Gulf Cleanup Needed, Government Report Says
Coastal states must work together to restore key elements of the Gulf of Mexico that have made it a backbone of the U.S. economy before the ecosystem becomes so weak and polluted that it is no longer habitable for animals or people, according to a preliminary report released Wednesday.
The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, established by President Barack Obama after last year's catastrophic oil spill, provided an executive summary of the report to the Associated Press. The draft report seeks to pinpoint the biggest challenges and most pressing issues facing the Gulf and also provide the five coastal states - Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama - with a restoration strategy.
"One of the results of all the meetings is a real sense of urgency," EPA chief Lisa Jackson told The AP. "Person after person came in and said `we're losing the Gulf.' None of it is irreversible, but the longer we wait, the harder it will be."
The Gulf of Mexico's ecosystem, long the victim of upstream efforts to allow easy ship navigation and prevent Mississippi River flooding, has been in a state of environmental decline for decades.
BP's oil spill, the largest offshore spill in U.S. history, drew public attention to the slow, persistent damage done to the area that produced 30 percent of the nation's gross domestic product in 2009. The sudden fear that the oil would permanently harm the marine and coastal area created an urgency to fix those woes.
The task force, made up of representatives from an array of federal and state agencies, laid out four goals requiring immediate attention: restoring and conserving habitat; restoring water quality; replenishing and protecting coastal and marine resources and enhancing community resilience.
The committee also demanded that Congress, which has still failed to dedicate funding to restoration efforts, dedicate "significant portions" of penalties from the oil spill to the recovery efforts. Members also are asking Congress to create a permanent council to oversee, coordinate and manage the restoration.
For some Gulf Coast officials, however, federal involvement is not necessarily a blessing. Mayor Tony Kennon in Orange Beach, Ala., as well as Leoda Bladsacker, a town councilwoman in Grand Isle, La., both said they have little confidence that any positive change will come of the task force or its findings.
A priority highlighted by the task force is a need to restore and preserve natural river processes that distribute and process sediment and freshwater - the lifeblood of downstream wetlands and the wildlife that call those areas home.
The sediment - nutrient -filled sand and rock that flow from rivers and streams into the ocean - constitute the structural foundation of the Gulf's ecosystem.
"Restoring the supply of sediment is the number one most important thing. If we can do that, as well as decrease the flow of nutrients that have created a dead zone in the Gulf, we'll be in good shape," Jackson said.
The dead zone is an area where there is so little oxygen nothing can live. Scientists believe it is caused by fertilizers and other nutrients from the Midwest that flow into the Mississippi River and eventually into the Gulf.
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