Blogging for a Healthy Gulf

 

Local conservation groups and clubs concerned about global warming and the impacts to New Orleans are inviting city residents to a pub crawl on

Frenchman street
to hear about solutions to the problem while enjoying free cover, drink specials, and great music. Conservation groups say “Don’t get depressed. Solutions exist!”

Wristbands for this event are available now! Click here to get your wristband today! Suggested donation: $5 students, $8 person or $10 per couple.

Save the Date!

Saturday, December 13, 2008 from 7:30 PM - till

Join the Party on

Frenchman Street
!

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Lazzizza

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Tomatillo’s

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Blue Nile

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Dragon’s Den

BACKGROUNDLouisiana is ground zero for the effects of global warming. From sea level rise to stronger storms to ocean acidification, Louisiana residents face an increasingly daunting future. Scientists conservatively predict that sea-level will rise 8 to 20 inches this century. According to the U.S. Climate Action Report, a sizable chunk of the Gulf coast could be swallowed if sea-level rise continues unabated. Combined with subsidence and salt water intrusion into salt sensitive habitats, the result will be a devastating loss of coastal wetlands which offer storm protection to coastal communities and homes to valuable species.

Our coastal wetlands are already under severe stress because of oil and gas canals, subsidence, and navigation projects. We need to rebuild the coast but we cannot ignore climate change because the effects of global warming could easily overwhelm our reconstruction efforts. We must address coastal restoration and climate change simultaneously and quickly if Louisiana is to remain strong and thriving over the next century.

Conservation groups sponsoring this event are: Gulf Restoration Network, the Sierra Club, Alliance for Affordable Energy, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and New Orleans Green Building Council.

Casey DeMoss Roberts is the Special Projects Coordinator for the Gulf Restoration Network. For wristbands or more information about this event contact Casey at (504) 525-1528 x212 or casey@healthygulf.org.

 

The Times-Picayune continues to watchdog the Corps of Engineers and their failure to launch on our coastal protection and restoration initiative. Check out Pulitzer winner Mark Schleifstein's most recent piece on the NOLA area's "Category 5" protection plan here.

Clearly, the Corps is dragging their feet, and no one in DC is willing to hold said appendages to the fire. Louisiana's newly minted delegation needs to get on this immediately, and MOST importantly, needs to get other members from other states to see the value of this region. If this coastal restoration and protection effort is seen as a parochial interest of Landrieu, Melancon, Scalise and Vitter, then welcome to Team Irrelevant Congressman Cao, good luck pushing your levees to nowhere.

One thing works for our coast and communities - the current push for "green jobs" to jumpstart the economy. Clearly, rebuilding wetlands and swamps will help create carbon sinks, so that should fit into that broad agenda item, and we've got plenty of projects ready to go down here to put boots and backhoe's on the ground.

One thing that works against our coast and communities - The push on green jobs is due in part to the new administration's view of climate change as a mission-critical initiative. Our delegation (and the state, and the Corps) see it more as an irrelevant side discussion to our coastal crisis. Unless and until we can get some legitimate analysis and acknowledgment of the need to address both in order to have a sustainable NOLA means we've got a painful inconsistency that the new EPA/CEQ will likely point out, undercutting our chances of being the federal priority we'd like to be.


Aaron Viles is GRN's Campaign Director

 

Thirty women came to the Paris Parker Aveda Salon during lunch, not for a stylish hair cut, but because they were concerned about their risk of mercury poisoning. A simple hair-test can tell you if your body has dangerous levels of mercury. The Sierra Club, the Gulf Restoration Network, the Alliance for Affordable Energy, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, and Aveda sponsored this free event out of concern for how mercury pollution from coal-powered plants affects women and children.

One in six women of childbearing age in the U.S. already has enough mercury in her body to put a fetus at risk of learning disabilities and developmental problems. Currently Entergy Louisiana is working to obtain permits to repower their Little Gypsy natural gas power plant in Saint Charles Parish to coal-fired power. Coal-fired plants are one of the largest man-made sources of mercury pollution in the country. Local residents are concerned that the proposed Little Gypsy coal repowering project will expose them to dirtier air and serious health problems.

“There are cleaner alternatives to coal,” says Jordan Macha, Regional Conservation Organizer for the Sierra Club’s New Orleans office, “and by looking at our alternatives we can improve public health, boost the economy, and protect the environment. Entergy’s current proposal puts our environment and the health of our community at risk.”

Mercury is linked to learning disabilities and other developmental problems in young children. When coal is burned, mercury is released into the atmosphere and falls back to earth in rain, running into our lakes, rivers, and streams. There it is converted to the toxic form of mercury – methylmercury - which accumulates in fish and shellfish. When contaminated fish are eaten it is absorbed by the body. Currently, 41 of Louisiana’s waterways, including the Gulf of Mexico, have a mercury-in-fish advisory.

"We all recognize outer beauty, but often we forget to take care of what's happening on the inside," says Debra Neill, CEO of Neill Corporation, owner of the Paris Parker Salon and Spa group. "We applaud the Gulf Restoration Network, the Sierra Club and their partners in their quest to help raise awareness of the mercury issue to women in Louisiana."

Stylists with the Paris Parker Aveda Salon took small samples of hair from participants, which were then sent to an academic laboratory for testing. The data will be anonymously included in a University of North Carolina research study, which has the largest sample size of any study to date, on the effects of mercury in the U.S. population.

Notes Casey DeMoss Roberts, Special Projects Coordinator with the Gulf Restoration Network, “Together we are working to ensure that the Little Gypsy plant and other coal plants across the state reduce their mercury pollution and update their pollution controls to comply with new, more protective health standards.”

Read more about the event in the Times-Picayune here.

Jordan Macha, Regional Conservation Organizer for the Sierra Club’s New Orleans office

 

Now that President-Elect Obama has announced his economic and international teams, many (okay, some) are on pins and needles to hear about his Enviro team (EPA, Department of Interior, Department of Energy).

To weigh in on which environmental issue President-elect Barak Obama should tackle right out of the gates, head to GRN's first-ever poll here.

Time magazine has already weighed in with this intelligent, five-part editorial which outlines the environmental and political challenges that President-elect Barak Obama will face in 2009. It also offers some (strong) words of advice on what it will take to fix the economy: "(It) means billions for energy-efficient and climate-friendly infrastructure…but nothing for new sprawl roads that ravage nature and promote gas-guzzling. (It) means stronger levees and restored wetlands…but no more traditional pork-barrel water projects that destroy wetlands and waste money." GRN supports this approach and urges Louisiana's critical coastal restoration efforts as part of a significant green jobs push from the federal government. Read it here.

 

Everyday a critical piece of the Gulf region's natural resources is destroyed - our wetlands! What I find most disturbing is that the very thing we are destroying is what makes our communities healthy, attractive, and sustainable. In many respects, it is the only reason why we exist. Scientific evidence points to the necessity of these ecosystems for the environmental health of our region, yet day by day we chip away at them. How long can this continue?!

I'm writing to ask for your support today because the Gulf of Mexico has lost approximately 50% of its historic wetlands, and those remaining are under increasing threat.

This rampant wetland loss is due to many reasons, most of which are caused or exacerbated by human influence. Some of the causes of wetland loss include:

  • oil and gas canals

  • construction and run-off

  • salt water intrusion

  • subsidence

  • sea level rise

  • hurricanes and other storms

  • logging

This year brought us a very active hurricane season and Gulf Coast communities were once again reminded of the delicate balance between our development footprint and healthy communities and ecosystems. Wetlands provide natural flood protection and every 3 to 4 miles of intact wetlands can reduce storm surge by 1 foot! Wetlands help to keep our waters clean by acting as natural filters and are home to the myriad of diverse and unique plants and creatures that make the Gulf Region so special.

Wetland destruction is threatening the health of our communities and the consequences reverberate through Gulf ecosystems affecting: water quality, endangered and at-risk species, and nursery and breeding grounds for our commercial fishing industry.

No matter what the cause, we cannot afford to stand by while the most fundamental elements of the economic and environmental health and safety of our communities are filled in or washed out from under us.

GRN advocates for the protection of our wetlands through:

  • monitoring wetland destruction permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,

  • preventing the clear-cutting of coastal forests,

  • watch-dogging state and federal agency actions affecting wetlands , and

  • supporting efforts to build resilient and sustainable communities post-hurricane.

This is why your support is so important. The future of the Gulf Region lies in the hands of individuals like you and me who simply cannot sit by and watch while our community's most precious natural resources are destroyed.

The Gulf Restoration Network works to ensure that decisions impacting the health and sustainability of our communities are made using sound science, and with an overall concern for the long-term sustainability of our communities. We work in partnership with our network of environmental groups across the Gulf to hold decision makers accountable for the impact their decisions have on our communities, seeking to ensure that short term business interests do not take precedence over a community's long term sustainability.

Please take a moment now - before this email gets lost in the daily shuffle - to make a contribution in support of our work. For contributions of $30 or more GRN is offering a free CD with songs from local artists. Put together with the support of Basin Street Records, the album features fantastic Basin Street artists like Kermit Ruffins, Irvin Mayfield and Theresa Andersson, as well as other notable Louisiana acts such as Galactic, Marc Broussard and the New Orleans Bingo Show. All these musicians are committed to our coast, and are working to help spread the word about our coastal crisis.

Your contribution to the Gulf Restoration Network gives us the resources to fight for the coast every day.

United for a Healthy Gulf,

Cynthia Sarthou
Executive Director

P.S. Our wetlands provide critical flood and storm surge protection. They improve our water quality and are important habitat for wildlife and commercial fisheries species. The Gulf region has already lost 50% of its historic wetlands and is continuing to lose them everyday. With your donation to the Gulf Restoration Network we can continue our work protecting and restoring the natural resources of the Gulf!

 

The Gulf Restoration Network and Save Our Cypress Coalition continue to call on Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Wal-Mart to stop selling unsustainable cypress mulch in order to live up to their own environmental commitments. Cypress forests contain incredible ecological value, and they defend communities from storms and flooding. Unfortunately, these beautiful swamps are being clear-cut solely to produce garden mulch. Many positive steps have already been taken, and tens of thousands of acres of cypress forests have been saved due to the efforts of the Save Our Cypress Coalition. There is, however, more that retailers and government must do to ensure full and just protection of cypress forests throughout the Gulf region and the Southeast.

To help ensure expanded and lasting protection of cypress forests in the Gulf, please join us for the December 4th Cypress Day of Action. Visit this website to sign up and receive more information.

The nationwide grassroots efforts are already paying off! Wal-Mart, who is no longer selling cypress mulch that is harvested, bagged, or manufactured in the state of Louisiana, is the current leader on cypress sustainability. Lowe’s has instituted a temporary moratorium on cypress mulch from “coastal Louisiana”, yet further promises and negotiations have stalled. Home Depot, a self-proclaimed environmental leader among retailers, also claims to avoid mulch from coastal Louisiana, but the company has not directly responded to the Save Our Cypress Coalition. All three companies must do more to uphold their corporate environmental policies as they pertain to endangered cypress forests.

The steps the companies have taken are a good start, but there are lingering concerns. In response to announcements made by Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, and Home Depot and Coalition efforts to end illegal logging, cypress logging activity has gradually come to a halt in coastal Louisiana. Thousands of acres of cypress forests have been saved from the mulch machine!


Unfortunately, there is no mechanism to ensure lasting protection of Louisiana’s swamps, and success in Louisiana may lead to increased production in other vulnerable areas outside of the state. Without a transparent and credible certification program, retailers are unable to truly verify the source of their cypress products, and suppliers have proven willing to hide the real source of their mulch in the past.

Since the campaign began two years ago, the Save Our Cypress Coalition has grown, and reports of cypress logging in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and other states continue to surface. A recent Clean Water Act legal challenge in Georgia saved one cypress swamp and demonstrated that much of the cypress logging occurring today would be deemed illegal if properly examined. The retailers have done nothing to address cypress logging outside of Louisiana.

In order to live up to their stated environmental policies, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Wal-Mart must stop selling unsustainable and illegally harvested cypress mulch, no matter where it is logged.

Wherever you live, join GRN and the Save Our Cypress Coalition on December 4th for a Cypress Day of Action to help build on our successes for a future full of cypress forests!

Dan Favre is the Campaign Organizer at GRN.

 

This November the 9th marked Gulf Restoration Network’s (GRN) 2nd Annual Mississippi Fundraiser. This event is a great opportunity to meet some of Mississippi’s most well-known environmental activists, environmental scientists, local business owners, and environmentally conscious citizens.

The fundraiser takes place on the Captain Pete, one of Ship Island Excursions’ boats. The boat ride begins and ends at Gulfport Yacht Harbor. Our guests experienced a 3 hour cruise in the Mississippi
Sound enjoying a cool November evening in Mississippi, the occasional dolphin swimming alongside the boat, and a beautiful sunset. Party goers also enjoyed some delicious local fare. Food for the event was donated by Confusion Sophisticated Casual Dining and the beer was donated by Lazy Magnolia Brewery (thanks guys).

This year’s hosts were Louis Skrmetta, owner of Ship Island Excursions & Board member of GRN, Robert Wiygul, Board Member of GRN, and Terese Collins, long time supporter of GRN and Mississippi activist.

Funds raised from this event will support GRN campaigns like:

Protect Our Wetlands Protect Ourselves: GRN Works to protect wetlands that are critical in providing flood protection and clean water. We watchdog government agencies to ensure that wetlands are not unnecessarily destroyed by new development.

Healthy Waters: GRN works to protect and restore rivers and bayous throughout the Gulf of Mexico that are critical to recreation, fisheries, wildlife habitat, and drinking water. In Mississippi, we are committed to stopping the withdrawal of 50 million gallons of water a day from the Pascagoula River as part of the Richton Domes project.

Every Fish Counts: GRN is calling on the Gulf Council and National Marine Fisheries Service to develop and enact effective regulations to end overfishing and provide for sound management of fisheries that is based on science.

Thanks to everyone for their support! And if you weren’t able to make it this year, we sure hope to see you next year.

Truly,

Jessica Netto

Development Coordinator

 

Make It Right Foundation Does It Right for Cypress Forests

The Make It Right Foundation and BNIM Architects have joined the Save Our Cypress Coalition, making yet another real commitment to sustainability and the long-term survival of New Orleans. Cypress forests are important natural storm and flooding protection, but they are being clear-cut solely to produce garden mulch.

By choosing alternatives to cypress mulch and explaining the choice to residents and project participants, Make It Right is helping to enhance the sustainability of the entire Gulf region.

Cypress forests are the best natural storm protection for coastal communities and defend inland communities by absorbing flood waters. If historical wetlands and cypress forests had still been in place, the impacts of Katrina on places like the Lower 9th Ward would have been greatly reduced. Unfortunately, Louisiana is rapidly losing its coastal wetlands, and cypress harvesting for mulch exacerbates the problem. Along with natural storm protection, cypress forests provide important habitat for wildlife and many recreational and eco-tourism opportunities.

Many homeowners and gardeners choose cypress mulch because they just don’t know the impact the product has on our natural wetlands. As a model for sustainable building and landscaping that chooses sustainable alternatives like pine straw and recycled building materials, Make It Right is informing concerned consumers.

Upon learning of the dangers of cypress mulch, Make It Right and Berkebile Nelson Immenschuh McDowell Architects (BNIM), the group in charge of the landscape design, moved quickly to ensure cypress mulch would not be used on the project in the future. They will also help to educate the public about sustainable mulch alternatives.
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The Save Our Cypress Coalition is a group of over 160 environmental organizations, churches, eco-tourism businesses, landscapers, and civic groups from all over the country that are working to end unsustainable harvesting of cypress forests for mulch products. The Coalition has focused on educating consumers and calling on Home Depot, Wal-Mart, and Lowe’s to live up to their environmental commitment by halting the sale of unsustainable cypress mulch, wherever it is logged. www.saveourcypress.org

The Make It Right Foundation’s mission is to be a catalyst for redevelopment of the Lower 9th Ward, by building a neighborhood comprised of safe and healthy homes that are inspired by Cradle to Cradle thinking, with an emphasis on high quality design, while preserving the spirit of the community’s culture. www.makeitrightnola.org

BNIM Architects is committed to producing work that maximizes human potential, productivity, and health. Each of their projects works to minimize consumption of resources, reducing waste and pollution and restoring natural systems. They have provided the landscape design services for Make It Right at no charge. www.bnim.com
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Dan Favre is the Campaign Organizer for GRN who knows more about mulch than he ever thought possible.

 

For the second year in a row, the Gulf Restoration Network partnered with the Voodoo Experience to educate festival attendees about the issue of Louisiana's coastal wetlands crisis. Voodoo Experience is one of New Orleans' largest and most popular musical festivals. As the festival's official nonprofit partner, GRN worked with event organizers to educate performing artists about the issues.

GRN had a major presence in the private musician's lounge and organized a press conference in the media tent with artists Marc Broussard, "Big Sam" Williams and Dan Dyer. GRN's artist gift bags proved to be a big hit, and featured our Defend New Orleans - Defend the Coast tee (printed on Alternative's 100% organic cotton tee) a green AlternativeEarth blank tee, a signed copy of Bayou Farewell (special thanks to author Mike Tidwell, a dvd of Walter William's coastal documentaries, some Aveda beauty products (thanks Aveda) and some other great items.

A highlight of the musician's outreach came when REM lead singer Michael Stipe announced to the crowd that they should support GRN and visit our table at the festival. (Though our volunteer Liz might disagree and point to the photo below of her with NIN's Trent Reznor as the highlight).

A team of fantastic volunteers worked hard all three days to illustrate to festival goers the fate of the Gulf coast, letting people know with every song they heard at Voodoo, an area of Louisiana wetlands the size of the massive main stage turned to open water due to our national need for oil & gas and dependable shipping lanes. The message apparently sunk in with hundreds of people texting "COAST" to 77007 to support the cause, or stopping by the table to sign up as a member (and receive GRN's special limited edition CD No Coast – NO Music featuring Louisiana Voodoo artists Marc Broussard, Theresa Andersson, Galactic, the New Orleans Bingo Show and others). Head here to support the cause that the musicians were so fired up about.


On Monday we took our artist outreach to new heights (HA) by arranging a coastal flyover for Clint Maedgen (Bingo, Preservation Hall, Liquidrone, etc.), Stanton Moore (Galactic, above, rockin' the defend the coast tee), and a great last second addition, Angelo Moore from Fishbone! As a longtime Fishbone fan, I was thrilled. Special thanks to Gulf Coast Aviation for cutting us a great deal, and our pilot Leigh Smith (also known as the guy that threw javelin for the USA in Beijing). We look forward to continued collaborations with the great musicians who are helping spread the cultural value of coastal Louisiana to a national and international audience.

Aaron Viles is GRN's Campaign Director.

 


There is one thing the coal industry deserves credit for: they are persistent. Now that everyone is touting national security from every direction and trying to decrease our dependence on foreign oil, the coal industry has stepped in with the perfect solution, put coal in your gas tank! The technology is called coal-to-liquid, first developed by the Nazis and then later used by South Africa during Apartheid. Do you see a pattern? This fuel is for people who don’t care about human beings!

At a recent Energy Conference hosted by LSU, Bill Anderson, CEO of Anderson Global Innovation Group, offered up coal-to-liquids as the right solution to our transportation and electricity problems. Here are a few gems from his presentation:

Bill Anderson: We can become energy independent if we switch coal from the electricity sector and use it to supply our nation’s transportation fuel needs. Nuclear power can fill the gap for our electrical demands.
Reality Check: Over half of our electricity comes from burning coal (315,000 megawatts). We would have to build a whole lot of nuclear power plants to meet that kind of demand which would take billions of dollars, many years to achieve, and the construction would greatly increase global warming pollution. Furthermore, switching to nuclear power does nothing to decrease our dependence on foreign sources of energy since we import most of the uranium we currently use (Canada, Australia, and Kazakhstan are the largest producers).

BA: Coal-to-liquids is clean.
RC: Coal is full of impurities which are released at both the extraction and manufacturing processes. While these impurities were once safely stored inside a scenic mountain, the extracted coal releases toxic mercury, sulfur, carbon, and other dangerous pollutants into our surrounding environment that contribute to acid rain, childhood asthma, and global warming. The EPA states that replacing petroleum with liquid coal would increase global warming pollution 119%. If you catch the emissions, global warming pollution still increases by 4%. Then, the captured global warming pollution must be permanently stored, which is expensive.

BA: Coal-to-liquids is efficient.
RC: This process creates 2 waste streams – 1st the coal must be turned into a liquid which creates waste and takes energy and 2nd the waste that is created from burning fuel in the vehicle. According to the Department of Energy’s 2006 report “Emerging Issues for Fossil Energy and Water: Investigation of Water Issues Related to Coal Mining, Coal to Liquids, Oil Shale, and Carbon Capture and Sequestration” a coal-to-liquid plant needs approximately seven gallons of water for every gallon of diesel fuel produced from eastern coal. How much available fresh, cool water will be on hand as the planet warms is anybody’s guess. It seems logical though that as air temperatures rise and rain patterns shift, coal-to-liquid plants might face water shortages that put them at odds with residential and agricultural consumers.

BA: We can perfect the technology and then export it to China and India.
RC: We should be putting our research dollars into harnessing local, clean, and limitless resources, like solar and wind power. We can export that technology. Energy from coal is inherently limited because the supply of coal is finite. It is a waste of money to fund research into utilizing a resource that will run out.

There is a coal-to-liquid plant coming soon to Natchez, Mississippi. I sincerely hope that the federal and state regulatory agencies in charge will carefully consider the availability of current and future surface and groundwater sources, agricultural and residential water consumers, and the environmental impact of the plant’s wastewater discharge and global warming pollution before permitting this experimental coal-to-liquid plant!

Casey DeMoss Roberts is the Special Projects Coordinator for the Gulf Restoration Network.

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