Politics of Poverty

“Because My Pa Pa Works There”

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Let’s leave it to our elected officials at the federal and state level to determine how fines get spent for restoring the Gulf.

As Mardi Gras wraps up in New Orleans, it is a pivotal moment for the Gulf region. On February 27th, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill trial is set to begin and may be the largest litigation in environmental history. The trial could result in BP having to pay billions of dollars in fines and damages for their negligence in the oil spill that left thousands without livelihoods that were dependent on the Gulf ecosystems. But none of that money will go to the Gulf region unless Congress passes legislation to do so. There is good news—exciting movement is happening on the RESTORE Act, introduced by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and co-sponsored by several Senators in the Gulf delegation. RESTORE would send 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines that BP will have to pay back to the region. Without legislation, the fines remain in an Oil Spill Trust Fund.

The RESTORE Act would fund projects that restore the coast which are vital to the communities along the coastline that rely heavily on their environment for fishing, tourism, and other industries. I’ve written about RESTORE before here and here. April 20th will mark the two year anniversary of the BP oil spill, and nothing would honor that date more than the passage of the RESTORE Act. Our partner, the Zion Travelers Cooperative Center (ZTCC) has long recognized that working on coastal restoration is as much an environmental issue as it is a social justice one. This video demonstrates the importance of coastal restoration to socially vulnerable communities living on the coast and Reverend Edwards, ZTCC Executive Director, has been organizing those communities for years in an effort to ensure their survival.

Another partner of Oxfam’s, Bayou Grace, has been working with volunteers from across the country to educate them about what it means to restore coastal Louisiana. After all, as a New York Times editorial pointed out, “twenty percent of the seafood caught in the United States in 2009 came from the gulf. (That dropped to 16 percent in 2010, when vast areas of the gulf were closed.)” The Gulf region and the industries there like seafood, tourism, navigation, and oil and gas depend on the region’s resources and environment. They are vital not only to the region but to America’s economy as well. But the picture below says it better than any statistic and is part of Bayou Grace’s “Why Save Coastal Louisiana Photo Project.”

Photo by Bayou Grace
Photo by Bayou Grace

Time is of the essence because if BP settles the litigation before Congress acts, the fines could get caught up in the settlement. That means that all the good work that was put into ensuring that coastal restoration projects protect and employ those living in socially vulnerable communities like Plaquemines Parish could be negotiated away. The RESTORE Act represents a bi-partisan effort among the five Gulf States coming together in the interest of the region and making real sacrifices to revitalize the region economically and environmentally. The BP trial will determine how much money BP has to pay, but let’s leave it to our elected officials at the federal and state level to determine how those fines get spent for restoring the Gulf.

While Congress is on recess this week, there is word from leadership offices in the Senate that they may let the RESTORE Act come to a vote as early as next week in the form of an amendment to the transportation bill. Make sure Congress does the right thing and put a call into Senator Reid (D-NV) and Senator McConnell (R-KY) and tell them to let the RESTORE Act come to a vote.

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