After Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods, Louisianans got used to a lot of misconceptions about the storm, our state and the recovery (or lack thereof). In the wake of the BP oil disaster, similar misconceptions have arisen. America needs to stick to the facts.
Some have questioned the need for personal charity toward the Gulf Coast, reasoning that BP can and should be paying for cleanup and restitution. Fact: They're half-right. The public must hold BP's feet to the fire, but making BP pay will take years. Exxon settled in 2009 for some of the damages from its Valdez spill, which occurred two decades earlier. On Aug. 3, Kenneth Feinberg, who is responsible for administering the restitution fund, announced that BP would not pay mental health claims — an unconscionable position, considering the mental health crisis that ensued among Alaskans after the Valdez' decimation of their fishing waters.
In addition, the $20 billion escrow fund is not a "shakedown" or "slush fund" as some far-right politicians and pundits have described it. The fund is a way of ensuring BP meets its obligations to those coastal residents whose livelihoods have been destroyed. If a private company took away your ability to make a living, you would demand compensation, and rightfully so. Gulf Coast residents are not lazy chiselers; they have had their lives ripped apart by corporate carelessness.
Moreover, as of Aug. 3, BP had not paid one cent into the escrow fund. In fact, it is still negotiating terms with the feds. A report last week by the nonprofit journalism organization ProPublica shows the oil giant is also dragging its feet on compensating claimants who are not explicitly covered by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.
Sadly, it's not just the usual right-wing chorus that's shown ignorance about this disaster. When polls were released showing a significant majority of Louisianans approved of ending the moratorium on deepwater drilling, some "progressives" suggested coastal residents were somehow getting what they deserved — and some were downright gleeful at the thought of losing what TV host Bill Maher sneered at as "redneck jobs."
Fact: There are two ways to make a living on the Louisiana coast: oil and fishing. The loss of the fisheries is a body blow to south Louisiana, and people are afraid the loss of drilling will be a deathblow. Green energy is a laudable but long-term goal. The people who live near Louisiana's coast need work now. They are not anti-conservationists. They are not ignorant, and they are no more responsible for the BP oil disaster than Appalachian coal miners are responsible for the ecological horror of strip mining.
Speaking of ecological horrors: Many environmental groups were disgusted by the lax safety procedures aboard the Deepwater Horizon and the blatant corruption of the U.S. Minerals Management Service. They wondered how things got so bad. The truth is they bear some responsibility. Environmental groups could make a big difference for a state as polluted as Louisiana, but for decades they clustered in the Northeast and Northwest and ignored the Gulf of Mexico. Kieran Suckling, a founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, summed it up nicely in The New York Times: "The environmental movement was either so far removed from it that it was unaware, or it was aware and afraid to challenge it because of local politics. Or it was unwilling to challenge because it has written off the Gulf as America's dumping ground."
The biggest fact of all: Cleaning the oil from Louisiana's marshes and marine life will be meaningless if America does not embark on a sustained, aggressive campaign to restore the Gulf wetlands. As John Barry, author of Rising Tide, The Story of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, tells Gambit, "After the 1927 flood, the entire nation sympathized with Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas. The result was the most expensive thing the federal government had ever done, except fight World War I — the 1928 Flood Control Act. ... The question, ultimately, as usual, comes down to money. Not entirely money, however. The one thing more precious to us than money right now is sand [to restore wetlands]. You can get more money, eventually, sometime, somewhere, from someplace. But you can't get more sand."
And those are the facts.