Citizens express concern over dispersants at town hall meeting

08/04/10 Matthew Cimitile
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The Obama administration’s person in charge of Gulf Coast restoration visited St. Petersburg last night to receive citizens’ input. Many citizens used the forum to express concern and frustration about the heavy use of dispersants on the oil and to push the administration in developing clean energy in the region.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus visited St. Petersburg last night to receive Gulf coast citizen’s input towards President Obama’s long-term Gulf restoration plan. Many citizens used the forum to express great concern and frustration about the heavy use of dispersants on the oil and to push the administration in developing clean energy in the region.

In front of a standing room only crowd, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus began the town hall meeting by emphasizing the importance of citizen involvement for the long-term economic and environmental restoration of the Gulf coast.

“Any sort of plan for restoration, any sort of plan to make the Gulf whole, has got to start with the people who live, work and raise their families hear on the coast. It cannot be a plan that comes top down from Washington. It has to start here and there has to be a mechanism for local input, a mechanism from input from local governments, from local organizations and from local individuals who know more about the economy of this region, know more about the environment of this region than anybody else.”

What he heard from the audience was great concern over the use of chemical dispersants to break up large oil slicks. Susan McMillan with ‘Protect Our Waters’ was one of those who worried about the dispersants long-term implications and unknown effects to the Gulf ecosystem.

“If you can imagine a tea cup and someone has poured oil on the top of it and you don’t want to drink that, you can try and skim the oil off or someone could say here lets put a little antifreeze and paint thinner in it and stir it all around and you won’t see that oil anymore, now drink the tea. That is what we are doing to our Gulf in a giant experiment with this chemical that has been banned in several countries in Europe.”

Many residents were concerned about dispersants’ impact on the ecosystem, especially contaminating the food chain. They questioned the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s decision to open up large fishing areas in the region. John Ellington is the student body vice president at USF - St. Petersburg.

“You mentioned in your introduction that nearly a third of the nation’s seafood is harvested from the Gulf. And I recently noticed that large portions of the fishing grounds have been reopened in the Gulf. In your opinion, do you feel that these actions may have been premature before we fully understand the effects and the consequences that the dispersants and submerged oil has on the undersea ecosystems.”

Dr. Roy Crabtree, Regional Administrator of NOAA Fisheries Service, responded to Ellington’s question by saying the organization monitored seafood heavily and followed strict protocol.

“My answer would be no, I don’t believe we reopened the large area that I think your referring to in the southeastern portion of the fishing zone too soon. I am confident that the seafood coming out of that is safe. We looked at it very carefully, we have a protocol that is setup that we follow, that we've developed working with the Food and Drug Administration, and we applied that and reopened the area. We have vessels sampling all through the closed area now and we are following that protocol to make those determinations."

While many citizens expressed concern and anger over BP’s and the federal government's responses to the spill, others, like Frank Wells of World Power and Water, inquired about the role of clean energy in the restoration plan.

“So we would like to hear how any kind of long term restoration plan includes support for other offshore energy projects, not just in the petroleum sector.”

Secretary Mabus said that this disaster should provide the impetus for the region to get off fossil fuels and become a leader in clean energy. His response received one of the biggest ovations of the night.

“One of the things that I think that this may give us an opportunity to do is to begin to move the Gulf Coast as a whole away from dependence on oil and gas and on fossil fuels and to become a hub for alternative energies. And it helps us in every possible way. Look, it helps us in every possible way. It helps us in terms of putting people to work. It helps us in terms of the environment. It helps us in terms of reducing our dependence on those things, and as long as I got you here I committed the Navy a year ago that by 2020, 10 years from now, one decade, that half of all the energy we use in the Navy, ashore and afloat, Navy and Marine Corps, will come from non-fossil fuel sources.”

Other citizens encouraged forming a regional citizen advisory board for creation and implementation of the restoration plan, greater funding from BP to pay for tourism advertisements, and long-term monitoring of water quality, marine life and birds to determine the environmental impact of America’s biggest oil spill.

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