One week after the federal budget showdown cut funding for programs aimed at protecting our nation’s lands and waters, we mark today the one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 men and spilled more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
It puts particular significance into this year’s Earth Day.
The full impact of last year’s spill is still being analyzed. But the dead birds and sea turtles washed ashore — as well as the lost jobs and income of fishermen, shrimpers and others whose livelihoods depend on healthy Gulf waters — are among the most obvious outcomes.
It is estimated that BP will pay between $5 billion and $21 billion in penalties for the spill. But under current law, most of the money will go into the general Treasury — to be used for anything — potentially leaving nothing left for the Gulf.
That will be a travesty.
The Gulf of Mexico clearly demonstrates how the health of the environment is inextricably linked to the health of the economy and communities.
The Gulf’s waters produce more than 85 percent of the nation’s shrimp and 60 percent of its oysters. Overall, the Gulf of Mexico produces more than 1 billion pounds of annual seafood production with a dockside value of more than $600 million. Tourism and recreation, much of which is linked directly to healthy Gulf beaches and waters, provide more than 600,000 jobs and $9 billion in wages annually.
Last week, bipartisan legislation was introduced by Louisiana Sens. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, and David Vitter, a Republican, which would ensure the fines from the oil spill would be used to bring the Gulf back to health and productivity.
Americans overwhelmingly agree that restoring the Gulf of Mexico is a national priority.
A new poll conducted for The Nature Conservancy by Harris Interactive shows that 87 percent of American adults believe the BP fines should be used to restore the Gulf’s lands and waters. In addition, 79 percent had no idea that there was even a chance that the fines would be used for anything other than improving the Gulf.
The Gulf of Mexico is arguably the nation’s greatest natural resource — providing jobs, income, food, recreation and national pride to millions of Americans.
It is a national priority to invest in keeping the Gulf’s waters, shorelines and other natural systems healthy and productive. The Gulf of Mexico is too important to the nation’s well-being for our political leaders not to take the action needed to protect it.
(Image: A Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), covered in oil from the 2010 BP Gulf Oil spill. Image credit: © Bridget Besaw)