Five years after Hurricane Katrina's swift but devastating assault on the Gulf Coast and my hometown of New Orleans, a slow moving but massive oil spill in the Gulf could have an even more devastating impact on the region's shoreline, wildlife, economy and people. While the BP oil company has accepted full responsibility and moved quickly to coordinate containment and clean up of the spill, the company's efforts thus far have not resulted in capping the flow of more than 200,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf each day. With the spill spreading, fear mounting and the region's multi-billion dollar fishing industry shutting down, the Obama Administration has mobilized all appropriate government resources to assist BP in tackling what may well be an unprecedented environmental disaster.
Last week, the President and members of his response team, including Coast Guard Commandant, Thad Allen; Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano; Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar and EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson toured the region and pledged to spare no effort to fix the problem.
Lisa Jackson, the nation's first African American EPA Administrator, grew up in New Orleans. While in the region, she met with members of the local shrimping and fishing industries to assess the spill's potential economic impact. During meetings in Saint Barnard Parish and at a church in New Orleans's Ninth Ward she made it clear that BP must train and hire local fishermen and boaters to help with the clean-up. Nobody knows the marshes and waterways better than the local fishermen, many of whom are out of work as the region's huge seafood industry grinds to a halt.
Administrator Jackson has also deployed a specially designed aircraft to assist in the collection of air samples and to provide photo documentation of the spill's environmental impact. She has directed EPA personnel on the ground to support the Coast Guard's efforts. All told, the Obama Administration has committed 10,000 personnel, more than 270 vessels and dozens of aircraft to assist in containment and clean-up efforts.
New Orleans is a city on the mend. A dynamic new Mayor, Mitch Landrieu, has just taken office. The New Orleans Saints are Super Bowl champions. And the city continues to rebuild and rebound in the aftermath of Katrina. Now an oil spill the size of Rhode Island threatens to make landfall. One wonders how much the people of the region can take. The oil recovery effort is a complex operation that must be led by BP and the federal government. But, once again, the spirit of community, self-help, and empowerment that makes New Orleans and the Gulf Coast so great is making its presence known. Citizens are stepping up to do their share - as volunteers, as workers, and as protectors of the environment.
We join all Americans in continuing to pray that a disaster can be averted. And we applaud the Obama Administration and leaders like EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, for doing all they can to protect the region's environment, jobs and people.
Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.