Full recovery must continue on gulf

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 21, 2011

One year ago this week, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig led to a terrible disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Tragically, 11 men lost their lives in the explosion, and many others were injured. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the families of those who suffered.

In addition to the human cost, the ensuing oil spill that resulted from the explosion caused harm to our coast and economy. Residents of the Gulf Coast are resilient and are persevering just as they did following Hurricane Katrina. I remain committed to working with state and local leaders to ensure the Mississippi Gulf Coast is able to recover fully from this terrible incident.

In Mississippi, the economic impacts of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy reached all sectors of the economy. Businesses related to seafood and tourism were mainly affected by a misperception of tainted seafood and oil-covered beaches. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Food and Drug Administration continue to test and certify that Gulf seafood is safe. Experts with NOAA and FDA must continue to keep the public informed so that potential tourists will feel confident about visiting the coast on their next vacation.

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Jobs related to domestic energy production in the Gulf, as well as associated support industries, were devastated by the administration’s moratorium on deepwater drilling. This moratorium compounded economic damages of the spill at a time when all Americans were enduring a severe economic recession. The administration also hampered shallow water production, worsening this problem.

Producing the energy America needs can be dangerous, but safety procedures have been reexamined in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. After needless delays, the administration resumed issuing permits for deep water oil and gas production. This slowdown has made the U.S. more dependent on foreign sources and stalled needed jobs along the Gulf Coast.

To help communities recover, Clean Water Act fines levied on BP will be distributed soon. Revenue collected from any Clean Water Act penalties, resulting from the Deepwater Horizon spill, should be given directly to the Gulf States. Currently, money from the fines is in a U.S. Treasury fund that only select federal agencies can use. A change in law will be required to allow Gulf communities to receive these funds directly, and I am working to secure this needed change with other members from affected states.

Funds from the Clean Water Act fines should be used for locally-directed recovery priorities and to assist in the rebuilding and revival of our Gulf Coast. Local communities are best positioned to determine their needs, and the federal government should not add unnecessary delays and red tape that would slow the use of these funds. Working together on a way forward that makes sense is crucial to recovering from this disaster.

Residents and businesses along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast contribute significantly to our state’s culture and economy. A full recovery will help all of Mississippi by restoring an important vacation destination, promoting Gulf seafood, and supplying the energy we need.

One year after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, there is still work to be done, but much has been accomplished.

Sen. Roger Wicker is a Republican representing Mississippi in the U.S. Senate.