In the two years since April 20, 2010, the date of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and sinking off southeastern Louisiana, the Gulf Coast has endured its fair share of troubles, only the first of which was a massive oil spill. There were the environmental challenges of saving threatened wildlife and measuring the disaster's impact on ocean habitats and coastal ecosystems rebounding from the destructive hurricanes of the previous decade. There were the economic hurdles as well: worries about the future of fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, concerns about the drilling moratorium and the slow pace of permitting for new energy projects in the Gulf, and declines in summer tourism that left hotel owners and restaurant workers wondering if the seaside counties and parishes of this region would lose their regular customers due to public perception of the spill and its impact.
As we approach the second anniversary, there is some evidence that the Gulf is emerging from the crisis. Tourists have returned to the region, as have energy companies drilling for offshore oil. In the harbors of some fishing communities, the buzz of motorboat engines is once again heralding the start of shrimping season. Moreover, economic gauges like employment and household income are approaching pre-spill levels, suggesting that things are, at the surface, returning to normal.
However, it would be wrong to think that these superficial signs of renewal are guarantors of successful recovery for the region. We've seen the stories about tar balls continuing to wash ashore on beaches in the central Gulf Coast. We know that biologists are worried about the mixed signals that the plant and animal life of the region send regarding the pace of environmental regenesis. We see that despite the reassuring statistics on wages, tax revenue, and hiring at the state and regional levels, there are towns and households where the losses stemming from this disaster, measured by diminished health indicators, reduced commercial activity, and — for at least eleven families on the coast — loved ones who will never come home, cannot be settled simply with a paycheck or a sharp advertising campaign from a multinational firm.
The spirit of the Gulf — resourceful, vigorous, and rich — is inextricably tied to the natural surroundings that make this region unique. Without the right efforts to ensure that the environment of this region recovers strongly from the spill, a near-term economic fillip will inevitably be followed by a reckoning of longer duration. The payouts from BP and other parties responsible for the spill have cushioned the region from a more severe downturn than originally feared, but the surest way to protect the commercial activities tied to the health of beaches, wetlands, and fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico region is to insure that the damage from the spill is corrected as best as possible, and to put in place the infrastructure to make the region's ecosystems more resilient to future damage.
That's part of the reason why a bill like the RESTORE Act is so important to remember as we approach the second anniversary of the BP oil disaster. The RESTORE Act — bipartisan legislation that would dedicate 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties stemming from the 2010 Gulf oil spill toward environmental and economic restoration in the region — has already passed in the Senate by an overwhelming majority, and just yesterday, a similar provision in the House transportation bill was approved by the lower chamber of Congress. Reconciling the Senate and House bills will likely take weeks, but the fact that both Democrats and Republicans in Washington have voted in favor of this legislation gives us hope that a bill to put thousands of people and billions of dollars to work on restoring coastal wetlands, cleaning up damaged beaches, studying regional animal life, and reviving the unified ecosystem will ultimately become law.
Just think: by this time next spring, there could be guidelines in place and concrete action afoot to make full-scale restoration a reality. Wouldn't that be a great way to mark the third anniversary? We certainly think so.
Billion dollar baby: After BP's big damage pledge, is more money needed to restore the Gulf? [Restoration and Resilience]
For richer? No, for poorer: Statistics reveal post-spill slowdown in coastal Louisiana job, wage growth [Restoration and Resilience]
Gulf oil drilling to see busiest year since 2010 BP spill [The Huffington Post]
House approves transportation bill extension with Restore Act provision [New Orleans Times-Picayune]
NWF tour finds BP oil still soaking Louisiana marshes, menacing wildlife [Delta Dispatches]
Two years later, spill's dangers linger [Tampa Bay Times]