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About the Natural Resource Trustee Program

Provides information on the Natural Resource Trustee Program, including its mission, the legal authority for this program, a list of the trustee agencies, our agency's role, and NRTP accomplishments.

 

NRTP Program Mission

The TCEQ Natural Resource Trustee Program's mission is to fulfill the TCEQ's natural resource trustee role of evaluating injury to natural resources resulting from discharges of oil or 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 in 1991. The Act required that natural resource damage assessment rules be jointly developed between the three state trustee agencies (the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, predecessor agency to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas General Land Office and 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, including data sharing. 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 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 simultaneous 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 discharges (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.

Legal Authority

The NRTP works cooperatively with other participating state and federal agencies and responsible parties to restore lost natural resources and their services on behalf of the public. Natural resources are defined CERCLA (42 U.S.C. §101(16)Exit the TCEQ Exit the TCEQ)and the Federal Oil Pollution Act (OPA; 33 U.S.C. §1001(20)Exit the TCEQ Exit the TCEQ ) 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:

Natural Resource Trustees

The U.S. president and each state governor are required by CERCLA and OPA to designate federal and state officials who will act on behalf of the public as trustees for natural resources. In Texas, a 1995 federal/state memorandum of agreement between the U.S. Department of Interior, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the three State of Texas trustee agencies outlines procedures for a cooperative working alliance for the determination of natural resource injuries and subsequent restoration activities.

The Texas trustees serve 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 Program rules has been adopted by rule.

TCEQ Staff Role in NRTP

The TCEQ has designated its NRTP staff to serve as trustees for Texas natural resources by acting on behalf of the public to restore natural resources that have been injured, lost, or destroyed as a result of releases of oil or hazardous substances. The NRTP staff and the other trustees may take the following action(s):

  • Conduct preliminary surveys of the affected site
  • Coordinate planning and investigation with responsible persons and site managers
  • Perform injury assessments to evaluate the loss of ecological services provided by natural resources (e.g., water purification, flood control, erosion control, food supply, and shelter or reproductive habitat) and reductions in public use services (e.g., public or industrial water supplies, swimming, fishing, hunting, and boating)
  • Work cooperatively with the other trustees and/or responsible parties to develop and implement plans for restoration, rehabilitation, replacement, or acquisition of equivalent natural resources

NRTP Restoration Accomplishments

Since the program’s inception, the TCEQ NRTP has been instrumental in the use of Natural Resource Damage Assessment settlement funds on behalf of the public for the construction, enhancement, and/or preservation in perpetuity of estuarine and freshwater wetlands, riparian and bottomland forests, oyster reefs, prairie, beach and dunes, and recreational amendments and facilities.

Notable restoration projects include:

  • 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 project in Baytown;
  • a 35-acre fresh and saltwater marsh project in Pasadena along the Houston Ship Channel;
  • rebuilding of the lost estuarine marsh in the San Jacinto Monument State Park;
  • 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 Wildlife 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 Meadow 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;
  • restoration of scarce freshwater wetlands in urban bayous of Harris County; and
  • development of master plan and construction of pavilions and shade structures to enhance visitor experience at Mustang Island State Park.

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, as well as the success of the cooperative approach, has made the Texas program a prototype for other states seeking to implement natural resource trustee programs.

TCEQ NRTP Contact Information

For more information on natural resource trustee activity in Texas, contact the TCEQ NRTP at nrtp@tceq.texas.gov.