About the Natural Resource Trustee Program
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NRTP Program Mission
The Natural Resource Trustee Program's mission is to fulfill the TCEQ's natural resource trustee role of evaluating injury to natural resources as a result of discharges of oil or releases of hazardous substances and to seek restoration of the injured resources when appropriate.
A clear direction on how natural resources damage assessment should be practiced in Texas was provided by the Texas Legislature when it passed the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act. The 1991 act required that natural resource damage assessment rules be jointly developed between the three state trustee agencies (Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, Texas General Land Office and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department), industry representatives and the public. The act also required that responsible parties be invited to fully participate in all phases of natural resource damage assessment, and that data be shared fully between the parties. The act further specified that all claims go through a mediation process prior to litigation. This approach to natural resource damage assessment has since been applied with great success to both oil spills and Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) sites in Texas.
The key to successful natural resource damage assessment in Texas revolves around coordination and cooperation among the trustees, responsible parties and response agencies, and a commitment to cooperative restoration-based assessments. The state and federal trustees in Texas work closely with responsible parties and response agencies to implement habitat restoration projects rather than seeking monetary damages in litigation. To the maximum extent possible, natural resource damage assessment data gathering is incorporated into remedial investigations, and restoration is integrated into - or performed concurrently with - response actions. Innovative assessment techniques (such as habitat equivalency analysis, which utilizes an ecological currency rather than money) are used to develop cost-effective restoration alternatives.
The goal is to make the environment and public whole for injuries to natural resources and natural resource services resulting from an incident involving a discharge or substantial threat of a discharge of oil or hazardous substances. This goal is achieved through returning injured natural resources and services to baseline and compensating for interim losses of such natural resources and services through the restoration, rehabilitation, replacement or acquisition of equivalent natural resources and/or services.
The NRTP works cooperatively with other participating state and federal agencies and responsible persons to restore lost natural resources and their services on behalf of the public. Natural resources are defined in the Comprehensive Environmental Response and Liability Act (CERCLA) 42 U.S.C. §101(16) and the Federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990 33 U.S.C. §1001(20) as land, fish, wildlife, biota, air, water, groundwater, drinking water supplies, and other resources belonging to, managed by, held in trust by, appertaining to, or otherwise controlled by the United States, any state or local government or Indian tribe.
The NRTP's authority to seek restoration of natural resources injured by releases of oil or hazardous substances is derived from the following statutes and regulations:
- Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act of 1991
- 15 CFR §990.20
- Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) 42 U.S.C. §9622
- National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan 40 CFR §300.600-§300.615
- Federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990 33 U.S.C. §2701
- Federal Water Pollution and Control Act 33 U.S.C. §1321
- Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act 42 U.S.C. §9604
- 43 CFR §11.10-11.93
- Texas Administrative Code: Title 31 Part 1 Chapter 20
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA)and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 require the U.S. president and each state governor to designate federal and state officials who will act on behalf of the public as trustees for natural resources. In Texas, a federal/state memorandum of agreement (executed in 1995) has been developed between two of the five federal agencies, the U.S. Department of Interior (DoI) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the three State of Texas trustee agencies, which outlines procedures for a cooperative working alliance for the determination of natural resource injuries and subsequent restoration activities.
The Texas trustees recognize a role as advisors to responsible parties and response agencies on the natural resource damage assessment liability associated with different remedial strategies at CERCLA sites. This cooperative relationship allows the responsible party to evaluate the most cost-effective remedial alternative and provides a measure of certainty on total CERCLA liability. A memorandum of understanding between the trustee agencies regarding coordination under the Texas Risk Reduction rules has been adopted by rule. The text of the memorandum of understanding may be viewed or downloaded from this link to the Texas Secretary of State web site.
Links to the following web sites are provided as a courtesy to give a more complete picture of natural resource trustee activity in Texas.
- US Department of Interior
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- US Department of Defense
- US Department of Agriculture
- US Department of Energy
- Texas General Land Office
- Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
For more information on natural resource trustee activity in Texas, contact Richard Seiler at 512/239-2523, or call toll free 1-800-633-9363. For email inquiries please click on Comments here, or at the end of this page, and use the pre-addressed form.
The TCEQ has designated its NRTP staff to serve as trustee for natural resources of Texas by acting on behalf of the public to restore natural resources that have been injured, lost, or destroyed as a result of discharges of oil or releases of hazardous substances. The NRTP staff and the other trustees may take the following action:
- Conduct preliminary surveys of the affected site
- Coordinate planning and investigation with responsible persons and site managers
The Texas NRTP has adopted a cooperative restoration-based approach, where the trustees work together with the responsible party to determine how to best restore or replace lost resources.
- Perform injury assessments
The injury assessment evaluates the loss of ecological services provided by natural resources, such as water purification, flood control, erosion control, food supply, and shelter or reproductive habitat. The assessment also looks at reductions in public use services, which include public or industrial water supplies, swimming, fishing, hunting, and boating to determine the extent of the loss of these services over a period of time.
- Work cooperatively to develop and implement plans for restoration, rehabilitation, replacement, or acquisition of equivalent natural resources
Restoration or replacement can be accomplished by directly restoring the injured resource or by providing in-kind compensation, where the responsible party agrees to perform a restoration project either on-site or at another location in the vicinity, such as creating a wetland or preserving sensitive habitat at risk of development or degradation. Another option may be for the responsible party to pay financial compensation, where the funds are then applied by the natural resource trustees specifically to the restoration of the resource.
The Texas program has spearheaded the use of a habitat equivalency model which matches the natural resource injury to an appropriate level of habitat restoration. The use of this model and other innovative techniques and the success of the cooperative approach has made the Texas program a prototype for other states seeking to implement natural resource trustee programs.
Since the program's inception, natural resource restoration projects valued at more than $32 million have been implemented or are planned on behalf of the public as a result of NRDA settlements for the restoration of injured natural resources.
The program has increased the scope and value of its restoration projects through partnering to obtain matching or in-kind funding worth approximately $3.24 million.
The NRTP program has completed 41 natural resource damage assessment settlements and has developed an additional 4 agreements in principal pending final settlement. The program has initiated or completed construction on 55 separate restoration projects.
The Trustees in Texas currently have about $15.8 million in funding available to implement additional wetlands, bird habitat, and beach use projects.
The NRTP is currently involved in 43 natural resource damage assessment cases (involving both oil spills and releases of hazardous substances) in varying stages of assessment and restoration.
Some notable restoration projects completed or underway include:
- the acquisition and preservation of Shamrock Island, a sensitive 110 acre bird rookery island in Corpus Christi Bay;
- construction of the Baytown Nature Center, a 60 acre nature park and wetlands construction project in Baytown;
- a 35 acre fresh and saltwater marsh project in Pasadena along the Houston Ship Channel;
- the rebuilding of the lost estuarine marsh in the San Jacinto Monument State Park;
- the rebuilding of the lost estuarine marsh in the Galveston Island State Park;
- restoration of Swan Lake in lower Galveston Bay;
- acquisition of valuable bottom land hardwoods forests and their preservation through placement into the Big Thicket National Preserve;
- extensive restoration of subsided wetlands in the Nelda Stark Unit of the Lower Neches River Wildlfe Management Area;
- construction of a water control structure to protect and restore marshes in the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge;
- addition of bottomlands hardwoods forests to the Sheldon Reservoir State Park;
- restoration of native Prairie in the Maddin Prairie Preserve and Clymer Meadows Prairie Preserve;
- restoration and protection of riparian habitats along the Colorado River near Colorado City;
- construction of 11 acres of oyster reefs in Lavaca Bay;
- preservation of 729 acres of wetlands, coastal prairie and shrublands through transfer to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, and construction of 70 acres of intertidal salt marsh within and adjacent to the Refuge;
- construction of 3 fishing piers and enhancement of 3 boat ramps to increase recreational fishing opportunities in Lavaca Bay;
- construction of 85 acres of estuarine marsh and 30 acres of wet prairie in the Old River South Unit of the Lower Neches Wildlife Management Area;
- construction of water control structures to enhance nearly 1600 acres of coastal wet prairie in the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area, near Port Arthur, and
- restoration of scarce freshwater wetlands in urban bayous of Harris County.
- development of master plan and construction of pavilions and shade structures to enhance visitor experience at Mustang Island State Park.
Completed and planned projects have resulted in the following accomplishments listed by habitat type:
- 735 acres constructed
- 2165 acres enhanced
- 322 acres acquired and protected in perpetuity
- 197 acres constructed
- 1505 acres enhanced
- 908 acres acquired and protected in perpetuity
Riparian and Bottomland Forests:
- 55 acres constructed
- 1740 acres protected in perpetuity
- 11 acres constructed
- 415 acres restored
- 277 acres acquired and protected in perpetuity
Recreational/Human Use Projects :
- 3 boat ramps
- 3 fishing piers
- beach pavilions and shade structures
- $1.17 million for future projects