NOTE: This is a guest post from Cherri Foytlin, a journalist, oil worker’s wife, mother of six, and Louisiana resident.
One thing is for sure: When it comes to how the billions of dollars in BP fines slated for the Gulf Coast is used by the states, advocates, watch-dog groups and citizens alike best keep their nose on the money trail. Businesses and political leaders are already making plans for the use of those funds. According to an article recently published by The Sun Herald, Trudy Fisher, head of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, told 100 business owners, council members, supervisors, state senators and representatives that, “It’s important that Mississippi position itself for this money,” at a July 13 meeting held in Gulfport.
But it sounds like not all official and business leaders want to prioritize ecosystem or community restoration. The Sun Herald article also says that in addition to ecological restoration, Fisher listed “economic development, seafood promotion, eco-tourism…. job creation, and planning” as the primary focus for the money. The article notes that, “there was talk in the crowd about hotels and road projects,” and quotes Jackson County Board of Supervisors President John McKay as saying, “You can only have so many boat launches and marsh places to be fixed. I want to know if some of it can be for brick and mortar.”
For the sake of the estimated 1,074 miles of Gulf Coastline oiled by the BP Drilling Disaster, the thousands of wildlife carcasses that have littered the shore since, a dead zone that spans 6,800 square miles, and the over 396,800 acres of wetland loss over the last 15 years — let’s hope the answer to McKay’s question is no.
Here we are, well into July 2012, nearly 27 months after the explosion, sinking and gushing of the Deepwater Horizon oil well, and two years after the eventual capping on the well. That would be nearly 800 days of watching Iris Cross, and other BP-trained thespians, telling everyone to come on down to the Gulf for a surf, swim and a po-boy. I’m not sure how many days it’s been since the President came down in khakis, firm in his conviction to shake his head at the water, fill a to-go box with shrimp, and dog paddle around for a while in an inlet bay. But I can tell you it’s been over a week since he officially signed the Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability Tourism Opportunities and Revived Economy of the Gulf Coast Act of 2011.
The RESTORE Act earmarks 80 percent of BP’s Clean Water Act fines to the Gulf Coast states to aid in the continuing recovery since the spill, and establishes the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund to oversee how those funds are spent. That is a good thing. In fact, it’s an amazing thing when you think of all the citizens, advocates, organizations and bi-partisan leaders who have worked hard over the last two years to bring this moment to fruition. This could be the largest and most influential piece of domestic environmental legislation since the Clean Water Act itself.
I’m happy the RESTORE Act passed. Please keep that in mind when reading this blog post. If there’s one thing those of us on the ground always knew about the RESTORE Act, it is that it is not perfect. Essentially, many believe, it comes down as a blank check written by BP, funneled through the U.S. government, to each of the five coastal states to use however they decide. Early on some advocates had suggested trying to influence the powers-that-be to spell out within the text of the bill that the monies should only be used for coastal restoration projects — and yet those worries fell on many a deaf ear.
Photo: Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson
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