Oil Spill Update: Poll Shows Environmental Restoration High Priority in Gulf States and Voters Want BP to Pay

Restoration efforts will help protect the habitat of the roseate spoonbill and hundreds of other bird species, as well as marine animals. Credit Rebecca Field

Voters in Gulf Coast states—whether Republican or Democrat—overwhelmingly support restoring the health of the region, a new poll shows.

Some 72% of respondents across the five Gulf States say they’re more likely to vote for federal legislators who support environmental restoration funding; 87% agree that the Gulf’s environmental health affects their state’s economy very much or somewhat; and 78% favor creation of a separate fund for the Gulf region and the Mississippi River Delta that includes penalty payments from BP for violating the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act.

The poll, conducted by phone with 2,061 likely voters in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, was funded by the Walton Family Foundation and released by a coalition of environmental, business, fishing, and social justice groups, including National Audubon Society, Oxfam, Environmental Defense Fund, and the Nature Conservancy.
The poll results come one day after Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus released a proposed long-term recovery plan after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, at the request of President Obama. The report calls on Congress to dedicate a significant amount of Clean Water Act penalties obtained from the parties responsible for the spill to go to ecosystem restoration and those affected by the disaster. It also suggests establishing a congressionally mandated Gulf Coast Recovery Council to manage the funds.

“The Gulf is a pillar of our economy, and central to our national ecosystem,” Mabus writes (pdf of the report). “America needs the Gulf. America needs the Gulf to be clean. America needs the Gulf to be healthy.”

It’s something the people who live there are well aware of. “Recovery and sustainability for the Gulf depends on three critical resources: our people, our environment, and our commerce. We need a recovery plan that brings these aspects back into balance,” a town hall meeting participant told Mabus in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

The White House supports restoring the Gulf with billions of dollars in civil penalties. And the House passed the CLEAR Act, a far-reaching bill that would overhaul federal oil and gas leases and royalties, improve planning for offshore energy development, increase ocean and land conservation funding, and includes measures for wind and solar energy development Now it’s up to the Senate to take action.

“Senators seeking to block restoration plans and funding had better pay attention,” David Yarnold, Audubon’s president, said in a statement. “This is a powerful endorsement of the funding and restoration plans that Secretary Ray Mabus recommended just yesterday.  To ignore those recommendations and this kind of public support would amount to a slap in the face for every American who cares about this national treasure.  The poll confirms that is not the kind of slap the public will take lightly.”

We recently asked Rep. Henry Waxman, Carl Safina, and several other experts to weigh in on what they think are the most important next steps to conserve wildlife and habitat in the Gulf after the BP oil spill. Read what they had to say.

“The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of Audubon. Audubon does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.”