Communities respond to Sec. Mabus’ plan for Gulf Coast recovery

By Oxfam

New Orleans, LA – Coastal advocates are calling the Obama Administration’s plan for Gulf Coast recovery a critical step towards restoring the region, but one that does not give sufficient voice to the people most affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster. 

Released today, “America’s Gulf Coast: A Long Term Recovery Plan After The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill,” calls for investing unprecedented federal resources, as high as $21B,  in ecosystem restoration critical to the survival of coastal communities. The plan also urged the creation of a council, led by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, to coordinate federal and state agencies’ restoration efforts.

While hopeful about plans urging Congress to create a recovery fund with civil penalties and leveraging contracting opportunities to create new jobs locally, Gulf residents who have been working since the first days of the disaster expressed concerns about notable gaps, including the need for greater citizen participation and targeting of resources towards economic opportunities towards the needs of socially vulnerable communities, those families who continue to face disproportionate impacts of disasters.

Rhonda Jackson, director, Oxfam America’s Gulf Coast Recovery Program, New Orleans, LA -
“Nearly six months after the spill, many Gulf workers and business owners are still struggling to get back on their feet.  America needs a healthy Gulf Coast and this plan has the potential to create tens of thousands of new livelihood opportunities restoring coastal ecosystems and building more resilient communities . We encourage the Council to target investments in training and economic development to assist vulnerable Gulf Coast communities, especially fisherfolk, low income workers and people of color, in finding pathways towards opportunity in these new markets.”

Patty Whitney, organizer, Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing, Thibodaux, LA –
“We are excited to have a leader like Administrator Jackson, who intimately understands the environmental injustices facing our communities, now leading the charge. Still we believe this plan does not give those communities most vulnerable to disaster, be it an oil spill or a deadly hurricane, a voice in the decision-making process. We hope Administrator Jackson and Congress will act immediately to create a Gulf Coast citizen stakeholder committee to ensure decisions made that affect us here on the coast, should include people on the coast.”

Reverend Tyronne Edwards, Zion Travelers Community Center, Phoenix, LA –
“The plan is right to call on contracting to promote opportunity. One of the keys moving forward is to make sure that contracts go to local business owners and to make sure local workers are hired. The people on the coast have tremendous resolve to build back, and we will do it again. But public and private support is critical to rebuilding and reducing vulnerability to both environmental and man-made disasters.”

Roberta Avila, director, Steps Coalition, Biloxi, MS –
“By far the most encouraging initiatives that arose in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were driven by citizens and nonprofits across the Gulf Coast and were aimed at helping promote community renewal and recovery. This is a tremendous opportunity to support those same community driven initiatives that have proven most successful.”

A report released August 24 by Oxfam America and signed by more than 100 Gulf Coast organizations, “One Gulf, Resilient Gulf,” www.oxfamamerica.org/onegulf, outlines critical recommendations for coastal community recovery, and components that they would encourage the Council to support moving forward. These steps include

-  The development of new livelihood opportunities through long-term federal investments in ecosystem restoration, climate adaptation and clean, renewable energy to build more resilient coastal communities;
- Ensuring that new jobs are decent jobs, avoiding “low-road” contracting practices and promoting sustainable jobs and working conditions;
- Supporting community-based scalable transitional workforce and enterprise development programs with successful track records;
- Ensuring any governance structure builds upon past planning and prioritizes community participation, accountability, transparency and streamlining of project implementation;
- And adequate funding is provided through proposals including eliminating tax loop holes, and tax deductions for oil spillers and directing these revenues along with federal fines and liabilities related to the BP Horizon Disaster towards a Gulf Coast Community Resiliency Fund.
These and other steps outlined in the report will help the region recover from yet another disaster.

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