What's Next for the Gulf?
This past Tuesday, five months and 5 million barrels of oil after the BP spill disaster began to devastate the eco- and economic systems of the Gulf Coast, the Obama administration launched the next phase of their response, releasing "America's Gulf Coast: A Long Term Recovery Plan After The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill." It's a comprehensive and ambitious restoration plan, but as national attention shifts away from the Gulf following the permanent killing of the BP well, it will take immense pressure from activists and advocates to ensure that this vision of a sustainable future for the Gulf is realized.
And we as people of faith must continue to call for serious engagement and investment, not just for the citizens of the Gulf, but to make our country more environmentally and economically sustainable, and prevent future disasters that cost billions of dollars and far too many lives. The Gulf Coast -- which is home to more than 20 million people and produces more than 30 percent of our domestic energy supply (and even more of our seafood) -- is a national resource that warrants national investment, now more than ever.
The new restoration plan, drafted by Navy Secretary and former Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus, calls for this type of investment, urging Congress to mandate that penalties levied from the spill go predominantly to Gulf States and communities for their restoration efforts. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson -- herself a New Orleans native -- will lead a temporary Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force established by executive order, and a council focused on holistic Gulf restoration will be formed to disburse funds and guide long-term environmental and economic recovery.
Now is the time to call for such a plan, backed by strong leaders and economic resources. The oil gusher has been capped and the majority of the oil has been cleaned up (though scientists are seriously contesting the administration's contention that more than 75 percent of the oil is gone), but community and clergy leaders repeated one clear message throughout the town hall meetings that shaped the Mabus report: This crisis is not over, and serious investment in the Gulf is needed now.
Oil waste continues traveling across the region -- much of it to non-hazardous landfills, Gulf Coast residents continue to struggle to navigate the BP and government claims processes, and industries remain crippled by the effects of the spill. Fishermen are out of work, wetlands continue to recede (land loss in the Gulf occurs at a rate of one football field every 37 minutes), and families struggle through what many consider the most emotionally and psychologically trying disaster to hit the Gulf. We're still trying to untangle the real cause of the spill itself even as we figure out what is next for the Gulf. We need short-term relief and long-term restoration, and human and financial resources for both.
Now is the time to urge the administration to put their plan into action and call on Congress to invest in the Gulf for our economy, our security, and our future. There is tremendous opportunity for restoration, but it will take sustained attention and a serious investment. The Restoration Plan is an important start, but now it is time to see whether the Obama Administration will fulfill their commitment to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the communities of the Gulf, forming a true national partnership to restore and rebuild after the spill.
Rachel Cohen is the sustainability program coordinator at the Religious Action Center. Learn more about how people of faith are engaging in oil spill response and Gulf Coast restoration efforts, why sustained attention is warranted and necessary, and what you can do to stay informed and involved on After the Spill.