Settlement fails to address health and lost livelihood damages while infrastructure for oil transport continues to be built, says Bridge the Gulf Project fellow Cherri Foytlin
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. BP has agreed to pay a record environmental fine of $18.7 billion to the U.S. and Gulf states over the fatal 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. If you remember, the event killed 11 workers and resulted in millions of barrels of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, becoming the biggest offshore environmental disaster in history. Activists have never given up on the fight to try to find justice, and staged protests on the fifth anniversary of the spill in front of BP headquarters in April. One of those activists now joins us. Cherri Foytlin is a freelance journalist and photographer, and she’s a fellow at the Bridge the Gulf project. Thanks for joining us, Cherri. CHERRI FOYTLIN, FELLOW, BRIDGE THE GULF PROJECT: Thank you for having me. DESVARIEUX: So Cherri, your home state of Louisiana where you reside, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas are all a part of the settlement. Louisiana is the state that was most affected by the spill, and will be recovering more than $10 [billion] from BP. Cherri, do we know what that actually means in practical terms for the people of the Gulf? FOYTLIN: Well, it means that we’ll be getting some money for restoration here in the state of Louisiana. So that’s good. But I mean, we have a $15 billion price tag that comes along with that restoration, so really it’s just kind of a drop in the bucket. It means that the Clean Water Act fines will be taken care of. Natural resource damage assessment fines will be taken care of. But unfortunately what I’m worried about is how that translates down to people on the ground. And you know, we’re still dealing with a lot of issues, for instance like the livelihood, fish catches and shrimping is still low, the price is extremely low right now. People are still concerned, the consumer, about eating the seafood. So there’s that issue. But also, we still have a lot of people that are still sick from the dispersants that they used out there. And that, this money is aside from that. It doesn’t deal with anything that has to do with health. That’s my biggest issue, is how that translates down to people on the ground. We have some states, we’re talking about five different states here, and five different amounts of damage. In Louisiana we have a problem with land loss. We have–it comes with a $50 billion price tag to even begin to approach that. Like I said, that’s not going to be enough to take care of that. And the BP disaster really exacerbated those issues that we were having. And in Mississippi they want to build a ballpark. In Alabama they’re all excited about this convention center. And then in some parts, too, they’re actually building infrastructure like roads and bridges and things like that. And what do you think’s going to be going on those bridges. They’re building that for the oil companies to have a way to get their product out and in to these ports. DESVARIEUX: So if I’m understanding you correctly, so it’s–some of these funds are going to be going back to the oil industry and helping them. FOYTLIN: Exactly. It’ll be going into projects that will support the continuation of the oil industry and their hold on this region itself. DESVARIEUX: Can you be more specific? Which exact project are you talking about? FOYTLIN: In Alabama there’s a lot of concern about and a lot of money being thrown down to replace bridges that have been damaged. Canals and the widening of canals like in Mississippi and such. But all of that is to open these ports up bigger to let the oil industry get those tankers in. It all comes down to the money. I would have been so much happier if they would have earmarked all of that money just for coastal restoration or just for the infrastructure for green energy and renewables. I mean, basically we’re on the same track. We’re just consistently running around the same track that relies on this archaic industry that we already–it’s very much proven beside the BP disaster that they’re not concerned about our health, or take care of the people that are, they’re mostly affected by these disasters that happen. I can say, running on that same track, there will be another disaster. They’re drilling out there in that same spot right now. DESVARIEUX: Oh, wow. And we should mention that BP’s share price actually rose today in the news. So this is sort of a sigh of relief for investors, in a lot of ways. I obviously know you don’t think that this absolves BP at all. But what at the end of the day would you have liked to–you said coastal restoration. What specifically are we talking about? What would you have liked to see happen with the settlement? FOYTLIN: Well, here in Louisiana we lose about a football field an hour of land. And part of it’s because the oil industry has made these huge canals all across our wetlands that let the water in. And we tried, we tried–our levee authority here really tried to bring the oil industry, including BP, to task and to make them pay their fair share. But they haven’t done that. They refused that. And in fact our government, Louisiana government, made it a law. Bobby Jindal in particular really went against that and tried to keep the oil companies from having to pay for the damages that they have brought against us. So what I would have liked to have seen or hear is that that money be earmarked only for restoration. So the point is, their stocks rose today, right, because people are thinking that this absolves from their guilt. Right, that this washes the sins, BP’s sins off of their hands. But unfortunately that’s not the case. Because we’re still dealing with lots of issues around health issues. I would really like to have seen some sort of medical training for our doctors to be able to deal with toxic issues. I think that would be important. I would like to have seen coastal restoration projects that are really going to support the coast and help to rebuild our land losses that we have, a football field every hour. We’ve lost over a million acres of land to date. And BP’s disaster really exacerbated that. And in states like Mississippi and Alabama, where this money’s going to be going to frivolous things like ballparks and convention centers–not even green. Not even green, the convention centers. It really would have been nice–how many solar panels could we have bought with that much money. You know, how much infrastructure could we put into place that would have made a preventative measure so that this could not happen again. That’s what needs to happen. We have to get off this track that we’re running on where we’re going to run into the exact same issues. Now, here we are. It’s hurricane season. There’s still a Rhode Island-sized mat out there in the Gulf for BP’s oil. What happens when the hurricanes come in and spread that all over the Gulf coast? BP doesn’t have any skin in the game anymore, so that’s all going to come back to the taxpayers. It’s all going to come back to us. It’s going to fall on the health of our people, like it already has, right. There’s no amount of money, no amount of money that can bring back life. And that’s the issue here. This does not absolve BP of anything, because there are still 11 people dead. There are still countless sea life that has been damaged. There is still loss of livelihood, and there are still people desperately ill in the Gulf of Mexico. DESVARIEUX: All right. Cherri Foytlin joining us from Louisiana, thank you so much for being with us. FOYTLIN: Thank you. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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