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Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins

Posted: May 13, 2010 08:50 PM

Unheard Voices from the Gulf Coast

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The Vietnamese community of greater New Orleans makes up roughly half of the fishing industry in the area. They help to supply more than one-third of the nation's seafood. As our country faces a potential shortage of Gulf shrimp, crab and fish, these workers face complete economic uncertainty.

Low-income communities and communities of color have the most to gain from a clean-energy future and the most to lose under the current dirty economy. Their livelihoods are prisoners of, and sadly victims to, our current energy policy. We are seeing this tragic tale unfold in neighborhoods across New Orleans.

Johnson Nguyen, a Vietnamese American who has been shrimping with his father since he was twelve years old, is watching his family's source of income sink with each gushing gallon of oil. He and his father are considering working on clean-up efforts to make ends meet, but are worried about the training provisions and the implications of signing the British Petroleum waiver.

BP is required by law to provide subsidies. Before the explosion, the Nguyen family had an annual income of $60,000. BP is offering them and other owners of fishing boats $5,000 for loss of business. Deck hands are compensated $2,500 for their loss of income.

As the true extent of economic and environmental damages will not be known for months, signing this waiver now means freeing BP from future claims from families and workers in the community. And this includes any health and safety risks that they face helping to reclaim their shores from the oil slick that is choking it.

It has been widely reported that 40-hour hazardous materials training programs are being crammed into four hours. In some cases, training is cut even shorter because of inadequate translation services. As a result, many in New Orleans' immigrant communities are walking around with certificates without proper training - and protection - to handle ultra-hazardous chemicals.

Our workers, our country deserve better. Not only do we demand a clean-energy economy, but we must have transparency along the way. Language barriers should not compromise the safety, security and livelihood of any community. And our value should not be defined by a company that puts profits before the health and well-being of its own employees.

Groups like VAYLA, Mary Queen of Viet Nam Community Development Corporation, Inc., and Boat People SOS are on the ground along the Gulf Coast leading the way in advocacy and ensuring that the voices of our most vulnerable communities are heard.

Low-income communities and communities of color suffer first and worst from environmental tragedies, and this is no different in the case of the Gulf Coast Catastrophe. We are looking at BP to right their wrongs.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins is CEO of Green For All