April 20, 2011 marks one-year since the start of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Most members of the media will be marking the date as an anniversary of sorts, but perhaps calling this a memorial is more to the point. Residents who live and work along the Gulf Coast have lost a year of their lives, not to mention the actual lives, livelihoods and the way of life that has been lost. We will forever look on April 20th as a year that marked and changed our region.
A year later it’s evident to anyone watching that BP has been running a public image rehabilitation campaign, rather than a restoration effort. Between April 2010 and September 2010, during the height of the disaster, BP spent more than $93 million in advertising – three times more than they spent during the same period in the previous year. Contrast that figure with the $10 million BP is supposed to give the state of Florida to monitor the safety of our seafood, along with another $10 million to market that seafood. In Alabama $22 million was spent on tourism marketing versus $5 million for actual research to ensure safety. The focus is on telling people they’re making it right rather than actually making it right. Imagine what that $93 million could have done for our struggling local businesses and environmental response and recovery efforts.
After we mourn our losses, we must get back to work. We have to keep pushing BP to actually make things right. They must continue efforts to remove sunken oil found just offshore of our economic engine, our beaches; they must fund continuous monitoring of seafood for any impacts of the oil and dispersant; and they must support and fund the health care concerns so rampant across the Gulf. Additionally, they must accept responsibility and write the check for restoration and economic losses to make it right.
We have an opportunity to make change, but each of us must work together to ensure the Gulf is made whole again. There is currently no legislation that ensures that fines from polluters go back to the area affected. We must urge our legislators to show leadership in protecting the public, their lives and their livelihoods by passing legislation to guarantee the fines polluters pay for violating the law actually go where they are needed to “make it right.” That means using the money from fines for wetland restoration, shoreline clean-up, safety monitoring programs, help for fisheries and real solutions to restore the Gulf’s environment, economy and public health.
As of now, the vast majority of those fees will go to the general budget if we don’t act now to insist that at least 80% of the Clean Water Act fine money comes back to the coastal states for environmental restoration. Individuals, citizen groups, fishermen and Waterkeepers are all working together, trying to ensure that the money from Clean Water Act fines that BP pays come back to the Gulf coast to pay for restoration and “making it right”.
Finally we must insist that we include our local ecosystems in the making it right campaign. If we learn anything from this disaster it should be how our local and State economic viability is intimately correlated to the health of our local ecosystems.