. And other big bills are coming. One of those bills is for the damage to natural resources. But how do you put a price on nature?

From the Sustainability desk, Marketplace's Adriene Hill reports.


Woman: The criminality of what has happened...

Adriene Hill: Public hearings can be deadly boring. But not when you've got a room full of frustrated Louisianans like Clint Guidry, with the ear of the federal government.

Clint Guidry: You people come down here and you get public opinion and then you go back up to Washington and just whatever the hell you want to do. And I just don't think that that should be done this time.

Another guy got up and asked for:

Man: Less studies, more money.

Sort of like that country song: "A little less talk and a lot more action." But coming up with a bill for damaged natural resources is going to take a while. The government needs to charge BP for everything from dead pelicans to lost days suntanning on the beach. And to do that, it has to figure out what to charge. Valuing nature, as you might expect, is tricky.

Kevin Kirsh helps out on natural resources damage assessment with NOAA.

Kevin Kirsh: As we go through our assessment, we don't come back and say, oh this dolphin was worth X amount of dollars.

If the government is looking to charge BP for dead dolphins, it might write the bill for improving dolphin habitat. If it needs to charge BP for lost days sunning on the beach, it might write a bill to create more tanning parlors.

No, just kidding. But the government might actually ask BP to build boardwalks to access the beach or help with coastal restoration projects.

John Iliff is also with NOAA. He says the first step in the process is to measure loss, then figure out what restoration is needed to offset that loss, then get public input, and then:

John Iliff: With a final restoration plan, we present that to BP. If BP says no, we have to go into litigation and take it to the courts.

It's still very early in the process. And so the real action of restoring the Gulf's natural resources is still a whole lot of talk away.

I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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