Senate poised to waste billions that could aid Gulf Coast

2010 December 5
by David J. Ringer

VICKSBURG, MISS. — My love affair with the Gulf Coast began nine years ago this fall, when for the first time I breathed its humid air, heard the cries of Royal Terns, and saw shorebirds stacked up by thousands on the sand. The magic of that first encounter has never faded. Now, standing on the coast, watching gannets or frigatebirds dance at the limits of my perception, or seeing orioles and grosbeaks fall out of the sky after a nonstop flight from the Yucat√°n, I feel as though I’m standing at the intersection between the world’s end and its beginning.

But I’m in love with a rape victim.

Strong language indeed, but if you consider the oil and gas platforms squatting on the horizon, glittering with alien lights at dusk; humanity’s unrelenting “development” of ever more beaches, wetlands, and islands; the burgeoning hordes of destructive invasive species we’ve unleashed; the pollution and runoff deposited by half the country; and the unfathomable obliteration of 2,300 square miles of deltaic wetlands in Louisiana, I think you’ll agree it’s not an exaggeration.

Dunlin at the edge

Oh, and did I mention the world’s largest accidental marine oil disaster? 4.9 million barrels by current estimates, though (not unexpectedly) BP cries foul.

Oiled Brown Pelican

Oiled Laughing Gull

I’ve been so close to this issue for so long that I could launch off into a 15,000-word missive. Perhaps that day will come, but my purpose and request tonight are simple:

If you are U.S. citizen, please tell your Senators to dedicate Clean Water Act penalties from the Deepwater Horizon disaster to Gulf Coast environmental restoration during the 2010 lame-duck congressional session.

BP will be assessed fines per barrel spilled under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Depending on the final estimate of barrels spilled, and the degree of responsibility assigned to BP, these fines could top $20 billion. But nothing in current U.S. law specifies that they go back to environmental restoration of the region affected by the disaster. Another process, the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA, pronounced nerd-uh) does deal with recovery; however, the needs in the region are so immense that we must take every opportunity possible to invest in renewal and restoration.

We are chipping away at the Gulf Coast’s ability to sustain life (human life included). In Louisiana, some communities have already sunk into the Gulf. Gone. “Restore or retreat” has become an all-too-real catchphrase for many.

So far, our leaders in the Senate seem to be choosing “retreat,” even though this CWA penalties idea is a sound one and is supported by everyone from the White House to huge majorities of Gulf state voters. If our leaders really want to do the right thing for Americans without increasing federal spending, this is a great way to start. Let’s use BP’s money to fund some desperately needed environmental projects that will bolster the natural resources on which we all depend. But every day in December without action reduces the odds of success in the lame-duck session, and failure to act this year would reduce the odds that this could ever happen at all.

So please, if you have ever talked, blogged, tweeted, sung, painted, or even just thought about the oil spill or the Gulf Coast’s importance to American birds and life, take 3 minutes and write to your Senators right now. The link takes you to a form provided by my employer, the National Audubon Society. You can fill it out with your information, personalize the sample letter, and submit it for an automatic delivery to your Senators. Most other national and regional environmental groups are running similar campaigns, which you can find on their websites if you like.

Once you’ve done that, blog, tweet, and Facebook an appeal for your contacts to do the same. Senators from every state in the union need to know that this matters to us. And remember, the Nature Blog Network’s Blog for the Gulf virtual event runs through today, Sunday, Dec. 5.

And in the comments, please let me know how the oil spill affected you and what additional information or experiences you’d like me to share. Or tell me how you love the Gulf Coast too.

Related posts:

  1. More Gulf Coast photos
  2. Gulf Coast report and Long-tailed Duck
  3. Gulf Coast Day 1: Spectacle and color
  4. Gulf Coast targets
  5. Upper Texas Coast in crisis

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