When people look at the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, many people see dollar signs. Whether they are representative of the money spent to protect their homes, the money lost in wages, the money lost in damages or the money won in lawsuits, people are seeing it in the oil. BP’s oil leak and oil spill in the Gulf brings out some of the best, and worst, in American society.
Financial ruin for fishermen and their families
For fishermen and oyster harvesters, the oil spill is one of the worst things that could happen to them. The shrimping season in the Gulf of Mexico opened up to a closure of 19% of Federal waters. Oyster harvesting is not likely to fare well either.
As oil moves into the bays, waterways and marshes of the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coastline, the effect of the oil is not lost on the bottom feeding sea life. Oysters, as filter feeders, take in their food from the water. As the oil makes its way to the coast, the hydrocarbons leaking out of the tar balls leach into the surrounding water and potentially into the oysters and other bottom feeding shell fish.
For these fishermen, the early end of shrimp season, and possible loss of at least one generation of oysters, means a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars. In Mississippi, fishing accounts for $2.8 billion in the local economy. For business people involved in the harvesting of seafood, the losses from this disaster will be greater than those from Hurricane Katrina.
Insurance not available for economic losses
When a hurricane rips through a city, losses are significant. Families lose their homes, buildings are ripped from their foundations and businesses lay in ruins. The bright spot is that insurance companies will pay (hopefully) and make right what went wrong. While not a perfect system, it provides a safety net that allows for rebuilding and mitigation of future hurricanes.
With the oil spill from BP’s Deepwater Horizon, there is no insurance to protect the business owners. The shrimp boats sit idle in the ports and coves of the Gulf Coast where closed waterways and fishing grounds prevent the boats from becoming useful. But the shrimp boats are not the only casualty, local businesses continue to take the force of the blow.
Local businesses hit hard by the tourism scare
With reports of oil washing ashore in the tourist beaches of Dauphin Island, Ship Island and Biloxi/Gulfport, tourists are cancelling their reservations along the coast en masse. According to a report by CNN, Ken Montana, president of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Tourism Commission, approximately half of the tourists who made plans on the Mississippi coast before April 20, the day of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, have cancelled their vacations.
The pain is being felt across the spectrum of travel and tourism related businesses. Hotels are reporting a cut in room reservations and even taxi cabs are reporting lost revenue. Matt Langlinais, owner of Yellow Cab in Biloxi, reported that his company is losing up to 20% of his business, year after year. When you consider that 2009 was knee deep in a recession, and tourism was reported to be down in nearly all areas, this year’s reduction in income is much more significant for the businesses involved.
Send in the lawyers
As businesses look at their losses, fishermen see their season waste away and homeowners watch their property values drop, lawyers have descended upon the populace. In a recent event held at the Grand Casino, in Biloxi, on May 22, several law firms banded together to put forward their plan to “make BP pay.”
At the Grand, The Cochran Firm, of Mississippi, teamed up with Weitz and Luxenberg, of New York, and Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Echsner and Proctor, of Pensacola, Florida, made their case to a gathered crowd for filing a suit with BP. The team even enlisted the help of famed consumer advocate,Erin Brockovich, to plead their case.
Unfortunately, the lawyer’s questionable statements, passed off as facts, were reminiscent of fire-branding preachers demonizing the company for their repeated failures. What could have been an informative gathering turned into the use of half-truths to accuse the other party of spouting half-truths.
Brockovich encourages Mississippians to stay mad and stand together
When Erin Brockovich took the stage, though, it was like seeing two opposites staring at each other. While the lawyers appeared to try to incite a revolution, Ms. Brockovich communicated a sense that Mississippians should seek out the facts and stay vigilant. Her statements said that the only way coast residents were going to see their lives made whole again were if they “stand together” and work to hold those involved accountable for their action, or inaction.
Conversation with Erin Brockovich on May 22, 2010, at the Grand Casino, Biloxi, MS