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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’?

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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.

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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.

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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.