The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sent a letter to British Petroleum chief executive Tony Heywood seeking a meeting to address what the civil rights organization terms “racial inequality” in the corporation’s oil spill cleanup efforts. At a press conference this past weekend during the group’s annual convention in Kansas City, Mo., NAACP President Ben Jealous said the group sent the letter to BP because, despite being disproportionately affected by the spill, “minorities have limited access” to higher-paid cleanup jobs.
According to Jealous, the NAACP is working on behalf of a broad-based coalition of Vietnamese, African-American, Native American, local fishermen and oil workers to ensure that the concerns of workers are heard. Chief among those concerns, according to a report released by the NAACP at the press conference, is equal access to contracting opportunities, safety, and quality of life issues in the region in the wake of the spill. “People are concerned about the air quality,” Jealous said. “The air was already bad on the Gulf Coast. There is an 80-year-old gentleman who was working the spill with his son while throwing up all over the place from the fumes.”
An Environmental Protection Agency official speaking at the gathering supported Jealous’ comments.
“For too long, the Gulf Coast and many other areas have dealt with poor air quality from pollution. The EPA is focused on a future of clean water, air, and land,” stated Lisa Jackson, an administrator with the EPA.
When pressed for specific examples of discrimination by BP or its contractors, NAACP communication director Leila McDowell told The Network Journal that the group will issue more information in the coming weeks and months and is gathering and investigating claims both on a local and national level.
Among the findings in the NAACP report:
• Minorities are not part of the bidding process for contracts for cleanup and other work, and the jobs they do get are low-paid;
• The current harvest for shrimp, crabs and oysters has been affected and prices are driving many small minority-owned businesses to close;
• Small communities that are dependent on fishing are dying;
• A spike in depression, suicide, alcoholism, family violence and divorce is likely to hit the region, as it did after Katrina;
• Workers and residents who live on the coast have reported irritated eyes, nausea, problems breathing, and headaches;
• Clean-up workers are not being provided with the proper protective clothing and masks.
At the time this story was posted to TNJ.com, BP had not publicly responded to the NAACP report and calls made by The Network Journal had not been returned.