Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing (BISCO) Receives Gulf Guardian Award for Environmental Justice

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DALLAS -- The Gulf of Mexico Program recently announced Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing, Inc, (BISCO) will receive a First Place Gulf Guardian Award in the Environmental Justice Category. The awards ceremony will be held on July 30, 2015, at the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi, Texas.

“The Gulf of Mexico is a precious natural resource not only to the communities that thrive on its shores but to communities far away that rely on its bounty,” said Ron Curry, EPA regional administrator. “Gulf Guardians play an important role in reminding all of us about our shared responsibility in protecting our Gulf.”

“This is the 13th year if the Gulf Guardian Awards Program, and I am proud to say that each year the winners in all categories have represented the very best of environmental accomplishments in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Diane Altsman, Chief of Staff of the Gulf of Mexico Program. “The Gulf of Mexico Program partnership works to improve the environmental health of the Gulf, and the Gulf Guardian Awards is an important way for us to recognize these valuable efforts.”

In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita spotlighted how historically underserved and underrepresented populations along the Gulf Coast were at risk from increasingly dangerous weather patterns and environmental damages. BISCO began an informal environmental education and advocacy project to have the Gulf Coast acknowledged as a “Regional Environmental Justice Community,” to build awareness of the role environmental injustice plays in the impacts Gulf Coast communities face. BISCO grew their efforts through social media and special events, which led to increased community organization to address the systemic causes of these injustices and build strong, just and healthy communities for the future. While the diverse population of the Gulf Coast faces land loss, sea level rise, and other environmental hardships, this project gave residents an important tool in understanding their circumstances and empowers them to build capacity to protect their own cultures.

Through education and advocacy, BISCO began a dialogue on the process for change with local government and leaders. BISCO implemented a “public comment” campaign to increase involvement in the 2012 Louisiana Master Plan, which led to a plan to include wetlands development in Terrebonne. The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority also formed a Community Focus Group where BISCO holds a seat. BISCO has been active in other groups including Oxfam Coastal Communities Partnership, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U. S. Center for Disease Control, and Native Tribes of Isle de Jean Charles.

BISCO is proud to be the first organization to advocate for designating the Gulf Coast as a “Regional Environmental Justice Community.” Today, the notion that an entire region can be labeled an Environmental Justice Community has gained general acceptance and is playing an important role in the planning and funding for community rebuilding across the coast. This model can be replicated not only in other parts of the country, but also in other parts of the world.

The Gulf of Mexico Program initiated the Gulf Guardian awards in 2000 as a way to recognize and honor the businesses, community groups, individuals, and agencies that are taking positive steps to keep the Gulf healthy, beautiful and productive. First, second and third place awards are given in seven categories: individual, business/industry, youth environmental education, civic/nonprofit organizations, cultural diversity/environmental justice, partnership and bi-national efforts.

The Gulf of Mexico Program began in 1988 to protect, restore, and maintain the health and productivity of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem in economically sustainable ways. The Gulf of Mexico Program is underwritten by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is a non-regulatory, inclusive consortium of state and federal government agencies and representatives of the business and agricultural community, fishing industry, scientists, environmentalists, and community leaders from all five Gulf States. The Gulf Program seeks to improve the environmental health of the Gulf in concert with economic development

For more information about EPA’s Gulf of Mexico Program: http://www.epa.gov/gmpo/

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