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The Oil Isn't Gone, but the People Are Still Here

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While some kids grow up eating hot dogs and playing tag in their backyard, I grew up in Louisiana swimming in Lake Pontchartrain, fishing in the bayous, and eating Gulf seafood. Like everyone else on the Gulf coast, these waters are literally part of who I am. Over the past six months, I've watched the BP oil disaster unfold and threaten to change not only the lives of my friends and family, but the very culture of those who grew up on the Gulf.

Instead of spending the past summer boating, swimming and fishing, Gulf families have spent these last few months worrying about whether they'd be able to make rent on their fishing boats, whether they could afford enough fresh fish to keep their restaurants open, or whether they could find enough people to keep the rooms at their hotels full as the regular seasonal tourists failed to arrive. And just as oil still lingers in the Louisiana marshes, these concerns haven't gone away just because the TV cameras have.

Though six months have passed since the Deepwater Horizon sank and millions of gallons of oil started spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, we are still far from saying, "mission accomplished." Many people that rely on the rich fisheries and diverse ecosystems of the Gulf to keep their industries going--including shrimpers and oystermen, waitresses and charter boat captains -- are still hurting. We can't just forget about them.

If we want to rebuild the Gulf economy and preserve its special and unique way of life for future generations, we need to move full speed ahead with the recovery and restoration of the Gulf coast. A disaster like this can never happen again. A healthy Gulf -- full of oysters and shrimp, brown pelicans and turtles -- is not only the cornerstone of the Gulf economy, but also of Gulf culture and Gulf people.

But we cannot protect the Gulf, or protect oilrig workers from potentially deadly accidents, if in the wake of this catastrophe we rush right back to "drill, baby, drill." Promises from oil companies will not protect the Gulf from further damage, nor will they protect the jobs of local fishermen, restaurant owners, and tourism industry workers during the long recovery ahead -- let alone keep them at work if another disaster happens.

I grew up with people whose livelihoods depend on the oil and gas industry, and I know that the industry has very deep roots in the Gulf and particularly Louisiana. Even coming from that perspective, though, the irrefutable truth is that we need better laws in place to regulate how we drill off our shores -- laws that will protect the wildlife and coastlines that Gulf coast residents depend on to pay the bills and bring home dinner each night.

The BP oil spill, the largest accidental oil spill in human history, is only the latest, most visible evidence of the kind of environmental destruction that has been going on in the Gulf for decades. Louisiana loses a football field of wetlands every 45 minutes -- and nearly 60 percent of that is attributed to the oil and gas activity that has ravaged our beloved bayous for years.

The fact that a mere six months after BP's terrible disaster, the government has already made the decision to lift the moratorium and allow deepwater drilling to resume is shocking to me. This is just the latest indication that Washington isn't taking into account the lives and livelihoods of those who live along the gulf coast and depend on its waters. Until we know that regulations are effective and that all the gaps that allowed the BP oil spill to happen have been closed, we have no business continuing to drill. There is simply too much to lose.

Obviously, we should all be working to reduce our dependence on dirty fossil fuels, and turning toward clean energy technologies that do not pose a threat to our shorelines, our way of life, or our environment; however, that transition will take some time. In the immediate future, we, the citizens of an oil addicted nation, need to step forward and urge the government to take responsibility and help make coastal communities whole again -- by holding BP accountable, conducting short and long-term monitoring, and investing in economic opportunities to support locally-driven, sustainable recovery that restores and enhances America's Gulf coast.

We can't undo our past mistakes, but we can make sure that the clear warning broadcast by this spill and its terrible aftermath haven't been in vain. Rather than going right back to our old ways, let's chart a new path to a cleaner, more sustainable future. All the Gulf's residents are counting on us; we can't afford to let them -- or countless other coastal communities -- down again.

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