When I joined GRN nearly two years ago, the dolphins of the northern Gulf were already 41 months into what National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls an “Unusual Mortality Event” in a classic government euphemism. Dolphins, a top predator, were dying in alarming numbers. While the UME began before the BP drilling disaster, the millions of gallons of oil and toxic chemical dispersants clearly were having an impact on one of the Gulf’s iconic species, one that reflects the health of the entire ecosystem. So the Gulf was in trouble before a reckless oil company killed workers and caused the worst manmade environmental disaster in U.S. history. And today, even though the presiding judge has ruled that BP was in fact reckless and guilty of gross negligence, those dolphins are still dying.
So I still feel the same urgency to hold BP accountable as I did when the well blew out nearly five years ago. While lawyers and public relations hacks try to slip the oil giant out of its responsibilities, I can take comfort in knowing that GRN and its allies will continue to push them to make it right. And help is on the way, with the RESTORE Act starting to work, and other BP disaster funds providing some of the resources the Gulf needs.
Other people have their eye on that money too, though. Alabama wants to build a convention center with money that should be used for restoration. And Florida municipalities will squander some of it on beach “renourishment” to dredge sand and pile it up for the tourists until it washes away again, instead of actually restoring their shores. Fortunately GRN will continue to be the public’s watchdog to ensure those funds are spent where they are needed.
Those funds are not the only thing that needs watching. BP is one of many oil companies damaging the Gulf. Industry “business as usual” continues to pollute and destroy natural areas, and many of the industry reforms recommended after the disaster have not yet been implemented. In Louisiana, the oil and gas industry owes the public at least four hundred square miles of coastal wetlands because of the damage it’s done since the 1930s. Louisiana parishes and a local flood authority are pressing companies to do the right thing through the courts, but if the state’s Master Plan to restore the coast is going to succeed, the industry has to pay its fair share.
Beyond that, Louisiana must truly prioritize coastal restoration, instead of permitting projects like the RAM coal export terminal which jeopardizes the Mid-Barataria sediment diversion, or a tar sands oil pipeline through the Maurepas Swamp. By prioritizing 19th and 20th century fossil fuels, Louisiana shows the rest of the country that it is not really serious about restoring its coast, and that the federal government would be better off investing taxpayer money in states planning for the 21st century.
GRN is serious about saving the coast and restoring the Gulf. And the people of the Gulf deserve policymakers who will make it a priority in both word and deed, who will take action guided by science, on climate change, on fisheries, on wetlands, on coastal restoration. Because of GRN and others, species like red snapper are recovering from overfishing. But once again we will need to be watchful, to make sure it’s science that’s guiding decisions.
This organization has many success stories, and many more to come. So as I move on from GRN and the Gulf to new challenges within the environmental community, I look forward to coming back to to put my kayak in and stalk snook under the mangroves, specks on the grass flats and redfish in the marshes. I’ll have GRN to thank for that. And hopefully I’ll see dolphins while I’m on the water. So long!
Steve Murchie is GRN's Campaign Director.