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April 27, 2011

The On-Going BP Disaster Recovery in the Gulf

Faith leaders
Guest post from Sierra Club Board President Robin Mann

After returning from the Gulf Coast to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the BP disaster, it's taken a few days to process everything.

What I do know from visiting the Gulf recently is that the disaster continues to unfold in many ways.

For the environment - we're still seeing tar balls wash ashore. One of our staffers from the region even brought a jar of them to Washington, DC, recently to give to BP. While in Louisiana last week, I met with Sierra Club staffers who live in the region and described marshlands where the oiling has weakened the grasses' resilience. There is concern that the spill may speed up the rate of coastal erosion.

The effects linger for Gulf marine species, as we see dolphins and sea turtles dying and washing ashore. I spoke with a local fisherman who mentioned that small spry are absent in the estuarine waters he frequents.

Despite these and many lingering environmental effects, only $50 million of the $500 million BP set aside for scientific research on ecosystem effects has been spent. The rest is awaiting finalization of protocol. Meanwhile the effects on the Gulf go undetected at the critical spring nesting and spawning time.

Father Vien The region's communities are still on their knees, with livelihoods destroyed: it's an economic disaster in communities dependent on Gulf fisheries; the pace and burdensomeness of the claims process is squeezing people, and is impenetrable to many, especially the Vietnamese fishermen whose desperation is aggravated by the language barrier. People are losing their homes - Father Vien Nguyen (pictured at the left) spoke of the challenges in the Vietnamese community in New Orleans. In Biloxi, Mississippi, 100 Vietnamese fisherman gathered with others to mark the anniversary and call on BP to pay the full costs of the damage.

We are seeing people experience health problems from exposure to oil and dispersants. One cameraman I spoke with has a friend who was out of work and joined a clean-up crew and is now experiencing vision problems and other debilitating symptoms from acute exposure. We are also seeing serious psychological trauma - and it is all made worse by the lack of adequate health care. 

Gulf Coast residents are feeling anger and resentment for many reasons, including Congress' slow move toward any legislation to target Clean Water Act penalty funds towards the Gulf region; BP's $20 billion recovery fund being distributed very slowly; the national dialogue over gas prices focusing on more oil drilling; and Big Oil continuing to rake in billions of dollars despite having ruined thousands of families' livelihoods and despoiled the region and our planet.

Robin Mann The Sierra Club will continue to fight for the restoration and protection of the Gulf. We are part of a coalition of public health, environmental and other civic organizations that have come together to advocate a common agenda for Gulf recovery.

The coalition effort demonstrates cooperation and is in such stark contrast to politicians pursuing their own agendas and failing to act together to speed recovery dollars to the region.  

We also need to rebuild the public trust in the region, especially in light of how some Hurricane Katrina funds were misallocated, ensuring full accountability and transparency by appointing public advisory committees to all official Gulf recovery and oil industry oversight commissions.

We can restore the Gulf and protect it from future harm - but to ensure that we never again experience another BP oil disaster, we must move Beyond Oil.

All photos by Jeffrey Dubinsky - you can see more in the Flickr gallery.


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