Three Years Later: Gulf Coast Still Recovering From BP Oil Spill

From The Huffington Post

By Tom Kiernan

This Saturday, April 20, marks the third anniversary of the oil rig explosion that devastated coastal communities, waters and lands in the Gulf of Mexico and imposed tragic loss among 11 families.

Nearly three years ago, I flew over the Gulf of Mexico in a small plane, to see firsthand the devastating impacts the 2010 Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill was inflicting on our national parks and the local communities, especially Gulf Islands National Seashore. I met with many clean-up workers and toured the National Park Service’s Oil Spill Command Center to discuss clean-up efforts, staff capacity and the challenges they faced trying to protect park resources and wildlife.

As I walked along the beach of Gulf Islands National Seashore, the wind and rain from Tropical Storm Bonnie was strong. The brown-stained sea foam rolled in and out, leaving behind a thin sheen of oil on the beach. Though officials advised against it, I reached down to pick up some of the brown sand and felt the oil between my fingertips. I was not prepared for the stinging sensation on my fingers — a slight and persistent chemical sting. It was heartbreaking to imagine the oil spreading over the Gulf Islands’ beaches, into its wetlands, and on to its wildlife. The work ahead for the National Park Service was daunting especially for the more than 600 staff from 120 national parks deployed to assist in the Gulf Coast cleanup efforts, in addition to thousands of others from federal agencies, national and local organizations and the nearby communities.

Recognizing that one of the worst environmental disasters to hit the Gulf Coast in U.S. history could bring about an unprecedented opportunity for recovery and restoration, Congress passed the Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability, Tourism, Opportunities Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act also referred to as the RESTORE Act last year. This bipartisan legislation ensures that 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalty payments stemming from the BP oil spill would be directed towards environmental restoration and economic development in the Gulf region, including at national parks like Gulf Islands National Seashore, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park, and Padre Island National Seashore, where the health of the Gulf is directly linked to the health of the parks.

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