What the Gulf Coast needs now

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The daily video of oil hemorrhaging from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico and oiled birds may be, for some, the lasting images of the BP oil drilling disaster, which began with an oil rig explosion that killed 11 people on April 20, 2010. These images will be once again shown on news coverage marking the first year of the worst oil disaster in U.S. history.

However, the extent of the BP oil disaster continues to unfold. People are suffering from severe health problems associated with toxic exposures to the oil and chemical dispersants in a region of the country that is medically underserved. The tough economic hardships in coastal communities where livelihoods depend on healthy fish, shrimp, and oysters have not been eased by the agreement between President Obama and BP to set up the Gulf Coast Claims Facility headed by Kenneth Feinberg. The significant environmental damage from the disaster is killing marine species and destroying fragile coastal wetlands.

What the Gulf needs now is more than one day of national remembrance of the BP oil disaster and the replay of last year’s videos.

We need a way out of the crippling impacts of hazardous oil and gas production, which long before the BP oil disaster has destroyed critically important coastal wetlands that provide habitat and serve as a buffer to hurricanes. The harsh impacts of oil and gas production are especially present just north of the Gulf of Mexico, where five historic African-American communities in Louisiana have been extinguished by mass residential relocation in order to prevent further exposures to health-damaging pollution.

What the Gulf needs now is national galvanized commitment that supports the people of the Gulf — and gives them a voice in setting both the remedies for the deep wounds cut by the BP oil drilling disaster, as well as the path to a sustainable energy future that protects our human right to a healthy environment.

Monique Harden is the co-director & attorney of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights a public interest law firm based in New Orleans, LA that is dedicated to upholding our human right to live in a healthy environment.