Last Friday, the Equity and Inclusion Campaign and Oxfam America hosted a briefing with members of Congress, the administration, and invited some faith activists to attend as well. Unlike recent panels of oil company executives, this panel consisted of speakers from faith-based and nonprofit organizations who live and work in the Gulf Coast area. They spoke to the economic, social, and ecological challenges that the oil spill presents for the most vulnerable communities in the Gulf Coast region.
I listened as each speaker told story after story of families whose livelihoods were destroyed: of tribal communities along the coast who lost their main food supply, of Vietnamese communities who have little access to recovery benefits and work opportunities because of the lack of translators, of the unknown long-term environmental impact, and of the public health concerns to these communities as a result of their exposure to tainted water and food.
The stories were heartbreaking, but what gripped me the most was the vast array of problems this disaster caused. As I listened, I was trying to get a feel for what the top one or two concerns are so that I could know how best to respond. It became all too apparent that there was no way to whittle down the devastating impact of the spill to one or two concerns; there are dozens and each one is just as pressing as the next. To be honest, the briefing left me overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster and the immediacy of the need.
Despite the wide range of concerns expressed, one overarching theme that came out of the panelists' concerns was the need for the government to provide more oversight in the recovery process. So far BP has carried the bulk of the blame and the responsibility for this crisis. BP is not providing accurate information on the amount of oil released into the waters; they are not forthcoming with the type of toxic dispersants being used to "clean up" the oil and what impact they will have on the ecosystem; they are not putting many fishermen to work cleaning up the spill, and the ones they are putting to work are not being adequately trained; they are dragging their feet on the claims process and providing little information on when and how the fishermen who have lost their livelihood because of the "no fishing zones" will see any type of compensation for their loss.
The government must get involved and care for needs of the Gulf Coast communities whose very lives are in hands of BP. By no means is BP the only bad actor, but the reality is right now they are getting to control how the clean up and recovery process is working. BP is not in a position to be an unbiased party and they need to be held accountable for how their clean up and recovery process is impacting these communities and impacting the sustainability of our ecosystem. Government oversight to this process and our ability to hold our legislators accountable for their response to this crisis is vital to making this a humane process that honors the gift of God's creation entrusted to us. I urge you to be a voice for those in Gulf Coast region by keeping the needs of these vulnerable communities on the minds of your legislators and pushing them to get more involved in oversight of relief efforts.
Allie Bullard is a policy and outreach fellow for Sojourners. She is graduate of Duke Divinity School (M.T.S.) and a rising third year at the University of South Carolina School of Law.