How Will We Restore the Gulf to Its Glory? Lay Off the Pork!


As expected, 2011 begins with a barrage of official BP spill-related reports. The presidential commission grabbed the headlines first and, despite its many shortcomings, at least made a good case that ecological restoration is Priority One and the lion’s share of BP fines should return to Gulf states.

But now a state-level report has been released that illustrates just how difficult that scenario will be as pro-business special interests launch their usual money-grab.

The Mississippi Gulf of Mexico Commission task force is releasing its “Vision for Gulf Coast Recovery, Restoration and Protection.” A Mississippi Press report says the “…commission worked closely with the Gulf of Mexico Alliance and various state agencies to develop the plan to submit to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, the former Mississippi governor tapped to lead the long-term restoration of the Gulf of Mexico.”

Did you notice the word “Mississippi” in there some place?

We’re going to see plenty of these state and local reports, surveys, studies and the like as jurisdictions eye billions of dollars in fines that BP is expected to face. This one out of Mississippi is a virtual money-grab prototype, because it gives vague lip service to “…hurricane and storm surge protection to protect ecosystems” but also to “creating jobs through support of such economic development projects as the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum in Biloxi, a proposed aquarium in D’Iberville and a dramatically expanded port at Gulfport.” Note the ecological projects may be vague, but the business ventures are very specific.

Look, everyone wants more jobs, and communities can always make a case for development help. But to fund pork-barrel projects at the expense of ecological restoration is absolute nonsense. What’s more, the spill should have shown us that the real jobs engine in the Gulf is its natural assets. We need to restore our environment before we even begin to consider somebody’s pet development project, no matter how worthy or politically connected.

Many of these state and local reports are going to dust off any manner of projects that have been languishing due to lack of support and funding. There was a reason they lacked support, and we should beware of pork projects wrapped in the cloak of “jobs.”

Destruction of our environment got us into this situation, not a lack of special-interest developments. And we are a long, long way from even starting to work our way out – oil still washes ashore daily and the safety of our seafood is very much in question and nobody knows the health effects yet. But it’s a sure bet that the road back begins with ecological restoration – and cutting back on the pork.

Read between the lines on the Mississippi plan, including public comment deadlines, here:

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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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