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Where is the Role of Philanthropy in the RESTORE Act?

June 12, 2013

The RESTORE Act presents an historic opportunity to invest in the revitalization of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem on an unprecedented scale. The Act also can provide support for spurring economic recovery for a region hit hard by the BP Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010. Though much remains uncertain about how the Act will be funded and put to use, enough is clear to take stock of what the Act can do, what it will not do, and how affected communities and stakeholders might best engage the RESTORE Act process to ensure it fulfills its promise of a revitalized Gulf of Mexico.Given the unprecedented nature of the RESTORE Act and the hopes and expectations that many have for the Act, it is important to keep in mind what the Act will not and cannot be expected to do. Simply put, the Act does not address, much less solve, the deep ecologic challenges facing the Gulf of Mexico and its associated coastal ecosystems. Nor does it address the longstanding challenges to the sustainability and resilience of the communities of the region, many of which are tied to past and projected environmental trends in the coast and the Gulf. The Act can certainly improve conditions and create greater possibilities for the future, but it will take much more than RESTORE Act dollars to create the intellectual, civic, and financial capacity to achieve the goal of a Gulf and coast that are ecologically, culturally, and economically vibrant and sustainable. Indeed, it is far more certain that the challenges of participating in the RESTORE Act process -- which will stretch on for some years -- and ensuring that the Act in fact lives up to its promise will put new demands on communities and stakeholders that the Act does not meet in any way. Those demands and the broader demands of creating sustainable communities and environments will likely have to be met by the sort of civic, academic, and philanthropic investment that helped make the RESTORE Act a plausible public investment.