Protecting Louisiana’s People and Bayou From BP

© Jordan Macha, Sierra Club
Oil from BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster on a marsh in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, in June 2010.

John Taylor was ten when he first explored Bayou Bienvenue in New Orleans.

"What I found was a special place; the bayou was full of plants and animals to learn about and quiet spots to think in," recalls John, a volunteer with the Sierra Club Environmental Justice Program in Louisiana.

"I've spent the last 50 years visiting the bayou near my home in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, and every year it disappears a little more - today, what was once a healthy cypress forest is now just open water."

John said it wasn't until Hurricane Katrina that he and others fully realized how the bayou had changed over the years. With the bayou's forest gone, Lower Ninth Ward residents and property were exposed to the storm’s full fury of rising flood waters that left lasting devastation.

Then only a few years later, the BP oil disaster set in motion a chain of events that further damaged Louisiana and the Gulf Coast's coastal marshes and waters.

John's New Orleans neighborhood continues to work to restore Bayou Bienvenue as other communities throughout the Gulf struggle to recover from the devastating impacts of the spill, all while BP continues to enjoy record profits.

As the legal battles between BP, the federal government, Gulf Coast states, and private individuals continue, the Sierra Club stands with John and thousands of other Gulf Coast citizens to demand that BP is held fully accountable for the devastation that Gulf ecosystems and communities continue to endure.

Indeed, BP and its partners are obligated to make the Gulf Coast communities and treasured ecosystems whole again. Whether it is resolved through settlement or trial, BP and its partners must pay for restoration of the natural resources and pay maximum Clean Water Act fines to deter irresponsible activities that could lead to another oil disaster.

On February 6, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune sent a letter to President Obama urging for strong action in any legal settlement resulting from the BP Disaster.

In the letter, the Sierra Club demands that any potential settlement of the U.S. Clean Water Act and Oil Pollution Act claims include the following:

1. A guarantee that BP and other responsible parties provide adequate money for comprehensive, long-term restoration of Gulf waters and its coastal ecosystems, and full recovery of the region's coastal communities. In addition, the government must ensure that restoration of damages from this oil disaster that are discovered in the future are fully covered.

2. BP and the other responsible parties were grossly negligent and must pay the maximum penalties - estimated at $21 billion per responsible party - under the Clean Water Act. A large portion of these penalties must be directed to the Gulf Coast for immediate environmental recovery projects.

3. Establish a permanent Regional Citizen's Advisory Council empowered to oversee oil industry operations in the Gulf and to ensure that government agencies adequately protect local communities against the risks posed by oil drilling activities.

Any potential settlement must be structured to make the region whole again and to ensure that our coasts are never faced with another oil tragedy.

As John’s passion for restoring Bayou Bienvenue shows, citizens throughout the Gulf are committed to making sure the public plays a central role in guiding restoration efforts, be it from rebuilding after a hurricane or holding BP and industry fully accountable for their reckless actions. The recovery and rebuilding of Bayou Bienvenue and the Lower Ninth Ward is an impressive example of how the efforts of individual community members can make seemingly impossible tasks a reality.

"I still live in the Lower Ninth Ward and I spend my days at Bayou Bienvenue maintaining the trail. I know now that protecting one means protecting the other," reflects John.

We stand with John in restoring Bayou Bienvenue and a fair and just outcome of the BP oil disaster.

Tags: BP | Gulf Oil Spill | Oil | Oil Spill