Watching Oil Spill Undo Years of Conservation Work in Florida

"It is heartbreaking and we are angry..."

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The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico looms as I write this on a sunny, cloudless Florida day. It is the oddest feeling, waiting for this slick to hit. Waiting like we wait for hurricanes, spinning offshore.

This sticky crude oil threatens to devastate the fragile marshes, estuaries, islands and beaches that we here at the Earthjustice Florida office spend our days trying to protect. It is heartbreaking and we are angry. Angry that our Florida legislators proposed a bill that would have allowed offshore oil drilling 3 to 10 miles offshore (Florida environmental groups fought off the bill.)

We are especially galled that the federal government gave British Petroleum an exemption to the normal Environmental Impact Review. And we are furious that Congress passed a ridiculously low $75 million cap on damages. Seventy-five million? Florida’s tourism industry is worth $65 billion a year.

We worry about the sea turtles and dolphins and oysters and clams and whales. And we wait for the oil’s inevitable appearance on our sugar-white sands and grass-filled marshes. So many of our great conservation victories here in Florida could be undone in an instant.

Just four months ago, I was part of an amazing protest against offshore oil drilling called Hands Across the Sand. Floridians from all parts of the state went out to the beaches wearing black on February 13 and formed human chains to send the message that we don’t want oil to slime our coasts. I stood that day with my two children and Earthjustice Florida attorneys Alisa Coe, Monica Reimer, and our litigation assistant Amaka in a show of solidarity to protect our beaches.

Our greatest fears are coming true about the dangers of drilling off our sandy peninsula.

David Guest worked at Earthjustice from 1990 to 2016, as the managing attorney of the Florida regional office. His countless legal battles were, in one way or another, all about water. His motivation to protect Florida’s water came from years of running boats in the state’s rivers and lakes, which convinced him that waterways are many people’s spiritual connection to nature.