It’s hard to believe that this month marks two years since the Deepwater Horizon unleashed the largest oil spill in our nation’s history. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months as I watched the horrific footage of the oil billowing from the ocean floor. On some nights the acrid smell that clotted the air in New Orleans was so bad I was afraid to take my son – then 7 months old – outside.
It has been a difficult two years of recovery, and in some ways, we’re only just beginning. The Conservancy has been part of the Gulf community for nearly 40 years, and we’ve spent the last two working with many partners to focus on what it will take to restore the Gulf and its people – not just from the effects of the oil spill, but from all the decades of degradation that have gone before.
The RESTORE Act is an important part of that recovery. It directs 80 percent of the Clean Water Act civil penalties that could be levied on responsible parties in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill back to the region for long-term restoration and economic development. These civil penalties will be a one-time payment by responsible parties and are not paid for by taxpayers. Without RESTORE, these fines could be directed away from Gulf restoration – which would be yet another tragedy for the region and the people who live there.
Those of us who live in the Gulf understand how vulnerable our communities have become since our wetlands and other coastal habitats have been stripped away. So, to us, focusing restoration on increasing our safety and improving the health of our ecosystems makes good moral and economic sense.
In the last 10 years, hurricanes here have caused hundreds of deaths and more than $200 billion dollars in damage. Healthy marshes, wetlands, oyster reefs and other coastal habitats can help reduce our vulnerability by protecting against storm surges, erosion and coastal flooding and, at the same time, enhance tourism and fisheries.
With the potential for billions of dollars coming back to the Gulf through the RESTORE Act, there has never been – and will quite possibly never be again – an opportunity like the one we have now to begin to restore the Gulf of Mexico at a scale that matters.
The Nature Conservancy and others in the Gulf are imploring our leaders to be leaders. To be fair and smart and consider a future Gulf of Mexico where restoration of the Gulf’s ecosystems meets the joint goals of building the foundation of much the Gulf’s economy – fishing, tourism, and recreation – while simultaneously protecting our communities and ensuring that our families and traditions thrive for generations to come.
The people of the Gulf deserve nothing less.
[Image: An egret at the site of an oyster restoration project in the Gulf of Mexico. Image source: Erika Nortemann/TNC]