BP drilling, but can fishers fish?November 22nd, 2011 | by Irit Tamir
A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that BP would once again begin drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. It has been little more than 18 months since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred and while most Americans have not felt the impact from that disaster, many in the Gulf region are still struggling to come back. Many fisher families took a big hit to their economic sustainability when habitats were destroyed by the oil spill, some of which have still not come back.
About six months after the oil spill, Joey Toupes, a crabber, and his wife, Tammy, told me and other folks at a panel discussion (including Patty Whitney from our partner Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing), that he wasn’t going out on his boat anymore because there were simply no more crabs.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, oystermen sold $50 million worth of oysters in 2009 but that dropped to $24 million in 2010. Byron Encalade, president of the Louisiana Oystermen Association told Huffington Post that poor and black fishermen were among those hit the hardest by the spill and they are still suffering as a result.
Louisiana’s coastline had been plagued by degradation well before the oil spill. The construction of levees along the Mississippi River, navigational channels, and oil pipelines running through precious habitats and natural wetlands have all caused the coastline to disappear at a rate of one football field roughly every 40 minutes. It also means that Louisiana experiences more drastic storm surge because wetlands help protect inland areas by reducing the effect of storm surge. As wetlands are destroyed by human-made intrusions such as pipelines and oil spills, coastal communities are at greater exposure to storm surge created by hurricane-force winds.
BP has to pay fines for every barrel of oil released in the spill. Those fines could equal as much $21 billion dollars and would go into the Oil Spill Trust Fund. But what happens to the money once it is paid into the trust fund? Well not much, unless Congress acts to send the money back to the Gulf region.
The RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act, sponsored by Senators Landrieu and Shelby, would direct 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines paid by BP to be used to rebuild the Gulf’s coast through economic and coastal restoration projects. Wetlands, home to some of America’s most diverse species, and responsible for protecting many living in coastal communities, could be replanted and restored.
In October, Representative Scalise introduced a similar companion bill in the House. And what makes this bill unique is that it is truly bipartisan in nature. Both Democrats and Republicans came together in the Gulf region to craft this bill because they understand that the survival of coastal communities is literally at stake if Louisiana’s coastline is not restored. While fisher families from Texas to Florida need this bill to pass, so too does the rest of America. Forty percent of America’s seafood comes from the Gulf region. It is home to 10 of the largest 14 ports in the country, moving billions of dollars in commerce annually. The RESTORE Act is not just a Gulf Coast bill; it is a bill that will keep America’s economy on the path forward rather than back.
House members need to hear that the RESTORE Act is critical to our economic recovery. Without Gulf Coast restoration, companies in the region like utility company Entergy and communities expect to see $350 billion in economic losses as a result of climate hazards like hurricanes, according to Jeff Williams, Entergy’s Climate Director. Call your House members and ask them to co-sponsor the RESTORE Act so Joey and his wife can keep crabbing the way BP can keep drilling.