Two Years After the Spill: Much Accomplished, Much to Do
This post originally appeared on After The Spill: Religious Communities Restoring the Gulf.
April 20, 2010, began as an ordinary day for residents of the Gulf Coast. Fishermen woke up early to head out for the daily catch, and news outlets reported on the perils of the U.S. economy. Outside, the skies were overcast with temperatures in the high 60s, standard conditions before summer’s suffocating humidity settled in. But by the end of the day that began as so ordinary, the lives of Gulf residents would be changed forever.
An explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that day killed 11 workers and injured dozens more, and the spill caused approximately 5 million gallons of crude oil to gush into precious underwater ecosystems and vital fishing areas by the time the leak was stopped in July. The more we learned about the disaster, the more we mourned for the human, environmental, economic, and cultural devastation the region would experience. But as people of faith, called to care both for God’s creation and for our brethren in need, we were inspired to respond immediately to the disaster.
Two years after the spill, the faith community has responded by bearing witness to the devastation in the region, organizing relief efforts, holding community-wide events such as movie nights, observing environmental-themed holidays, and demanding that our Members of Congress respond to the critical needs of Gulf Coast restoration. Building on last summer’s nationwide call-in day in support of the RESTORE Act and a Capitol Hill briefing on the on-going health impacts of the spill, we must continue to refocus attention on providing help to those working to rebuild.
Two years after the spill, there is still much to be done, and we refuse to let the Gulf disappear from public attention. In the recent transportation bill negotiations, Congress failed to pass the RESTORE Act, critical legislation designed to ensure that the Clean Water Act penalties collected from BP as a result of the spill are invested in Gulf restoration. In addition, there has been no serious proposal for the creation of a Citizens Advisory Council, an independent body of citizen stakeholders and community leaders tasked with advising the fossil fuel industry, using local knowledge to make drilling safer and prevent future disasters. Two effective Councils were created in Alaska after Exxon-Valdez, and the Gulf needs these bodies to ensure that local stakeholders have a seat at the table as decisions about the fossil-fuel future (and their future) are made. As a matter of justice and empowerment for the people of the Gulf, this critical oversight mechanism must be included in Gulf restoration policy.
We must call upon Congress to address the tragedy and take steps to prevent future disasters, not just for the well-being of citizens of the Gulf but also to make our country more environmentally and economically sustainable. The Obama Administration has launched a comprehensive Gulf Coast restoration plan, but it will take pressure from advocates to realize this vision as a sustainable future. Now is the time to urge our elected officials to make Gulf restoration a priority. For more information, visit our After the Spill Advocacy Resources page.
Advocating for comprehensive and robustly funded restoration legislative is just one of the many ways you can continue to help us pursue environmental and economic justice. As we close out AfterTheSpill.com, we know there is still much more to be done. We hope you’ll stay informed on these efforts and continue to engage with our partner organizations. Below are just a few ways to get involved today.
- Support local organizations. Since the oil spill, many faith groups have opened relief funds, partnering with local groups to ensure timely and effective delivery of resources. The Union for Reform Judaism has partnered with Bend the Arc (formerly Jewish Funds for Justice) to support grassroots organizations that are assisting those who are out of work, retraining people for new jobs, and restoring the coast. To donate to Gulf Coast recovery efforts, visit Bend the Arc’s “8th Degree: Micro-loans in Louisiana” page.
- Partner with a local family or house of worship. As communities focus on long-term recovery and restoration, partnership with people of faith outside the Gulf is critical in meeting human needs, providing guidance and pastoral care, and maintaining interfaith ties across North America. Connect directly with a faith community in the Gulf to help build a national constituency committed to long-term restoration. For more information, contact Mitch Hescox of the Evangelical Environmental Network.
- Support Louisiana garden projects. Communities across Louisiana that rely on fishing for economic and food security have been devastated by the oil spill. Yet these resilient communities are bouncing back in innovative ways, such as creating sustainable gardens. Communities in the lower bayou regions are constructing experimental gardens that provide much-needed food security and prevent land loss across the Louisiana wetlands. Four garden baskets can yield enough produce for a typical family, and gardens provide storm-surge protection and a rooting system for trees to stabilize the marshes. Each garden unit costs approximately $1,500, and resources are still needed to scale up this innovative project. For more information, contact Leslie Woods with the Presbyterian Church (USA).