An alliance of gulf state governments will be in charge of doling out the biggest pot of money for scientific research on impacts of BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the company announced late yesterday. The news comes more than 4 months after BP first announced a plan to fund science in the gulf to the tune of $500 million over 10 years in what it termed the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI).
Early on, BP distributed a total of $30 million on to five consortia of gulf universities, and later gave an additional $10 million to National Institutes of Health to fund studies on human health effects. But in mid-June, the White House put the brakes on distributing the rest of the money by directing BP to "work with governors, state and local environmental health authoritiesto design the long-term monitoring program to assure the environmentaland public health of the Gulf Region." Months of silence from both BP and state governments followed, kindling frustration among academics.
This announcement breaks that silence and puts the funds squarely in the hands of state governments via the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, an ecological and economic partnership among Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, created in 2004.
It also begins to address lingering questions about just how the funds would be doled out, but the details are still fuzzy.BP had originally picked a group of scientists to choose winning proposals based on peer review. That's still the plan, according to the new announcement, although now "BP and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance will appoint an equal number of research scientists to the board."
Some academics speculated that the president's directive on GRI reflected governors' worries that universities outside the gulf region would win too much of the funding. BPs press release doesn't completely leave out institutions outside the region, but this statement seems to indicate that they'll only be eligible for funds if they work in collaboration with gulf-based institutions:
The independent scientific research will be conducted at academic institutions primarily in the US Gulf Coast states. However, appropriate partnerships with institutions based outside the US Gulf region will be welcome.
Also in the announcement: the money can't be used to purchase ships or build laboratories, and, as BP had said from the start, the research won't require any approval from BP before publication.