Public Citizen energy organizer Allison Fisher recently traveled to Louisiana for a firsthand look at how the oil spill was affecting residents, clean-up workers and the local ecology. Her trip included attending a program on lessons from Exxon Valdez at Louisiana State University, speaking on the steps of the state house in Baton Rouge, meeting with agents at a BP claims center, touring a clean-up staging area, participating in a bird survey on an island in the Barataria Bay, and interviewing a Grand Isle oysterman and his family over lunch at their home. Her journal entries below reflect her experience during her five day trip down the bayou.
Journal 6.17.2010: Made right?
Have we learned from the second biggest environmental disaster in US history?
President Obama in his address to the American people on Tuesday night, called the oil leak that continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, “the worst environmental disaster in US history.” In limited detail, Obama, laid out his plan to respond to the spill, restore the livelihoods and environment impacted by the disaster and wean our economy off fossil fuels. But does he draw any lessons from the story that took 20 years to unfold in Prince William Sound, Alaska? Will the administration’s plan bring justice to the Gulf Coast communities that never came to Prince William Sound Alaska?
On my first night in Baton Rouge, LA, I sat in an auditorium on the campus of LSU and watched a documentary on the legacy of Exxon Valdez, called “Black Wave”. I saw footage from a 1989 town hall meeting in Cordova, AK, where an Exxon spokesperson told the angry citizens that they were in good hands, “Exxon will make you whole”, he pledged. The initial civil action lawsuit, involving 32,000 plaintiffs, found Exxon “reckless” and rendered an award of $5 billion. Over the course of the next 14 years, Exxon’s onslaught of appeals eventually landed the case before the US Supreme Court. In February 2008, the court ruled that Exxon’s compensation to the people of Prince William Sound would amount to $500 million dollars -one tenth of the original award.
The American people have heard the same promise from BP, a promise to “make it right”. If “make it right” is a different version of the same “make you whole” play book, the communities that surround the Gulf of Mexico have reason to be nervous. If the government can