Oil Spill Sheds Light on Need for Clean Energy and Jobs

Green experts say joblessness a threat of gulf oil spill

Two workers take calls at BP’s Crisis Command Center in Houston (Source: © BP p.l.c.).

As the the Gulf oil spill disaster clears its 60th day, the government has estimated that 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil are gushing into the Gulf of Mexico each day.

No one can estimate how much it will cost to fix the spill, but BP’s $20 billion escrow fund for clean up, recovery, and restitution to affected individuals and businesses is likely a good start. Thousands of species of wildlife, miles of wetlands already damaged after Hurricane Katrina, local seafaring jobs, and the health of clean up workers are at stake, says Leslie G. Fields, director of National Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships at the Sierra Club..

Fields and Michael Dorsey, assistant professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College, spoke with BlackEnterprise.com about President Barack Obama’s response to oil spill, the impact the disaster will have on black businesses, and explained what processes need to be put into place to ensure justice for gulf communities.

Black-owned enterprises in the Gulf are losing business, says Leslie G. Fields, a director at the Sierra Club.

BlackEnterprise.com: What specifically is at stake in the Gulf in terms of the disappearing wetlands, disappearing jobs, increased risk of well being of the communities?

Leslie G. Fields: The way of life [is just disappearing], [as well as ] cultures. Also, [there's a loss in] tourism dollars. A lot of our seafood industry is down there … and the energy economy.  We need to have options for communities down there.  Then, of course, the wildlife is being destroyed.  We lose because of erosion from the channeling of the oil.

What does the oil spill mean for African American business owners?

Fields: It’s going to be very difficult. They are going to have to work with the government to make sure that they have the restitution that they need. If they are fishing community people, the fishing areas have been closed, so they are losing business. The businesses that support the fisher communities are also losing business. Those in tourism, with hotels are losing business. I don’t know how they will get by. The problem is we don’t know how long it is going to last and how much is going to get cleaned up.

BP has set aside $20 billion for recovery and compensation efforts. Is it enough?

Fields: I don’t know. It took about 20 years for all the civil petitions and complaints to get somewhat resolved after the Exxon Valdez [Oil Spill].  The government lawsuits were settled pretty quickly, I think, in a couple of years. There needs to be civil and criminal penalties enforced in this situation.

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  • http://www.energyrelations.net Andre Williams

    Dorsey is right. More emphasis should be placed on the “transition” to cleaner energy. Oil and gas powers 95% of the nation’s transportation and moving away from this is not going to happen over night. Most of us do not own electric or solar-powered cars, and many of us have no plans to purchase them in the near future.

    Furthermore, the jobs lost in the transition should also be highly considered. Much of our oil and gas production and refining takes place in the South, where many African Americans earn GREAT paychecks in this industry. When the transition does take place, we should make sure the green movement doesn’t abandon these folks.