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Returning to the Gulf After BP Destroyed It

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Even though the Deepwater Horizon well has been capped and the relief wells are almost finished, the BP oil disaster is far from over. It will take decades to recover from this catastrophe.

I don't think people fully realize the scale of the damage: BP has ruined the Gulf of Mexico. One company has single handedly destroyed an enormous source of beauty, marine life, and cultural traditions that have been passed down for generations.

It's unconscionable. And it's time to put our foot down. We need to establish better safety regulations, and we need to hold BP accountable for its disastrous behavior. I've worked with NRDC to record a video to help tell this story and I hope you'll watch it:

I was born and raised in New Orleans. I spent my youth swimming at Gulf beaches from Grand Isle to Pass Christian, sailing on Lake Pontchartrain, traveling through the wetlands by boat. It is a glorious region, and I am lucky to have grown up there.

But when I returned to some of those places a month ago, I was sickened by what I saw. I went out on a boat with my mother, who is a councilwoman for New Orleans, and Billy Nungesser, the president of Plaquemines Parish. We went through Barataria Bay and within 15 minutes of leaving the dock, we were in a sea of oil.

I remember the bay as a place filled with wildlife -- birds, alligators, sea turtles, and of course abundant oyster, shrimp, and crab beds. But since the BP explosion, the bay has become an industrial zone.

Oil sheen covered the water as far as we could see, and in every single marsh we passed, it was as if someone had taken a giant brush, dipped it in a big bucket of paint and painted the grass black. We went over to Cat Island, where the pelicans gather. There was no place for them to land that was oil-free, so they touched down in oily water, and their bellies were covered with the stuff.

I was shocked to see the booms they are using to try to block the oil. They're like band aids on gunshot wounds. They are incapable of protecting the marshes.

Even though Americans have seen photos of the spill, I am not sure we have grasped just how hard this is hitting people in the Gulf.

There are men who will never fish or shrimp again. There are Gulf children graduating from high school who will never find jobs in fishing or tourism. There are oyster beds that may never come back -- and that's why the 134-year old New Orleans institution, P&J Oyster Company, has stopped shucking. The company survived several wars and the Great Depression, but BP has finally brought it to a halt.

This spill is a wakeup call for all of us. It's criminal that one company can take so much away from so many people, and we have to stop it. We need to strengthen the regulations for offshore drilling so a disaster like this never happens again. And we need to shift to the cleaner cars that will help us need less Gulf oil in the first place.

And we need to figure out a way to clean up the damage already done in the Gulf. Traveling through the blackened marshes, I got the sense that the task was Sisyphean, but I remain hopeful.

In the meantime, I still worry that the spill will fade from the headlines, and people will forget that BP has trashed the Gulf of Mexico. I hope instead that Americans will keep clamoring until this once-vibrant region is restored.

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