Advocating for Gulf Coast Restoration in the Wake of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: The Oxfam America RESTORE Act Campaign | Oxfam

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  OXFAM ACTIVE CITIZENSHIP CASE STUDY   ADVOCATING FOR GULF COAST RESTORATION IN THE WAKE OF THE DEEPWATER HORIZON OIL SPILL The Oxfam America RESTORE Act Campaign By Duncan Green We started with two senators and ended up with 74 senators supporting the bill. A House member said, “I didn’t think Jesus could get 74 votes in this Congress”. Oxfam ally The BP spill was an enabling event – it helped us focus our thinking even more, it gave us a crisis to galvanize around, and it gave us funding. Former Deputy Director, Oxfam regional office Oxfam America’s domestic programme was already active in the Gulf Coast states when the 2010 BP oil spill occurred. Building on its community links, backed by adroit use of national advocacy, the programme was able to take advantage of a ‘shock as opportunity’, helping ensure that the subsequent wave of compensation and other support benefited local people and communities – in particular by lobbying for legislation to get jobs for local people in the reconstruction effort.  2   BACKGROUND On April 20 2010 an explosion in the Deepwater Horizon oil well started a spill that would ultimately release 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Twenty-two months later, after an intensive advocacy effort by Oxfam America, its Coastal Communities Coalition (CCC) partners, the Gulf Renewal Project and a broad range of allies, President Barack Obama signed the Resource and Ecosystem Sustainability, Tourism Opportunities and Revised Economies of the Gulf Coast States (RESTORE) Act into law, in July 2012. The final bill requires that 80 percent of civil fines (which may reach as much as $20bn) are placed in a Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, which will distribute funds directly to the five Gulf Coast states and to a newly created Gulf Coast Restoration Council that will oversee how funds are used in the impacted region. While the states retain significant decision-making authority, the law establishes a series of guidelines, restrictions and oversight mechanisms to ensure that the funds are allocated for economic and environmental restoration. During this effort, Oxfam and its Coastal Communities Initiative (CCI) partners represented the concerns of the poor, coastal communities disproportionately affected by the spill. They pressed an agenda that included focused investment in socially vulnerable communities, workforce development and preferential hiring of local people, and the establishment of participatory governance mechanisms. Overall, stakeholders considered the passage of the bill a significant victory and Oxfam believes it made significant or better progress on half the measures it had prioritized, including workforce development and local hiring, and at least partial progress in the rest. EXTERNAL CONTEXT The Deepwater Horizon spill was a galvanizing event for those who lived, worked, and vacationed in the Gulf Coast states and affected many different groups   small-scale commercial fishing and oyster harvesting communities, recreational fisherman, the oil and gas industries, the tourism industry, and local environmentalists. It also further stimulated national organizations, particularly environmental ones that had become more deeply involved in Gulf Coast restoration after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Because the damage caused by the spill was so extensive and the drama of stopping the flow was covered by the media for many months, there was a significant degree of national public interest in and support for holding BP and its contractors accountable. Though state interests and initial perspectives differed, overall the issue had bipartisan support within the region, which has both Democrat and Republican senators in Washington (although Republicans are in the majority). Beyond the interests at play between states and at the national level, were the concerns of the poor coastal communities that make their livelihoods from wetland and coastal resources, the stakeholders about whom Oxfam was most concerned. These communities historically have been economically and politically marginalized, particularly from policy making, creating a low level of trust in both state level and federal level policy processes and politicians. They were concerned that allocations made for Gulf Coast restoration should not repeat historic patterns of economic development that passed them by. Communities were  3   also wary of environmental projects and/or regulations that would impinge on their ability to make a living. In short, while there were factors at play that were favourable to progress, the politics of restoration were complicated, especially for the most socially vulnerable communities. BUDGET AND RETURN ON INVESTMENT Oxfam America estimates the investment in the campaign over two years to be approximately $740,000 (Oxfam US Regional Office 2013). It asked Mather Economics to model the potential impact of this spending in the area most clearly attributable to the campaign – workforce development and local hiring. Among the national non-government organizations (NGOs) engaged in the campaign, workforce development was considered Oxfam’s niche area and the area in which it had the greatest influence. Using a timed series evaluation of increased federal investments, Mather Economics created three models (conservative, moderate and aggressive) to project the average number of jobs that would be created over the first 10 years by the increased spending arising from the spill. The mid-range estimate was some 22,000 jobs. Looking at this strictly from an advocacy and influencing point of view, it translates into Oxfam spending $34 for each job for which it successfully advocated. While undoubtedly other forces were at play to make this happen, and other social returns are not included, this proved to be a remarkable return on investment. MONITORING, EVALUATION, LEARNING  An evaluation for Oxfam by LYV Consulting in January 2013 combined a document review with interviews of key staff, partners, allies and policy makers. It arrived at highly positive conclusions, arguing that the campaign should be considered a ‘best practice’ advocacy effort. THEORY OF CHANGE Power Analysis Understanding the nature of Gulf Coast politics and power was an essential prerequisite for the campaign. Republicans, conservative Democrats and evangelical Christians dominate the political map. Political relations at local and state level are highly clientelistic, based on personal relationships. Working in this kind of environment was a challenge for an organization like Oxfam. According to Oxfam’s US Regional Director, Minor Sinclair, …we spent $120,000 on state and federal lobbyists, people with contacts with Republican leaders. At state level we had to take a higher profile as Oxfam because the politicians didn’t want to listen to the communities. You have to play the system, but that trade-off between outcomes and empowerment really challenged our own thinking about exclusion and power.  4   Change Hypothesis The Gulf Coast campaign illustrates several aspects of ‘shock as opportunity’ – the idea that social and political change is often linked to disruptive events that open up new directions by weakening the powers that sustain the status quo, creating demands for change among both the public and leaders, and prompting dissatisfaction with ‘business as usual’ approaches. The spill and the potentially mammoth, multi-billion dollar fines to be imposed on BP, provided motivation for a strong, co-ordinated case for local rebuilding. The BP oil spill hit a region still recovering from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Katrina had also imparted several lessons, in terms of both failures and successes, upon which advocacy could build. One negative experience was the way that reconstruction had relied on shipped-in undocumented labourers, with few jobs going to local people. Local hiring emerged as one of the key demands of the campaign. Oxfam’s change strategy This was the first time we created a constituency with the private sector, faith-based groups and partners. We did it and maintained it because it really helped us to hedge our bets politically, which was particularly important given the nature of Louisiana and Mississippi politics and the fact that our core group is very politically marginalized.  Deputy Director, Oxfam Regional Office Luck matters in campaigning. From the point of view of the subsequent campaign, the timing of the BP oil spill could not have been better, coming just a month after the launch of Oxfam’s CCI, focused on addressing both environmental destruction and poverty as two of the root causes of social vulnerability. Moreover, off the back of Hurricane Katrina, and prior to the BP spill, local communities had already formulated their demands for restoration.  According to Minor Sinclair: When we asked them, the communities said they wanted to pipe in sediment from the Mississippi river to replenish the land. We said “you’re crazy”, and worked out it would need $4bn. Where’s that going to come from? At that point we saw our main  job as tempering expectations. A month later the BP oil spill changed everything. It meant that Oxfam had the staff and relationships already in place to react quickly to the disaster. Prior to the spill, in the spring of 2010, Oxfam had launched the Gulf Coast Environment and Livelihoods Program, working with the Coastal Communities Coalition, a group of six core partners in Louisiana and Mississippi. The core partners from Louisiana were Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizations (BISCO), Bayou Grace Community Services, Zion Travelers’ Cooperative Center (ZTCC), Terrebone Readiness and Assistance Coalition (TRAC); and from Mississippi, Coastal Women for Change (CWC) and the Steps Coalition. During the campaign, Oxfam added two additional groups   Asian Americans for Change and the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation. These partners were selected for their roots in their communities, their continuing concern about their vulnerability to coastal degradation and climate change, and their interest in advocacy.
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