Environmentalists want Gulf of Mexico to be part of the political discussion
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10/15/12 Janelle Irwin
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Congress member Kathy Castor (D-FL) spoke to environmentalists at Spa Beach in downtown St. Pete about the impacts of the BP oil disaster on Gulf communities.


photo by Janelle Irwin

This election year has been focused on economic issues facing Americans with little emphasis on environmental concerns. But more than two years after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, environmental groups are still trying to make sure the topic sees the light of day.

During a press event in downtown St. Pete today, member of Congress Kathy Castor said that keeping the Gulf of Mexico healthy is a key part of improving and maintaining Florida’s economy.

“The leading issue during this campaign season has been jobs and the economy and here in the Tampa Bay area it is so important that we talk in terms of tourism, fishing, a clean environment, clean beaches because that’s the life blood for so many small businesses.”

And with those small businesses come jobs.

“Over 84,000 are created in Pinellas County as a result of tourism.”

That was Robin Solie, president of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce. She said if efforts to clean up residual effects of the 2010 oil disaster aren’t continued it could cost people their jobs.

“But they come here because we were voted 2012 number on beach in the world. We’re constantly in the top ten beaches in the world with Trip Advisor. We need to continue the pace and we need to continue to be informed.”

Last week the Coast Guard found an oil sheen near the site of the oil spill and it matches oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Allison Chin, president of the Sierra Club said that just proves that no matter what, drilling comes with risks.

“Drilling is dirty, dangerous and deadly and this rush to drill in deep water, I just don’t understand. I don’t know what more proof we need that we can’t do this safely.”

Lawmakers in Washington passed the RESTORE Act this year that allocates money from a settlement with BP to Gulf Coast communities. It also sets aside some of the money specifically for research. Andrew Shepard is the director of the Gulf of Mexico University Research Collaborative.

“We have to quantify and publicize the total economic value of the Gulf ecosystem services. Gulf, ocean and coastal ecosystem goods generate over $2 trillion every year in gross domestic product not including at least 30% more non-market values such as coastal protection from storms and spills, clean water and habitat for wildlife and fish. Decision makers need the information to balance conservation with the quick payoffs of exploitation.”

Shepard said the research initiative goes beyond just the oil spill.

“We support a Gulf-wide ocean observing and monitoring program which is required to provide the baseline data needed to manage our natural resources and assess and respond to both chronic – things like climate change – and abrupt environmental stressors like the oil spill.”

And the Sierra Club’s Chin said there also needs to be a change in the way people think.

“We’d love to see people move away from their dependency on cars and reducing the number of vehicle miles traveled per person by making public transportation more available, high speed rail to connect our communities, bicycling, pedestrian walkways. I think all that not only is good for the environment, it’s good economically, it’s good for personal pocket books, it’s good for our health.”

But that conversation isn’t happening. During the first presidential debate, GOP nominee Mitt Romney criticized President Barack Obama for spending money on alternative energy sources like wind and solar. A Romney/Ryan presidency concerns Congress-member Kathy Castor.

“They are not going to look at alternative energies and chart a future for this country.”

Romney has said he wants to expand U.S. oil production by using the Keystone XL Pipeline and even by drilling in Alaska. He claims spending money on alternative energy won’t get the U.S. any closer to energy independence. But the Sierra Club’s Chin said it’s an important investment; especially in places like Florida where the health of ecosystems plays a key role in the economy.

“I also reject the fact that it’s a choice between environmental health and economic health. I think they go hand in hand.”

Small businesses affected by the oil spill can still make claims against BP through the Deepwater Horizon Court Supervised Settlement Program. That replaced the problematic Gulf Coast Claims Facility in June.



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