Citizens must have a role in fixing the Gulf


I wanted to call your attention this weekend to a fantastic op-ed that run across the top of Page 1 of the Biloxi Sun-Herald, one of the leading newspapers along the Gulf Coast. It was written by an environmentalist that regular readers of this blog are quite familiar with: the pilot Bonny Schumaker of On Wings of Care, whose frequent flyovers of the BP oil spill site — and well as other ecological crisis zone — has played a critical role in keeping both the feds and the big oil companies honest about the health of the Gulf.

Since arriving in the New Orleans area in 2010 to document the BP spill, Bonny has helped show what everyday citizens can accomplish to make the region a better place. Indeed this is the point of her op-ed in the Biloxi newspaper, that regular citizens have been promised a key role in mapping out the restoration of the Gulf — and that promise has been completely unfilled.

She writes:

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster made it clear that more effective oversight of offshore industry is absolutely necessary. As oil continued to spew from the Macondo wellhead that summer, citizens across the Gulf region urged Congress and the Obama administration to establish a Gulf of Mexico Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, modeled after the highly successful council formed in Prince William Sound, Alaska, after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The SHORE Act (was introduced in 2010, in which Section 210 would have established the Gulf council.

But industry pushback was so great that the act was not passed. In January 2011, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling again endorsed the call for a Gulf of Mexico council. But no government action was taken on that call, nor on continued requests since then.

Today, the Deepwater Horizon government restoration program is setting up a citizens advisory committee, but one which will advise solely on the government restoration program and RESTORE Act spending. The Gulf council is entirely distinct from such a committee, with quite a different charter. The GoM RCAC is tasked with looking forward, with giving Gulf Coast citizens a legitimate voice in all aspects of oil and gas industry development in the Gulf of Mexico, including exploration, production, pipelines, shipping, spill prevention, spill response planning and environmental monitoring. Both kinds of citizen advisory bodies are needed.

As Bonny points out in her piece, the citizens council that was formally established in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster was widely hailed in guiding a cleanup from that tragedy that was popular with the public. The fact that neither the feds nor the oil companies are either willing or able to help start a similar process two decades later is yet another sign of how the role of everyday citizens is curtailed and marginalized in 21st Century. There is much that regular folks can do — and are doing — on their own, but it would be nice of our so-called leaders to lend a helping hand.

You can read all of Bonny’s op-ed at:

Visit On Wings if Care:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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