Los Angeles Times, “Planned Distribution of BP Research Funds Worries Some Scientists”

From the good folks at NRDC.
Matt
September 24, 2010

By Neela Banerjee

The oil giant nears an agreement to dispense $500 million through an alliance overseen by gulf state governors. Critics fear expertise elsewhere will be overlooked.

Reporting from Washington — With its well finally shut down, BP is close to agreement on funneling a promised $500 million in research funds through an organization overseen by Gulf Coast governors, not the nation’s scientific community.

The pending decision has stirred concern among some scientists who fear most of the money will be doled out to institutions in the governors’ home states — in effect making the distribution of research grants more like pork-barrel projects, rather than pure scientific pursuits.

Critics worry the expertise of distinguished oceanographic organizations such as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California could be excluded from the complex task of determining the full effects of the massive spill.

In late May, BP announced that it planned to give $500 million over 10 years for independent scientists to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on coastal areas and the ocean. The company said at the time that grants would be controlled by an independent advisory board of scientists it would appoint.

The grant-making process came to a halt a month later when the White House asked BP to work with the gulf governors to design the environmental research initiative.

After three months of negotiations, BP and the governors, through the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, are expected to announce in the coming days the creation of the Gulf of Mexico Restoration Initiative.

It would have an expanded advisory board of 20, with half the members appointed by the governors, according to people involved in the talks. BP and the alliance are also expected to sign a memorandum of understanding that scientific institutions in the five gulf states would get preference, said Bill Walker, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and the state’s representative to the alliance.

“The research will be carried out primarily by Gulf of Mexico academic institutions but expertise from outside the region could participate, if necessary,” Walker said. “I imagine there will be some gaps in expertise and that folks in the gulf academic institutions will reach out to their counterparts wherever to fill those expertise gaps.”

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