Opinion: We Can Do Better for the Gulf

Published May 28, 2010

The news from the Gulf Coast remains grim – hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil from the BP oil disaster have reached the shore. Eleven men died. We’ve seen images of birds and wetlands and more soaked in oil. We watch as the workers who make up the fishing and shrimping industries sit idle, wondering when or if their lives will be the same.

We watch the whole region doing their best to lend a hand to BP’s disorganized cleanup and response, but we also see the same residents sitting with their heads in hands, dreading what’s next for the area.

Live Streaming Video: See the Source of the Gulf Coast Oil Gusher Up Close

This oil spill is just another sad part of the ongoing storm on the Gulf Coast. We’re only five years out from the destruction from Katrina and Rita – but even before that, many areas along the Gulf Coast suffered. Be it bad schools, corrupt government, the toxic environment... it unfortunately has all been part of the area for years.

Overwhelming evidence shows that low-income communities and people of color bear disproportionate environmental burdens in our society. These neighborhoods are repeatedly chosen as sites for massive, polluting industrial facilities and landfills. Their air, land, and water are poisoned and contaminated by pollutants spewed out of giant smokestacks and bleeding into the ground from piles of toxic waste. Many of these communities came back, worked hard and pulled together to rebuild.

This time for the Gulf Coast, it’s a massive oil disaster.

This is part of an unbroken chain of disproportionate impacts. It’s as if the Gulf Coast is the one of our country’s major sacrifice zones.

It is essential that we hold BP fully accountable for the cleanup, for helping Gulf Coast families facing job losses in fishing and tourism, and for restoring the destroyed wetlands and marine ecosystem – just as we should hold any oil company accountable for the spills they cause.

I’m saddened that the total cost of response efforts so far is equal to just a few days of BP's profits. All that money, and another hit to a region that is unfortunately becoming too accustomed to tragedy and destruction. Hurricane season starts on June 1, and all anyone can do is pray there will not be any big storms this summer.

We can do better than this. For updates, an interactive map and ideas of what you can do to help, go to www.sierraclub.org/BPdisaster.

Leslie G. Fields is the National Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships Director for the Sierra Club. Founded in 1892 in San Francisco, the Sierra Club is the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States.

Written by <P>By Leslie Fields, Special to BET.com </P>

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