Executive Director, Environment Texas
Executive Director, Environment Texas
AUSTIN— The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest in American history, is an environmental tragedy that has had devastating effects on thousands of lives; however, the oil spill is only one of a multitude of problems the Gulf of Mexico is currently facing.
Today, Environment Texas released Our Great Waters, a new report that outlines the regional, environmental, and economic significance of eight of America’s most treasured waterways. Because of its ecological significance, Environment Texas has named the Gulf of Mexico as one of America’s “Great Waters.” This report lays out the specific problems facing each of the eight water bodies and proposed legislative fixes. The release of this report comes a week before a key vote in the Environment and Public Works committee in the U.S. Senate.
“Water quality in the Gulf is not only threatened by the oil spill, but also by excess pollution from industrial facilities and corporate agricultural operations,” Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas said. “These facilities release pollutants into the Mississippi River and other waterways, which then flow to the Gulf.”
Prior to the oil spill, pollution alone flowing into the Gulf from the Mississippi River has created a dead zone roughly the size of New Jersey at almost 8,000 sq. miles. Now with the oil spill in the Gulf, the long-term effects on water quality, wildlife and the regional economy will be apparent for decades and likely increase the already expansive dead zone.
“Our waterways are treasured resources for the fishing and tourism industries. We need them protected, not polluted, now more than ever,” said Metzger. “We need legislation to limit the toxic pollution and agricultural runoff that is constantly flowing into the Gulf. To restore the waters and wildlife affected by the spill, we need a national effort and long-term commitment from the government.”
The Our Great Waters report found:
• The Gulf of Mexico’s shores and beaches support a $20 billion tourism industry, with visitors coming every year to boat, fish and relax.
• Louisiana alone contains 40 percent of the nation’s coastal wetlands, which are important habitats and provide essential protection from flooding.
• Four of the top five U.S states in total surface discharge of toxic chemicals—Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas—are located on the Gulf Coast.
The report describes legislation that Congress is currently considering, including a bill that Environment Texas says would finally start to provide funding needed to implement and coordinate restoration efforts to clean up and preserve the Gulf. It establishes a Gulf of Mexico office within the Environmental Protection Agency to coordinate Gulf-related programs and address specific problems, like the oil spill. The bill would also create measurable improvements in water quality provide grants for monitoring, research and strategy development.
This legislation, called The Gulf of Mexico Restoration and Protection Act (S.1311) was introduced by Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker and co-sponsored by Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran and Louisiana Senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter.
The bill is expected to be voted on in a key committee next week along with similar bills designed to protect the other great waters across the country.
“Maintaining America’s great waters is going to take new action and stronger measures than are currently in place. We urge Senators Cornyn and Hutchison to support the Gulf of Mexico Restoration and Protection Act and are counting on the Senate to pass legislation not only for the Gulf of Mexico, but for many of America’s great waters,” Metzger said.