This post was written by Jeffrey Buchanan, senior domestic policy advisor at Oxfam America.
Out of the tragedy of the 2010 BP oil disaster, we could soon see hope emerge. New legislation, the RESTORE the Gulf Coast States Act, just passed by Congress, could bring billions of dollars in resources and a range of new opportunities for environmental restoration, fighting poverty, and promoting economic mobility.
According to the Pew Center on the States, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas rank among the worst states in the country for economic mobility: whether it’s the ability of a child born into a poor family to climb the economic ladder or the likelihood of a middle class family to fall into poverty.
They are also home to fishing communities like Dulac, LA, Apalachicola, FL, Bayou La Batre, AL, Point au La Hatche, LA and Pascagoula, MS, which face double to triple the national poverty rates. These communities have always been places of limited means, but a healthy Gulf put a roof over the heads and food on the table of families for generations. But now, after Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, small multi-generational family fishing and seafood enterprises are under threat.
The full extent of the spill’s ecological damages is unknown, but in many places shrimp, oyster, and crab catches are down. This means underemployed shrimp boat captains, oyster harvesters, and deckhands and layoffs at processing plants. The loss of income has stretched social services as proud, formerly self-reliant people are forced to turn to community nonprofit agencies and food pantries for assistance.
It’s not just the recent disasters that have bruised the Gulf; over many years, the region has lost 50 percent of its inland and coastal wetlands and oyster reefs. Over the next 20 years, the Gulf is vulnerable to an estimated $300 billion in economic damages from hurricanes, coastal erosion, sea level rise, and flooding.
Recognizing this challenge, a coalition of Gulf State legislators led by Senators Mary Landrieu, Bill Nelson and Richard Shelby, along with Reps. Steve Scalise, Palazzo, and Cedric Richmond, together with community, environmental, and business allies navigated historic legislation to direct 80% of as much as $21 billion in 2010 BP oil spill civil fines back to economic and environmental restoration of the Gulf Coast states.
Photo: Audra Melton/Oxfam.
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