A Time For Reflection on Restoring the Gulf Coast
Yesterday was the one-year mark of the BP oil disaster. It has been a busy week. A week of reflection mixed with a renewed sense of urgency for all of us to create more sustainable communities. Our country can’t afford, financially, socially, environmentally or even emotionally, to suffer another disaster of this scale. One year later, we must learn the lessons of this disaster and we must move forward together to find the solutions we need to truly protect our communities from oil pollution.
The Gulf coast was still recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita when we were hit with another disaster last April. The Gulf coast is also known for its numerous chemical plants, refineries, and vast oil industry complexes. When communities speak about recovering and restoring our region, industry and political decision makers often mention that it's hard to know if our illnesses or the destruction seen to the environment and marine life is even associated with the BP oil disaster because of this decades long pollution we have all suffered. This passing of the blame is prepetuatng a sense of mistrust between residents and those in charge of restoration.
We must also use this time of recovery to build a foundation so that the Gulf coast will no longer be an industry dumping ground. This week I attended a number of memorial events and meetings in New Orleans. Over and over again I heard Gulf coast communities labled as a 'sacifrice zone' for the rest of the nation's energy demands. But we must not get stuck in what hasn't work for our communities. We must memorialize the BP oil disaster each year as a time to redefine how our communities behave, not only on the Gulf coast but nationwide.
Amazing community leaders have emerged in the wake of this tragedy to help us move forward. On Wednesday I sat in the audience of the Gulf Coast Leadership Summit, where I listened to Cherri Foytlin speak about her month long walk to Washington DC from her home in Southern Louisiana. She is the wife of a rig worker and a mother of six children. Over this past year she has become an outspoken and eloquent activist and true Gulf coast hero.
Yesterday she said two things that really stuck with me. First, she said that when she arrived in Washington she realized no one knows who is in charge of restoring the Gulf coast. Those she met in leadership positions passed that role to others and it was clear to her no one really wants that responsiblity. Eventually Cherri came to the conclusion that Gulf coast recovery is up to us. We, as citizens, must be the leadership we are looking for. She also challenged each of us to find our place in this fight. Find a piece of Gulf coast recovery that most motivates you and dig in, wherever you happen to live. Get the word out and work hard to find solutions.
The Waterkeeper Alliance is built on this sentiment. We envelope into our Waterkeeper family, those that are passionately protecting and restoring the health our community’s watersheds. ave Our Gulf is a coalition of Waterkeepers brought together in the wake of the BP Oil Disaster to lead the fight to restore and protect local watersheds, coastal communities and the Gulf of Mexico. We hold polluters and decision makers accountable and promote the sustainability of our communities. Our vision is for all communities to have waterways that are swimmable, drinkable and fishable.
You can follow our work helping to restore the Gulf coast at http://saveourgulf.org/updates
Renee Blanchard, Save Our Gulf Coordinator