Collaboration is defined in some dictionaries as “working with the enemy” which can be the position both the responsible parties (RPs) and natural resource trustees (trustees) take when conducting “cooperative” natural resource damage assessments (NRDAs). In many incidents, collaboration on the collection of time-critical or ephemeral environmental data is delayed or the opportunity is lost while the RP and trustees negotiate the details of the scope and procedures of the data collection activities as well as future analyses/interpretation of the data collected. Consequently, in the absence of pre-spill planning as well as the commitment to basic tenets of cooperative work, the ephemeral data critical to determining the environmental effects of the oil and, subsequently, to conducting a successful damage assessment, can be lost.
In order to support successful outcomes of cooperative NRDAs, the West Coast Joint Assessment Team (JAT) developed a document titled Recommendations for Conducting Cooperative Natural Resource Damage Assessments. The intent of the JAT document is to promote cooperative NRDAs and facilitate the development of an ephemeral data collection (EDC) plan to ensure the opportunity for collecting time-critical information is not lost. Specifically, the document outlines the cooperative assessment process including regulatory guidance and considerations for conducting a cooperative assessment. It also includes recommendations for organizing an EDC team, collection of source oil, water, sediment, and biota samples, analysis of those samples, and establishing data quality objectives. Additionally, an example of a trustee funding commitment letter is provided to expedite the initiation of the cooperative process and avoid prolonged legal negotiations.
The JAT is an ad-hoc volunteer group of west coast-based oil company, federal and state trustee, and NGO representatives that was formed to share information and experiences related to NRDA and to discuss how best to improve the process for cooperative assessments. After several years of meetings, discussions, and presentations, the JAT put pen to paper and developed, in a collaborative and consensus based effort, recommendations for use by its members and others to facilitate cooperative NRDAs. This paper describes pertinent features of the JAT cooperative assessment recommendations document, the document development process as well as a brief background of the JAT.