It is hard to imagine that it's been six months since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Like many tragedies that we see on TV, it seemed to be what everyone was thinking about and talking about for a short while, and now it is mostly forgotten. For a moment, we were all fixated on the lives lost, livelihoods destroyed, and dark crude oil spreading out over the ocean. After a trip with an inter-faith group of religious leaders to survey the damage of the spill, I said that our country was ready for an "epiphany." This could be a moment, I thought, of spiritual and moral clarity that our lifestyles as consumers and our addiction to oil were not sustainable.
Unfortunately, the disaster came during a campaign year, and Beltway pollsters decided that environmental issues weren't worth talking about. The House of Representatives passed a bill to help mitigate and deal with many oil spill issues, but the Senate abdicated their leadership and has not done the same.
While political calculation has left the residents of the Gulf Coast and our long term energy future behind, moral consideration should not allow us to do the same. Sojourners is a member of afterthespill.com, a coalition of religious communities dedicated to helping restore the Gulf. The coalition is currently advocating for the Senate to pass legislation when they return in November that lives up to the following principles:
- Work directly with stakeholders in the region, particularly the most affected communities, to develop a response and long-term restoration strategy that meets the needs of the people, the creatures, and the environment that are suffering as a result of this spill.
- Hold responsible parties fully accountable for this calamity and its economic and environmental repercussions by ensuring that those responsible provide sufficient resources to respond to the short-and-long-term impacts of the spill on communities and ecosystems.
- Ensure that help reaches those in need. Without federal leadership, we fear that many who are suffering from the results of this spill, both directly and indirectly, will not receive the assistance they need and deserve. Increased resources for mental health care, food security, and other immediate human needs are necessary and the social safety net in the region must be strengthened to respond to such increased need.
- Commit to long-term recovery efforts, based on sound and independent science, which meet the needs of the affected communities and ecosystems. To meet this goal, agencies responsible for oil industry monitoring and oversight must be fully funded and fully staffed, and the affected communities must have effective mechanisms for input into long-term restoration plans.
- Take steps to prevent future disasters, including structural changes in the oil and gas permitting process; greater transparency and local participation in permitting decisions; increased monitoring and oversight; and increased liability for companies that violate rules or engage in risky behavior.
- Respond to yet-unknown needs and remain attentive to the Gulf Coast through the creation of a Regional Citizen's Advisory Council, with input from local leaders including faith-based and socially vulnerable communities.
Jesus taught a radical concept to his followers. He told them that neighbors were not just people with whom they shared a geographic proximity, cultural affiliation, or even a shared faith. A neighbor was anyone who was in need.
While much of the country has turned away, our neighbors in the Gulf Coast are still in need. They are paying a heavy price for the energy choices that we all have made. It is not enough for any of us to be sad, feel guilty, or say that we are sorry. We must repent. True repentance is seen not just in the words that we say but in the ways that we change our behavior and our priorities as a result. We need to be reminded of that essential task in our own lives and in our nation's future.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.