BP Oil Spill: Americans Step Up In Crisis
Business + Economy

BP Oil Spill: Americans Step Up In Crisis

As BP’s solutions to the oil spill fall short and the government strains to lead, Americans are mobilizing to address the problem themselves.

Jennifer DePaul/The Fiscal Times

As temperatures rise, a growing number of Americans want BP and the government to feel the heat from angry and impatient citzens, who want real solutions to the worst environmental crisis in U.S. history. After 48 days, BP is still struggling to end a gushing oil leak and the government seems unable to prevent an estimated 46 million barrels of crude from leaking into Gulf state beaches and marshland. If and when the leak is finally stopped, the enormous task of cleanup and recovery may not begin until well into the fall. 

Sidebar: Timeline of the BP Oil Spill

On Sunday, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is leading the containment and cleanup efforts, said on CBS’s “Face The Nation,” “There will be  oil out there for months to come.” The two relief wells currently being drilled won’t be completed until August. He said that BP was moving in the right direction on stanching the leak, but expressed caution about calling the latest capping efforts a success. "We're making progress," he said. "I don't think anyone should be pleased as long as there's oil in the water."

BP estimated on Saturday that it had funneled about 250,000 gallons of oil onto a nearby drilling ship during the first 24 hours of the cap effort.

But with new concerns that oil was beginning to spread around the tip of Florida and up along the eastern coast, carried along by the powerful loop current, Americans aren’t waiting around.  Frustrated and disappointed for nearly seven weeks now, people across the country are taking action, in both vocal and meaningful ways.

A Rising Tide of Protest

Seize BP, a new grassroots organization, kicked off a series of noisy demonstrations this past week in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Chicago. The group plans further demonstrations in the coming days in more than 50 other cities, according to their website, seizebp.org. Their wish: That the U.S. government take control of BP’s assets and put the money in trusts. They want all victims adequately reimbursed.

“By any number of economic, social and moral requirements, the assets of BP should be used to provide comprehensive compensation and relief for those who have lost their jobs and whose livelihoods, homes and communities have been severely harmed or destroyed,” the group declares on its site. “BP should be responsible for all consequences of damage, not merely direct oil removal costs.”

Other groups, such as Boycott BP, have started a Facebook campaign, with supporters numbering roughly 30,000. There are scores of other anti-BP groups on the social networking site.

Members of other protest groups – Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Energy Action Coalition, and Hip Hop Caucus, among others held a protest on June 4th in Washington D.C. in front of BP's offices. They demanded to speak with BP employees, but didn’t get very far. They chanted, “We want windmills, not more oil spills,” and held banners saying, “Crude Awakening.” Protestors were young and old, male and female, black and white, fresh out of college and longtime wage earners.

POTUS Returns to the Gulf

With the rage ramped up, President Barack Obama made his third visit to the Gulf of Mexico on Friday. He met with a number of small business owners in Grand Isle, Louisiana, declaring in his weekly radio address on Saturday, "What I told these men and women, and what I have said since the beginning of this disaster, is that I'm going to stand with the people of the Gulf Coast until they are made whole."

Butch Gaspard, co-owner of Sand Dollar and Bridge Side Marinas in Grand Isle, was one of those who met with the President. The native of southeastern Louisiana has owned marinas for 40 years and says he stopped taking a salary last month so he could keep paying his employees. BP has rented all the rooms in the motel behind one of his marinas to house cleanup workers, he says. But even with that income, his business won’t be able to make it past July without compensation from the oil giant, he says.

The face-to-face meeting with the President changed his opinion of Obama, he says. "Meeting with the President gave me a different perspective," he told The Fiscal Times. "He is down to earth. He listened. He remembered our names.”

But some 32 percent of the Gulf of Mexico remains off limits for fishing. Over the weekend, tar balls and tar patties were found on Pensacola Beach in Florida.

The Pelican Brief

The National Audubon Society has launched a new national Volunteer Response Center in Moss Point, Mississippi, where a growing group of Americans is helping birds, wildlife, and habitat cope with the oil spill. Volunteers now number over 13,000 and that’s expected to keep growing. “The volunteer response to this disaster has been amazing,” said Sean Saville, national field director. “People just want to help. Volunteers with the right skills and a positive attitude can make a world of difference.”

The response center is identifying people with particular areas of strength, and organizing and assigning their work. Efforts include collecting data on bird resources, caring for injured and oiled wildlife, and providing on-site bird identification. Audubon says there will be future opportunities to help as well, including participating in long-term restoration efforts.

As for the cost of the federal response to the oil spill: That now totals $93 million, as of June 1, according to a letter sent on Friday from Thad Allen and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to congressional leaders. They’re asking that Congress approve a provision that would make up to $100 million more available to the Coast Guard.

Meanwhile, BP has funded a $360 million escrow account to fund a project to build sand berms along the Gulf coast.

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With additional reporting by Ariella Cohen in Grand Isle, Louisiana.