On December 1st, Yahoo! published its list of the top ten searches of 2010. Can you guess what was ranked first?
The BP oil spill. Yep, it beat out the World Cup (#2), Kim Kardashian (#4), and perennial search crown contender Britney Spears (#10) to emerge as the subject that Yahoo!’s 631 million users mulled over most while browsing the net this year.
That's no small feat, either. Despite the media’s hyper-focus on the midterm elections and saturation coverage of reality TV, it was the BP oil disaster, with its spillover effects on the environment and economy of the Gulf region, that captured more attention than any other subject on one of America’s most popular websites. It marked the first time ever that a news story topped Yahoo's year-end list.
Unfortunately for the Gulf, search engine titles don’t dictate business in the U.S. Senate. Despite the surge of domestic interest in environmental rehabilitation and corporate responsibility stemming from the spill, the upper house of Congress seems unable to match this buzz with commensurate action to protect and restore the Gulf Coast. A bill designed to improve drilling standards, with thoughtful provisions to maintain the competitiveness of America’s energy industry, passed successfully in the House of Representatives this summer but stalled in the Senate. More recently, provisions to dedicate oil spill penalties to Gulf restoration that were included in the House-passed bill in July have failed to capture the attention of a fractured and divided chamber. This comes despite recommendations from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus (in his commission’s post-spill report) for Congress to create a Gulf Coast Recovery Fund with a "significant amount" of BP fine money. Meanwhile, the Gulf of Mexico remains damaged, its coastlines continue to erode, its wildlife stays vulnerable, and its fishing and tourism sectors remain on life support.
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
Why should we accept this lack of action as a given? I mean, do bluegills or redfish swimming in polluted waters know (or care) about Senate procedure? How does one explain a “lame-duck” session to shorebirds sickened by oil pollution?
It is past time for politicians from both parties to unite on comprehensive rehabilitation of the Gulf Coast. Wetland restoration, water quality improvement, and wildlife protection aren’t just important values in “blue state” beach towns on Cape Cod or the California coast. If Democrats and Republicans can respect the will of Gulf Coast voters and show that economic recovery and ecosystem restoration can go hand-in-hand in one of the country’s “reddest” regions, they will demonstrate to naysayers that environmental protection is a priority for all Americans, regardless of their political stripes.
Blogging About the Bills
Towards that end, we’re participating in a Nature Blog Network initiative to bolster public support for spill bill passage in the Senate. Ideally, such a bill would dedicate the lion’s share of BP’s Clean Water Act (CWA) penalties to cleaning up the waters and wetlands of the Gulf Coast.
We applaud Louisiana’s congressional delegates for taking the lead in advancing these efforts. Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) sponsored the Gulf Coast Restoration Act, which would give at least 80 percent of the CWA fine money to the states impacted by the spill. Similarly, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has sponsored a Senate bill, the Restoring Ecosystem Sustainability and Protection on the Delta (RESPOND) Act, which calls for no less than 80 percent of the BP CWA financial penalties to be used for “long-term economic and environmental recovery” on the Gulf Coast.
Given EDF’s consistent efforts to support restoration of the Mississippi River Delta, we believe it is important for Congress to act quickly on the funding issue. The BP oil disaster brought attention to the degraded condition of the Gulf and its coast. The health of the delta is particularly important for the long-term recovery of the Gulf of Mexico, but over the past eighty years, more than 2,300 square miles of the Mississippi River Delta (equivalent to one-third of its pre-1930 area) disappeared due to land loss. Historic development of private and public infrastructure for national economic activity (including, but not limited to, the production, transportation, and processing of oil and gas) dramatically impacted salinity levels, sediment flows, and other determinants of wetland health. This erosion of coastal Louisiana, an environmental catastrophe in and of itself, has in turn affected the economic resilience of the region. For instance, the disappearance of coastal nurseries for marine life has impacted the fishing industry in Louisiana. In addition, the loss of deltaic wetlands has left portions of southern Louisiana (and much of the nation’s energy and shipping infrastructure) more exposed to storm surge damage from hurricanes.
While initiatives to reverse this land loss were authorized under sections 7002 and 7006 of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007, not all of the projects have received the requisite construction appropriations to move forward. This means that wetlands that could have been more resilient to spills were not restored prior to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, leaving Louisiana’s coast even more vulnerable to oil damage. Some scientists believe that without quick action to rebuild and restore the delta (action that could be expedited with CWA penalty funding), the land loss destroying coastal Louisiana could become irreversible within decades.
The Next Steps
Whether or not these bills will pass before the end of the 111th Congress is anyone’s guess. But even if the legislation fails during the current session, there’s no reason why the 112th Congress should ignore these proposals when it convenes in January.
Conservatives might like the fact that this stream of potential restoration money doesn’t come from a new tax, or the fact that even if 80 percent of the $5-21 billion expected to be levied against BP were given to Louisiana and its neighbors, the Federal treasury would still be receiving as much as $1-4 billion for possible debt reduction. Liberals might like the idea that billions are finally being used to remedy environmental damage in a region that has served as a source of fossil fuels for more than a century. People from both parties will like the fact that money spent on restoring wetlands, analyzing air and water quality, and resuscitating threatened ecosystems will generate employment in one of America’s poorest regions, providing a boost to industries all along the Gulf Coast.
If you support this effort and wish to get involved, please contact your local congressional representatives via this Action Alert. In this season of service, the minutes you give to write letters and e-mails could be critical in turning constituent chatter to congressional action.