Sean Crowley, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.550.6524, firstname.lastname@example.org
David J. Ringer, National Audubon Society, 601.642.7058, email@example.com
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Port Sulphur, La.—Apr. 20, 2011) On the first anniversary of the BP oil well blowout, regional and national leaders urged Congress to hold BP accountable by passing legislation to dedicate BP's Clean Water Act (CWA) fines to restoring the Gulf's damaged environment and economy. Under current law, fines paid by BP and others responsible for the spill automatically will be deposited into the Federal Treasury, instead of being used to help restore the Gulf region.
U.S. Senators Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and David Vitter (R-La.), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) have introduced four separate bills that would dedicate 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines to restore the Gulf Coast's environment and economy.
"These members of Congress deserve credit for recognizing that BP's fines for the oil spill should be invested in restoring the Gulf, where the damage was done, not in the Federal Treasury," said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. "The environment and economy of the Gulf region rely on each other to be strong and vibrant. We're calling on leaders in Congress, particularly from the Gulf region, to get together and get restoration done for the Gulf."
The anniversary event featured boat tours to show oil spill damage in Barataria Bay and Bay Jimmy and aerial tours of Wax Lake Delta, which shows that rebuilding wetlands is possible. The Wax Lake Delta is the unexpected creation of a 1941 flood control project in which the Army Corps of Engineers dug a canal to Atchafalaya Bay from the Atchafalaya River. As a result, the Atchafalaya River sediment built 25 square miles of new land in the Wax Lake Outlet.
"The Gulf is injured certainly, and will be for some time, but it is not without the possibility of recovery in the long term" said Chris Canfield, vice president of Gulf Coast Conservation and the Mississippi Flyway for the National Audubon Society. "If we can marshal the energy of fear and concern we all felt a year ago and turn it into resolve – into a Congressional mandate for Gulf restoration – we can do wonders."
Nearly nine out of 10 poll respondents (87%) across the five Gulf states agree that the environmental health of the Gulf Coast region affects their state's economy very much or somewhat. (Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research and Consulting)
"Without a strong and shared vision by our regional congressional delegations to dedicate fines to the Gulf Coast states, fine monies will wash away into the Federal Treasury," said Anne Milling, founder of Women of the Storm. said Anne Milling, founder of Women of the Storm. "We thank Representatives Scalise and Castor and Senators Landrieu, Vitter and Nelson for their bipartisan unity on this crucial issue, and we encourage other members of Congress to follow their example."
Environmental degradation has caused tremendous damage to the Gulf ecosystems in recent decades. The region has lost nearly 50 percent of its wetlands, 60 percent of its sea grass beds, 50 percent of its oyster reefs, and more than 32 percent of its mangrove forests. (The Nature Conservancy)
"Given our huge budget deficit, Clean Water Act fines are the most viable, short-term funding mechanism for the long-term restoration of the Gulf Coast that President Obama promised ten months ago 'to restore the unique beauty and bounty of this region'," said Paul Harrison, senior director of Mississippi River Delta Restoration Project for Environmental Defense Fund. "Congress must hold BP accountable for the environmental and economic damage it caused from the worst oil spill in U.S. history by dedicating the Clean Water Act fines to Gulf Coast restoration and ensuring BP pays the bill for the Natural Resources Damage Assessment."
This BP oil disaster could cost the Gulf region's tourism industry alone $23 billion in lost revenues, according to a study by Oxford Economics.
The Gulf region is a vital part of the nation's economy, and critical Gulf industries rely on environmental restoration:
• The Gulf currently supports a $34 billion per year tourism industry, and its fisheries support an estimated $22.6 billion dollars in seafood and commercial and recreational fishing-related activity. (Oxfam America/Center for American Progress)
• The Gulf produces roughly 40 percent of all the seafood in the lower 48 states. (National Marine Fisheries Service)