April 20th, 2015 marked the five year anniversary of the BP Oil Spill disaster. Many residents of Pensacola and the greater Gulf Coast remember the oil rig explosion and the fear that the oil would come up on our beaches in waves of pollution. Pensacola beaches were one of the first Florida beaches to see tar balls and swills of oil. The environment suffered and our economy was devastated as the impact on local and regional tourism took a tremendous negative toll on jobs and businesses.
Events covered the Gulf Coast in recognition of the anniversary. For example, on Saturday, April 18th Pensacola celebrated Earth Day at Bayview Park in the Bayview Senior Center Auditorium. This year Earth Day Pensacola gave out their first annual Environmental Excellence Community Advocacy Award to two recipients, Dr. Enid Sisskin, University of West Florida Professor and long-time environmental advocate and Linda Young, Director of the Florida Clean Water Network. There was a music line-up, and vendors focused on garden growing, solar panels, energy efficient windows, water protection and education on the importance of birds.
The Gulf Futures Coalition, of which several Pensacola stakeholder organizations are a member of, organized a delegation of Gulf Coast groups to attend a rally at BP’s Houston headquarters. In Houston there were hundreds of 100 Gulf Coast citizens and representatives from several under-served communities across the region, fisher folk, artists, musicians, interfaith leaders and
environmental groups assembled in front of BP’s corporate offices to commemorate the five years that have passed since the beginning of the BP disaster. However, BP did not welcome the residents, refusing to meet with a delegation of Vietnamese fishing families and rejecting attempts for the group to meet with representatives of the oil company. By doing so, BP also rejected the delivery of a well-organized grassroots generated petition signed by over 121,000 US residents.
Van Jones, the African-American Founder of Green for All a national environmental activist group, sent out an Oil Spill Anniversary message: “Our work is about defending the air our kids breathe and the water they drink. It’s also about tapping into the vast opportunity that investments in a healthy planet create. The things that are good for our air and water are also good for people. That’s why Green for All is working to connect more people of color and low-income Americans to the wealth and work that come from fighting pollution. This Earth Day, we commit to working with the top solar companies to double the number of people of color who are working in the solar industry. We also commit to increasing rooftop solar in communities of color by 10 times. We’re building a healthier planet AND a healthier, more inclusive economy”.