BP the latest culprit in “Americas Dumping Ground”

Meet a community that gets oil spilled in their front AND backyard – and find out how we can stop the damage.

Guest bloggers Van Jones and Jorge Madrid reveal some dirty secrets BP doesn’t want us to know about where the oil goes once it is “cleaned up.” Jones is a senior fellow and former adviser to President Obama on Green Jobs, and Madrid is a research assistant at the Center for American Progress.

While the oil-spewing hole in the middle of the gulf has yet to be fully ‘plugged,’ it appears that a spill of a different kind is underway.

The worst environmental disaster in U.S. history has already generated 1,300 tons of solid waste and 39,448 tons of oil waste – that’s the size of an entire Battleship Bismarck!

Where is all of this waste going?

Surprise! It is being dumped right back into the communities that are already suffering in the gulf – overwhelmingly communities of color.   Perhaps this is who BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg meant when he was talking about ‘small people‘?

Colorlines reported on a new study by the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University, which found that five out of nine of the landfills receiving BP solid-waste are located in predominately communities of color. 61 percent of all oil-waste from the spill is being dumped right back into these communities.

People of color, who represent about 26 percent of the total population in the gulf’s coastal communities, have already suffered immeasurable pain in the form of devastating weather disasters, probably related to climate change.

Their livelihoods in the business of fishing and tourism have been jeopardized and undermined by oil drilling.  Vietnamese fishermen and numerous Native American tribes have seen their ways of life threatened, and many could be forced out of their homes.

Workers have risked their health to participate in cleanup efforts after receiving questionable safety training from BP.  Adding insult to injury, an NAACP investigation in the region concluded: “Community members and business owners [of color] have been locked out of access to contracts for cleanup and other opportunities related to addressing this disaster.”

Now, it seems these communities are being forced to watch their backyards poisoned by the very same company that ruined their coasts and wetlands.

As unconscionable as this particular case is, BP is only the latest villain over the course of more than half century that has used our gulf coast as national dumping ground.

Ninety percent of the nation’s offshore drilling occurs in the Gulf of Mexico. At least 324 spills involving offshore drilling have occurred in the gulf since 1964, releasing more than 550,000 barrels of oil and drilling related substances,” according to the New York Times.  Of course, this number is dwarfed by the most recent spill, which has spewed over 4.9 billion barrels into the ocean.

All this has caused a range of health disparities for communities of color.  A particularly toxic region in the Louisiana, tragically nicknamed “cancer alley“, is located within a 100 mile stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The area is home to up to 300 industries, 7 oil refineries, and over 175 heavy industrial plants – all spewing toxic waste into the air and water.  This region is overwhelmingly populated with Blacks and Latinos.

What Now?

We still have one last-line of defense against these kinds of tragedies:  The Environmental Protection Agency.  The EPA is the one federal agency standing between communities of color and even worse degradation.

EPA director Lisa Jackson has made environmental justice issues one of the agencies’ primary policy priorities – seeking to undo years of neglect under the previous administration.  There have been stumbling blocks along the way, but a change in culture in the EPA is occurring.  While progress on this front can’t come fast enough, having a champion of the issue in the driver’s seat is a good start.

Nonetheless, conservative lawmakers and special interests keep trying to put EPA regulatory authority on the chopping block. Fortunately, they have thus far failed in their agenda. But make no mistake: they will keep trying.

In the absence of a climate bill, the EPA is one of our last best hopes to begin healing the pain suffered by communities of color in the gulf.  Attempts to weaken the EPA must be stopped, and its role in combating environmental injustice must be strengthened.

Most urgently, the federal government needs to pull out all stops to ensure that BP does not add insult to injury in the region. Congress should set hearings, to get a full explanation from BP officials and to hear directly from those impacted. The White House should exert full leverage to push BP to find maximally fair and effective disposal measures. The EPA needs to more rigorously examine the potential for racially disparate impacts of BP’s unfair oil waste disposal strategy.

10 Responses to BP the latest culprit in “Americas Dumping Ground”

  1. Leif says:

    I would not be surprised to learn that the % of heavy crude in that waste would be that much different than the Tar Sands of Alberta. Some of us want to put a pipeline to that stuff.

    Looks like Big Money likes doing business with Big Money…


    Humanity be damned…

  2. Michael Tucker says:

    Are you saying BP is illegally dumping solid waste? Laws exist to prevent and punish such action and the landfills are charged with enforcing environmental laws. You do not actually say that oil waste is being dumped just solid waste. So where do they take the oil waste?

    The fact that landfills are located in the poorest neighborhoods is not at all surprising or even news in the US.

    The existence of “cancer alley” is further proof that America is still not and has never really been a good steward of the environment.

  3. Colorado Bob says:

    More red dots on today’s satellite pass …. Particularly to the south and east.
    Smoke and fires across western Russia

  4. Niciole Smith says:

    Energy Secretary Chu said BP would save the planet.

    BP Getting $308 In Federal Funds For California Power Plant

    The EPA tells BP where to dump the hazardous waste.

  5. Prokaryotes says:

    Texas accuses BP of poorly operating its refinery

    A BP Texas City refinery that was the site of a massive 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers has a pattern of poor operation and maintenance practices, Texas environmental regulators reported after investigating a 46-day release of toxic and cancer-causing chemicals from the plant this spring.

  6. Prokaryotes says:

    BP relooping video of oil leak, expert charges

  7. johna says:

    The people of Pass Christian, MS opposed the use of Waste Management dump to take oil waste – & won!

    Hats off to Dave Romms old neighbors!

  8. Julie K. says:

    I am not very surprised that finally somebody has discovered the truth about solid and oil waste from the Gulf. That was expected… People who suffer from loosing their jobs and disaster that highly impact their health will not have the strength to complain about the landfills in their neighbourhood… and they count on it.

  9. BillD says:

    OK, am I getting this right? First, no one is pumping liquid hydrocarbons into land fills (!). However, the current spill is generating massive amounts of oil soaked booms, rags, bags etc. that, according to present laws can be placed into landfills. However, the unprecidented volume of such materials presents a serious danger, especially for people living near the land fills. Is incineration a better, safer choice for disposal? My understanding is that much of the collected waste is being burned. Is any of it being refined? It would seem that refining would be the best environmental solution, even if it did not turn a short term profit. Perhaps oil companies should be forced to refine the water and oil mixtures, even if they do this at an economic loss.

  10. Chris Winter says:

    Incineration would produce lots of sooty smoke, and CO2 of course. But if well planned and carefully carried out, it would seem to be a way to displace a fair amount of “pristine” fossil fuels that would otherwise be trucked into and burned in the area.

    How many BTUs can 39,448 tons of oil waste produce?