10/20/2010 10:13 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Six Months Later: Keeping Faith in the Gulf

Six months ago, oil began gushing into the Gulf of Mexico after the BP Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, sending 206 million of gallons of oil into the Gulf and senselessly taking the lives of eleven workers.

The oil spill was a devastating tragedy that should not have happened. As the restoration process begins, we must reflect on ways to prevent a disaster like this from happening in the future and take all necessary steps to implement a restoration plan that returns the Gulf of Mexico to a healthier condition than before the spill. The spill was the latest blow to a Gulf ecosystem that has been in decline for decades.

If we don't act now, the people, communities and industries that rely on the Gulf for their livelihoods will suffer. We must restore the Gulf ecosystem to a healthy condition so that it can continue to provide for the region. Ocean Conservancy advocates a three point plan to ensure this happens:

  • Aggressively pursue answers to the harm caused by the spill and clearly define what a healthy Gulf should look like;
  • Develop and implement a strong, comprehensive, long term restoration plan that ensures BP and the Administration fulfill the promises they made; and
  • Monitor the results and make adjustments as necessary to be fully effective.

As we learned from Exxon Valdez, it could take decades before we completely understand the full human and environmental damage of an oil disaster. We must determine the full scope of the damage, and put in place comprehensive, science-based solutions that restore livelihoods, habitat, fish and wildlife.

We are encouraged that President Obama has promised that restoration efforts would go, "beyond the crisis of the moment" to rebuild "the unique beauty and bounty" of the Gulf region. The President affirmed that our goal must not only be to restore the Gulf of Mexico from the impacts of the BP disaster, but also to enhance it by addressing the degradation that has occurred in the past. Our generation must leave it better than we found it.

So far, the Obama Administration has walked the walk. The Mabus report - issued by Navy Secretary and former Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus - also envisions, "a resilient and healthy Gulf of Mexico ecosystem that supports the diverse economies, communities, and culture of the region."

By appointing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, a daughter of the Gulf, to lead the new Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, the administration has given another strong indication that it is serious about its commitment to the region.

Let's be clear; the task ahead is a long one. And while the six month anniversary is an appropriate time to reflect on what has happened and where we need to go, as Secretary Mabus warns, it will take many years of sustained commitment to renew the productivity of the region.

This President - and Congress - will be judged by Gulf residents and the nation not based on lofty aspirations but on results. To realize the Mabus report's potential, it is imperative that President Obama remain focused on Gulf restoration and recovery over the long term, making it a key priority during his tenure in office. He must work tirelessly to ensure the Mabus recommendations are implemented, and that BP is held fully accountable for the damage they have inflicted on the region.

Congress must fully fund the recovery effort, not just today when the disaster is fresh in the minds of the public, but throughout the process. And we must continue to hold BP and the Administration accountable for the promises they have made to restore the Gulf and ensure a disaster like this never happens again.

As we commemorate the six month anniversary of the BP disaster, we should use this time to reflect - and to act - on how we must restore the health of the Gulf.