Gov. Bobby Jindal has a point: There is a time for blame, and there is a time for action. At an April 30 press conference on the Gulf oil disaster, Jindal was asked if he intends to file suit against any of the responsible parties. The governor didn't give a definitive yes or no; instead, he said there "will be time later for folks to consider litigation, claims and financial reimbursement." His focus now, he said, is "to mitigate the damage on our coast, on our fisheries, on our wetlands, on our fragile ecosystem. ... People's lives are going to be negatively impacted." We agree.
At the news conference, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar both placed the blame on BP and said the feds will hold the company financially responsible. All well and good, but we're glad Jindal and his staff aren't sitting around a desk trying to figure out the best way to pursue litigation at a time when the state has to act, and fast.
The best response thus far hasn't come from the state or the federal government, nor the oil companies and their affiliates. The best responders so far have been the people who live and work along the coast. Jindal suggested as much last week when he praised south Louisiana fishermen, shrimpers and oystermen for volunteering to help keep as much oil as possible out of the state's fragile marshes. This should never have been their problem, of course, but the oil is in Louisiana's backyard, and coastal residents — still reeling from Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav — now face the possible loss of this year's seafood harvest, and perhaps much more later.
"We still have a long ways to go, and we have no idea where we are going," Salazar said. Last week, hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil poured into the Gulf daily. Should the underground gusher go unchecked and the leak source not hold a plug, the leak could get even bigger. The impact of chemical dispersants, which break up the oil much like dishwashing liquid on a greasy skillet and have the potential to prevent it from reaching the coast, could have serious blowback. It may save beaches, marshes and estuaries, but it also could destroy undersea marine life and wreak bottom-up havoc on our ecosystem and its food chain.
Meanwhile, there was some room for optimism last week in the face of mild forecasts and a spirit of cooperation between the feds and the state. Louisiana has deployed hundreds of specialists and is monitoring air samples in Kenner and Chalmette. The state Department of Corrections began training inmates in oil cleanup efforts, and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries did the same for National Guard troops. Hundreds of thousands of feet of boom, which act as a barrier to the encroaching spill, have been deployed across the coast, particularly around environmentally sensitive places like bird habitats. Hundreds of sea vessels and aircraft have lifted oil from the Gulf, and the U.S. Navy and Secretary of Defense have sent aircrafts and personnel to help set up additional booms and disperse chemicals.
In the face of such a calamity, many individuals feel helpless. But, unlike evacuees right after Katrina, people across Louisiana can help mitigate the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. If you want to volunteer or contribute, go to our website at http://bestofneworleans.com/oilspill.html. As more opportunities to help continue to appear, we'll add them to the site.
We do this not to help bail out BP or any other large corporation, but because of our coastal neighbors like Chuc Nguyen, who told The New York Times last week, "What else can I do? I don't know how to read and write. If you tell me to do something other than fishing, I don't even know what it would be." The time to hold BP and others responsible for this catastrophe will come soon enough. For now, while the oil giant looks for a way to stanch the environmental catastrophe, we all need to be thinking of ways to help people like Chuc Nguyen.