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What Kind Of Disaster: Environmental Or Economic? (Yes, Both)


This article is the final installment
in a series of four.

Memorial Day marks the official beginning of summer and
many were looking forward to vacations on the water, but the telephones
are not ringing off the hook for reservations. Just the opposite is
happening. Families with reservations are calling to cancel them.

Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi have been
ramping up new television and radio advertising to get the word out that
there are plenty of rooms available. In Mississippi, coastal tourism
brings in over $1.8 billion annually.
BP is handing out $70 million to these four states whose tourism
industries will take a direct hit from the oil leak in the Gulf.

The leak is having different effects on different
industries. There are concerns about an even larger impact on the
economy if the leak heads west in the Gulf of Mexico that is populated
with more oil rigs and a greater portion of Louisiana’s fishing
community. Loren Scott, a Baton Rouge economist said, “…oil will then go
underneath existing platforms and drill ships…if that happens, those
platforms would have to be evacuated and not only would energy
production suffer, but so would the industries that support the oil and
gas sector.”

The most immediate economic concern involves the fishing
industry. Seafood production in Louisiana alone has an economic impact
of $2.4 billion. About 23 percent of that amount has been temporarily
shut down due to the oil leak. Ewell Smith, executive director of the
Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board said, “If it gets into
our estuaries, there could be some longterm impact…fish can swim away
from the impacted areas, the concerns are for oysters, shrimp and larvae
that are unable to evacuate the spill…The last thing we can afford is
the collapse of our markets.”

The Small Business Administration announced plans to offer
low-interest loans to small businesses on the Louisiana Gulf Coast that
are suffering financial losses tied to the oil leak. The agency also is
allowing some small firms impacted by the spill to defer payment on SBA
disaster loans related to the hurricanes in recent years. 

Some fishermen are able to offset their economic losses by
joining cleanup efforts, but that also creates an upset in the economic
balance. There are about 17,000 people employed in food manufacturing,
1,900 in frozen fish and seafood, and 2,300 in seafood canning that will
suffer cutbacks or total collapse if there are reduced or no harvests.

According to Michael Lorino, president of the Associated
Branch Pilots, a group who guide ships into and out of the Mississippi
River, “One area of commerce that has been left relatively unscathed by
the spill is shipping…ship diversions to avoid pockets of oil in the
Gulf have caused some ship delays of about two hours.” Longer delays can
be anticipated if a ship comes in contact with heavy oil and is
required to drop anchor and have its hull cleaned before entering the
river.

We need a new awakening of OCEAN ENVIRONMENTALISM in the
US. While the Gulf is under assault, the ocean’s broader limits are
threatened to everyone.

Finally, BP is spending millions to control the leak and
mitigate damages. BP has stated that it will cover all legitimate claims
resulting from the leak. The total economic activity at risk in
Harrison County, Mississippi, north of the leak, is in excess of $1.4
billion. The six counties closest to the to the oil spill add another
$4.9 billion. There are more than 50 counties in harm’s way. BP had an
income last year of $63.4 billion and the total market value of the
company
is approximately $142 billion. Who will be short-changed? Do the math.

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About Martha Madden

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Madden, president of mMadden Associates, LLC, is a consultant in environmental
and energy issues, homeland security and health policy issues, was awarded an
honorary doctorate of humane letters in 2007.  She is the former legislative assistant to a U.S. Congressman, secretary and chief of the Louisiana Department of
Environmental Quality and special assistant at the U.S. Department of Energy.  As an
academic, she is a former teacher, counselor, dean and a clinical assistant professor at
Tulane University in the Medical and School of Public Health division
teaching environmental polices and international health management.

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