Gulf Coast Community Organizations Still Deserve Applause for RESTORE Act
On March 14, the U.S. Senate approved a $109 billion transportation bill that includes the RESTORE Act, which directs 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the 2010 BP oil disaster to the five Gulf States – Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The bill passed 74-22 and the fines are expected to be in the billions. The event marks a major victory for Gulf Coast communities who have been battling political and corporate interests at every turn during the process of recovering from a series of environmental disasters, both natural and man-made, since Hurricane Katrina.
However, no sooner after we began “poppin’ champagne” and patting ourselves on the back, the House of Representatives dropped the pill, by not passing the transportation bill that the RESTORE ACT was nested in, allowing it to go out-of-bounds, making the play dead. This is really bad news for the Gulf. Let me highlight some very important facts regarding our beloved Gulf Coast:
- The Gulf of Mexico is the most biodiverse of United States waters,
- In 2010 according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the commercial fish and shellfish harvest from the five U.S. Gulf states was estimated to be 1.3 billion pounds valued at $639 million,
- The Gulf contains four of the top seven fishing ports in the nation by weight, and eight of the top twenty fishing ports in the nation by dollar value,
- Gulf landings of shrimp accounted for about 82% of the U.S. in 2010 with 177.2 million pounds valued at $340 million dockside,
- The Gulf represented 595 of the national total of oyster production in 2010 with 15.7 million pounds of meats valued at $54.5 million,
- Offshore operations in the Gulf produce a quarter of the U.S. domestic natural gas and one-eighth of its oil. In addition, the offshore petroleum industry employs over 55,000 U.S. workers in the Gulf,
- Encompassing over five million acres (about half of the U.S. total), the Gulf's coastal wetlands serve as an essential habitat for numerous fish and wildlife species, including migrating waterfowl (about 75% traversing the U.S.), seabirds, wading birds, furbearers, and sport and commercial fisheries.
It is important to note that the above represent resources to the United States that are outside of political or corporate decisions. These natural resources significantly impact not only the county’s economy via seafood, energy production, and recreation, but are also important resources for the national and global environment. As a result, it is very difficult to understand why the residents of the Gulf Coast region have had to virtually fend for themselves in the wake of natural and industrial disasters from Katrina in 2005 all the way through to the Deepwater Horizon BP oil disaster in 2010.
As we approach Earth Day 2012, I think it's very important that we examine the lack of support from environmental justice circles that communities among the Gulf Coast have received in the effort to "be made whole," as stated by both BP and the President. Oddly enough, the Earth Day Network, arguably the world’s largest promoter of “environmental citizenship and action,” with over 22,000 partners in 192 countries and over 1 billion participants in Earth Day activities was strangely silent following Katrina, chose to focus its 2006 efforts on climate change with no mention of the factors that possibly link climate change to the increases of hurricane activity and intensity.
Following what has been termed by the President Obama as the “worst environmental disaster in American history,” -- the 2010 BP oil disaster -- the Earth Day Network focused its leverage and influence on huge rallies and turn-out events, celebrating a “Go Green” US postage stamp and over "100 million acts of green" – but little effort was put forth to call on the government to be a steward of its Gulf Coast.
The actions of the Earth Day Network are not very surprising in light of the recent National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy report “Cultivating the Grassroots: A Winning Approach for Environment and Climate Funders” by Sarah Hansen. The report points out that “(f)rom 2000-2009, grantmakers provided $10 billion for environment and climate work, funding primarily topdown strategies; yet, we have not seen a significant policy win since the 1980s. Our funding strategy is misaligned with the great perils our planet and environment face.”
The general experience in the Gulf Coast is that national funding sources, with the exception of perhaps Oxfam, turned away shortly following the departure of news cameras. Fortunately, local and regional foundations were able to make small grants to keep grassroots efforts at recovery alive.
Those small grants made a difference. Whether the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health, Foundation for Louisiana, Greater New Orleans Foundation, or the Gulf Coast Funders for Equity, grassroots organizations were able to make significant strides towards ensuring the stability of the United States’ Gulf Coast and its communities.
- November 2007, the Equity and Inclusion Campaign and the Gulf Coast Civic Works campaign partner to help develop and support H.R. 4048, the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act, calling for 100,000 jobs across the region for infrastructure, environmental and other recovery related work.
- August 2008, having garnered the support of over 200 organizations from across the Gulf Coast region and nationally, including the City of New Orleans, the Louisiana Parishes of Terrebonne and Lafourche, the Louisiana Republican delegation and the California Democratic delegation for the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act, Gulf Coast organizations carried their message to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
- May 2009 Gulf Coast organizations support the re-introduction of the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act as H.R. 2269.
- June 2009, the first day of hurricane season and the deadline for families to be out of FEMA trailers, Gulf residents held a press conference at the FEMA offices in Washington D.C. http://prospect.org/article/femas-gulf-coast-eviction-notice resulting in an extension for families still living in the trailers. Following on the National FEMA trailer win, the coalition supported partners in Biloxi to stop a city ordinance forcing residents to remove FEMA trailers from their own property to trailer camps. Building on the momentum from the National and Biloxi, Miss. FEMA trailer campaigns, the Gulf Coast organizations push for and win a resolution in support of Gulf Coast Civic Works in Biloxi on December 1, 2009.
- On April 22, 2010 the Deepwater Horizon BP oil disaster began, killing 11 rig workers. Coalition partners had to redirect efforts and energy to deal with the emergency at hand – the communities affected by the collapse were the same still in recovery from hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav.
- June 2010, over 100 organization working across the Gulf Coast region submitted the statement document “Ensuring Accountability and Protecting Livelihoods, Ecosystems and Communities after the BP Horizon Disaster” to Congress and key administrative offices within the White House. Discussion also began in earnest regarding the establishment of a Regional Advisory Council (RAC) to assure community input into decisions around the recovery from the oil disaster.
- August 2010, the “One Gulf Resilient Gulf: A Plan for Gulf Coast Recovery” report was presented to Naval Secretary Ray Mabus, the man placed in charge of Gulf Coast recovery efforts for President Obama. Heavily supported by Gulf Coast grassroots organizations, the plan was influenced by and reflective of aspects of the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act.
- January 2011, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling releases its report to the President. The report reflects many of the recommendations of the “One Gulf, Resilient Gulf” plan.
- March – April 2011, several delegations of Gulf Coast organizations, businesses and individuals travel to Washington, D.C. calling for support of “One Gulf, Resilient Gulf” in consideration of the Clean Water Act fines and other legislative discussions related to recovery.
When the Senate passed the RESTORE Act it reflected elements of the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act, and the “One Gulf, Resilient Gulf” plan. It also represented a major win for grassroots organizations and the hard work they and their communities have put forth since Katrina.
The failure of the House of Representatives in Congress to support Gulf Coast communities is disappointing, however, the work continues. National funders, environmental organizations, elected officials and private oil companies responsible for the 2010 oil disaster should recognize the Gulf South for the important position it holds as a key component to the United States' energy, seafood, recreation, and economic foundation. Grassroots communities across the Gulf are here to stay and have demonstrated that we are in this fight for a full and just recovery for the long haul. We invite you to join us.
Stephen Bradberry is the Founder and Executive Director at Alliance Institute in New Orleans, LA. A veteran organizer and advisor to the Gulf Coast Fund, Bradberry is the only American individual to receive the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. Noted for assuring a space for the community's voice, Bradberry's work has resulted in billions of dollars being directed to the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.