The problem: The BP oil spill wasn’t just an industrial accident that temporarily threatened Gulf coastlines. It was a catastrophe of proportions that may take decades to measure. Its impacts transcend emergency response issues and have lasting implications for our coastal economy, ecology, and social institutions.
The solution: Build regional capacity for long-term resilience. We must position ourselves to respond not only to future oil spills but also to other forces beyond our control, including everything from hurricanes to sudden shifts in the economic environment. We must assure a future for our coast that strengthens its appeal to visitors and investors from around the world and protects its environmental assets for generations to come.
How we get from the problem to the solution: We need to shape a roadmap to resilience. While no one can predict the future, we nonetheless must adapt to what it has in store for us. So we need to develop and implement strategies across a broad range of categories that strengthen our communities’ – and our region’s — adaptability and sustainability over time. That’s the essence of resilience.
The role of this Commission: We will draft the roadmap. First, in collaboration with individuals and organizations across the full range of disciplines touched by the spill, we will broaden our understanding of its impacts. Then, we will propose bold but attainable goals, based on the most authoritative research and reality-tested best practices. Our roadmap should guide Alabama, regional, and national leaders in implementing policies that protect, preserve and enhance the assets that make Alabama’s Gulf Coast so important, not only to Alabamans, but to the Gulf region and the nation as a whole.
• Keep it Simple (explainable, doable)
• Make it Transparent (everything is public)
• Do it Fast (with a downloadable final report on Dec. 15)
Question: What are we talking about here?
Answer: The Coastal Recovery Commission of Alabama, created by executive order of Gov. Bob Riley, is charged with doing two things. First, it will examine what we know so far about the impacts of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, it will make recommendations for ways in which the State of Alabama can strengthen its resilience in the face of future threats – not only from oil spills, but also from everything from hurricanes to sudden changes in the global economic environment.
Q: Why are we doing this now?
A: We expect BP and the Obama Administration to reach an agreement soon on how much money from oil spill penalties will be available to the affected states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. And while we don’t know the total or how it will be divided among the states or what strings may be attached to spending, we have every reason to believe Alabama will suddenly have significant resources at its disposal. Likely in the billions of dollars. And we want to be ready with a plan for ways to invest that money over the long term to assure the safety of South Alabama residents and visitors and to make the coast secure for long-term investment.
Q: This sounds different from BP’s short-term restitution plan that pays claims to individuals and businesses affected by the spill.
A: Yes, this is an entirely different program. It’s meant to lay the foundation for long-term planning, planning that will likely unfold over decades. We want a “roadmap to resilience.”
Q: “Resilience”? What do you mean by that?
A: Experts from a variety of disciplines have studied the capacities of communities around the world to respond effectively to natural and man-made disasters. They bundle these capacities under the general category of “resilience.” Communities that are able to bounce back from catastrophic events are ones that that are performing well in areas that might not seem, at first glance, to have anything to do with disaster response strategies.
Q: For instance?
A: Resilient cities and regions often have economies diversified enough to take a hit and come back strong. They’ve successfully protected environmental assets that help insulate them from many threats in the first place, then aid in faster recovery after catastrophic events. The most resilient communities also seem to be ones with systems of governance that are responsive and that enjoy the confidence of citizens, even when there are no emergencies. If you were to generalize, you might say resilient communities already have in place key tools for long-term sustainability. That means environmental sustainability; economic sustainability; and social sustainability.
Q: So how do we apply the idea of resilience to the goals of this Commission?
A: After analyzing the impacts of the recent oil spill, the Commission will spot key vulnerabilities and have a better sense of where South Alabama can bolster its resilience.
Q: How will it organize itself to do that?
A: The Commission will concentrate its work under three broad topics that seem to apply to most studies of resilience: A healthy environment; a healthy society; and a healthy economy.
Q: Who’s on this Commission?
A: The Commission is made up of business and civic leaders, primarily from Alabama’s coastal counties of Mobile and Baldwin. The Commission’s chair is Ricky Mathews, publisher of the Mobile Press-Register and head of the newspaper group that also publishes the Huntsville and Birmingham papers. (See the complete list on the website: www.crcalabama.org)
Q: Who picked these people?
A: Gov. Riley chose a core group to be the Commission’s executive board. And the board recruited other members, reflecting a broad range of business, civic, and academic interests.
Q: Where’s the money coming from?
A: The Commission’s budget comes from money already paid to the state from BP in partial compensation for the impacts of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill that began in April of 2010. No tax dollars are being used in this effort.
Q: When will we have the Commission’s recommendations?
A: There will be a downloadable pdf of the final report available on this Commission website no later than December 15, 2010. Printed books will follow as soon as possible.
Q: That’s fast.
A: Yes, there’s a sense of urgency. As we said above, we want a made-in-Alabama plan for how to best invest the BP penalty funds to prevent a free-for-all battle for those dollars. There’s another reason for moving quickly. We are asking some very busy people to put this effort at the top of their priority lists. So we owe it to them – and to Gov, Riley, the new governor elect, and the citizens of Alabama – to do our best work fast.
Q: How can the public participate?
A: All meetings of the Coastal Recovery Commission are public. The schedule of meetings, locations, and times will continue to be updated here. Plus: We want to take the work of the Commission directly to communities and individuals. Upon request, Commission members or staff will appear before clubs or groups to explain goals and work in progress. We will schedule a series of public “pin-up” sessions, Nov. 8-12, during which Commission members and staff will present work in progress for community review. Throughout the process, we’ll use this Commission website as a kind of combination newspaper/TV station to report on the latest news. And there will be a bi-weekly e-newsletter for all those who wish to get updates that way. We will do everything we can to encourage folks to watch over our shoulders as we undertake this once-in-a-generation assignment.