Blogging for a Healthy Gulf

 

The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee featured not only one of the most eclectic line-ups you were likely to find this summer (Sigur Ros! Kanye West! Metallica!), but it was also home to a veritable wonderland of non-profits and green resources aimed at heightening the global consciousness of concert goers. Among those groups was the GRN.

With Stephanie Powell as our intrepid leader, seven interns and volunteers packed into a cramped mini-van with cardboard crabs and a life-size poster of Mark Twain, making the granola-filled 8-hour journey to the Fest. Over 1,750 people stopped by the GRN booth to fill out a postcard asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set numeric limits to Dead Zone-causing pollutants nitrogen and phosphorous.

As politicians make attempts to relax animal waste discharge standards and the corn-based ethanol boom poised to unleash record amounts of nitrogen pollution; it’s important now more than ever to secure a commitment to protect the waters of the United States.

New Orleans favorite radio station WWOZ was also out in full force at Bonnaroo to record and broadcast from the “Something Else New Orleans” stage. In addition to memorializing the live performances of artists like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Morning 40 Federation, WWOZ broadcasted a call to text for the coast! Have a cell phone handy? Take a second and text COAST to 77007 to urge the Presidential candidates to make restoring and protecting the GulfCoast a priority.

While Louisiana currently loses coastal wetlands at a rate of a football field every 45 minutes, record temperatures are warming the Gulf of Mexico, ready to fuel an already active hurricane season. Your text will tell the Presidential candidates to prioritize coastal defenses. Thanks to our friends at WWOZ and their live-streaming broadcast to the internet for making our message global!

Be sure to check out our Flickr site and let us know your name if you are featured in our Stop the Dead Zone photo campaign! If you were lucky enough to chat with one of the kind folk from GRN, we’d all like to extend a hearty thank you for both helping stop the Dead Zone and making our experience at Bonnaroo truly a wonderful time. Thanks, ya’ll!

Also, a big thanks to the Planet Roo folks for giving us the opportunity to be at Bonnaroo!

Megan Milliken
Natural Storm Defenses Intern


 

Check out the latest video from the GRN video team. This documentary short gives an update to Washing Away, the documentary shown at last year's Katrinaversary parties, on the issue of wetland loss in coastal Louisiana and the need to halt this coastal crisis. Features Kerry St. Pe of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, the late Shea Penland of the University of New Orleans, and Carlton Dufrecheau of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. This short was created by GRN intern Lorraine Anton and Gino Kalkanoglu of NOLA Image Works using footage shot by Gino and Peter White. Produced by Aaron Viles. Dedicated to the memory and legacy of Shea Penland. Go check it out, rate it and share it with your friends and family to spread the word.

While you're at YouTube, Levees.org just released a new PSA calling for the congress to investigate the hurricane protection system failures during Katrina - we agree, so go watch it.

 

This Summer, the Gulf Restoration Network crew has been expanding -- kind of like the Dead Zone, except focused on a HEALTHIER Gulf of Mexico. We've set up an outreach office in the University area of New Orleans, and hired dozens of college students from LSU, Tulane and other campuses to fan out through the Baton Rouge, New Orleans and North Shore area, and alert the general public to the critical state of our coastal wetlands and build support for GRN and our Defend Our Coast, Defend Ourselves campaign. But if you're in one of the other Gulf states, don't worry, we're working to get to you too. We just sent a crew to Pensacola, Florida, and plan on sending folks to Houston/Galveston, Mobile/Fairhope, Mississippi's Gulf Coast, and maybe even Tampa.

So, if you get a knock on your door and open it to find a slightly sweaty young adult on your porch in a "United for a Healthy Gulf" t-shirt, take a second and listen to what they have to say. By spending a few minutes of your evening with GRN you'll get an update on our coast, and be presented with a couple of opportunities to help out. Whether you respond by joining GRN as a monthly, sustaining member, or writing a letter to the Governor and your member of Congress, urging them to act quickly for the coast, it will be time well spent, I promise.

In addition, we're still hiring for the outreach office. If you, or someone you know is interested in helping create the groundswell of support we need for immediate action on the coast and needs a full-time job this summer, ask them to give us a call. We are really excited to offer this opportunity to college students and others. Personally, I got my start as an environmental campaign organizer on a similar outreach effort many summers ago. The experience was invaluable and taught me how grass-roots organizing can really deliver results and win concrete victories for the environment. This summer's effort will give students a life-changing experience while making significant gains towards a sustainable coast.

If you're lucky enough to get that knock on the door, go out and have a great conversation about what we need to do to save our coast and communities. And offer the canvasser a glass of water, it's hot out there!

United for a Healthy Gulf,

Aaron Viles
Campaign Director

p.s. While we're excited to sign up members at the door, there's always a chance you won't be home the night we stop by. To make sure you don't miss your opportunity, sign up today!

 

It was the most successful environmental lobby day in Louisiana history! Over fifty citizen activists were in attendance for the release of the Environmental Briefing Book (www.labriefingbook.org) which each activist was to deliver to their Legislator. The book was prepared by “a coalition of groups and individuals who are passionate about providing good air to breathe, protecting our rights to clean sweet water to drink, and advocating for the rights of all of us to live in healthy sustainable communities.”

A few of the priorities for Lobby day were to educate our representatives about protecting the coast, re-fund the enforcement division of the Department of Environmental Quality, and support the fuel efficiency standards for state vehicles bill. The coalition of Louisiana’s best environmental groups is also asking the Legislature for a Green Caucus. The Legislature needs a Green Caucus that is funded and staffed to handle environmental legislation that will benefit the economy, protect Louisiana’s natural heritage, and safeguard the public health of our citizens from preventable exposure to health risks.

Though the Legislative schedule for our Lobby Day was not ideal, it gave many citizens from across the state an opportunity to see how laws are made. Every citizen activist wore their Environmental Voter pin and got the opportunity to see their government in action. It is important to remember that each citizen has the right to be heard!

 

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

 

A disgusting odor has been permeating the city of Hattiesburg, MS lately. For awhile, the city public works department claimed it didn't know the cause, but most everyone who smelled it knew that it smelled a lot like sewage. It turns out that the city's sewage lagoons are to blame.

There is more to the story, though. The lagoons, which are a very basic type of sewage treatment most commonly used by very small towns, are in violation of the Clean Water Act, polluting the nearby Leaf and Bowie Rivers. Sewage lagoons are basically a series of ponds which, under ideal circumstances, treat sewage using bacteria that live in the ponds. The Hattiesburg lagoons are truly massive as you can see from the satellite photo I included (the four polygons make up the south lagoon). In fact, by my estimate, the total size of the lagoon is about 330 acres, or roughly half a square mile.

As I argue in the letter I wrote in the Hattiesburg American, the city has not properly planned for growth and is sticking with its outdated sewage treatment lagoons rather than upgrading them to a modern treatment system. Why is this important? What Hattiesburg puts into the Leaf River, ultimately flows into the Pascagoula River and the Gulf of Mexico. In order to protect the Gulf of Mexico, we have to look upstream.

If you live in Hattiesburg, it is time to let your local leaders know they need to do better and should start by raising the money to replace the smelly lagoons. In the meantime, if you use the Leaf or Bowie Rivers, you may want to think twice about swimming or fishing near where the lagoons empty into the rivers.

Jeff Grimes is Assistant Director of Water Resources.

 
New Orleans native, and creator of the most famous Play-Doh figure this side of Gumby, Walter Williams is a documentary filmmaker, frequent GRN collaborator, and perhaps best known for Mr. Bill of classic Saturday Night Live fame. Walter and GRN worked together on our "Hear The Music" campaign targeting Shell at Jazzfest. Here's Walter's post from the fest:

The final Sunday of the last weekend of Jazzfest 08, as sunset approached on a beautiful day, our native sons the Neville Brothers returned home to perform for the first time since Katrina.

Suddenly, up in the air…is it a bird? Is it a plane? Yes, actually it is and towing a banner reading “Shell Hear The Music Fix The Coast U Broke.” I heard many exclaim, “I don’t think that’s supposed to be there.” Thanks to the Gulf Restoration Network, who did a similar Shell protest two years ago, for taking my idea seriously and financing it, there it was. And thanks to Tab Benoit and his Voice of the Wetlands organization, it stayed up an additional hour and closed out one of the most beautiful closing days in memory.
The T-shirts were a big hit also. Two girls at the ticket booth wanted them and wore them and you could spot people all around making it feel like the official theme of the Fest.

Once again, before any feels too sorry for Shell, saying they provide jobs and pay taxes. Well, all of the real jobs have moved to Houston and they’ve been using that line for decades and getting away with it. Now people are starting to wake up to the reality that Shell and the other oil companies involved in southern Louisiana have made us vulnerable to total destruction every summer and fall by eating away our natural defense; coastal wetlands.

And besides, before Shell took over it cost about 25 bucks to get into the Jazz Fest...I paid 50 on Sunday. I guess they are passing on the cost of all of those Shell flags to the customer. Please present the idea of the oil industry paying to restore our coast to your representatives and let them know that rebuilding our coast is a national issue.

Thanks to Michael Sustendal for taking the picture of me when we bumped into each other and for Alycia Daumas for taking the close up from her house. I think the whole event was awesome and everyone’s talking about it.

Keep hope alive,

Walter

 

Throughout the month of April, Aveda salons across the Southeast have been busy raising money for the GRN. The funds raised will support our work to protect clean water. Please visit your local Aveda salon and thank them for their hard work and commitment to a healthy Gulf.

These are just a few photos from the hundreds of events that were held across the region:

Joe Murphy of the GRN joins staff from the Aveda Institute St. Petersburg, Florida for a beach clean up.

Staff from the W. Daly Salon and Spa in Newman, Georgia
donated their time for Cut-A-Thon. The event raised $2000 in just one day!

Jessica Netto of the GRN joins staff from the Avalon salon group in Dallas. Avalon salon held a crawfish boil and silent auction that raised over $5000 in one day!

Gary Lambert's Salon and Spa of Winter Park, Florida hosted a 'Brunch of Clean Water' and silent auction that raised over $6000 for the GRN.

Carol Lociano of Drew James Salon in Ft. Lauderdale, hosted a table at the Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Science and Discovery's Earth Day event. They gave out blue water beads to children who committed to saving water by turning off the faucet as they wash their hands or brush their teeth.

This is the third year that Aveda distributors, the Neill Corporation and The Salon People and their salons have chosen the GRN as their Earth Month partner. We're honored that so many people are willing to donate their time and money for the GRN. Aveda is a unique company that not only talks about protecting our environment, but takes every step they can to live by their commitment.

Thanks Aveda!

Briana Kerstein is the Director of Organizational Development

 

Heading to Jazz Fest today? If you're there or in the neighborhood, keep an eye on the sky and check out our message to Shell, the sponsor of the event. We're going to have a plane flying a banner over the festivities, reading: Shell, hear the music. Fix the coast you broke!

As you well know, Louisiana loses a football field worth of vital coastal wetlands every 45 minutes. Did you know that Shell takes in about $2.3 million in profit in the same amount of time?

The current estimate of the cost to fix our coast and secure our communities is $50 billion, but taxpayers can't and shouldn't shoulder that burden alone. Coastal scientists estimate that oil companies have caused 40-60% of the coastal land loss Louisiana is experiencing, so we're asking them to be a part of the solution.

While all the oil companies that have operated in the Louisiana coast have contributed to the problem, Shell has publicly expressed concern over the future of our coast, going so far as to help fund a public relations campaign to tell the rest of the country about our coastal crisis. Unfortunately, that PR effort fails to mention the oil companies' role in the devastating wetland loss we're experiencing. Louisiana needs a lot more than music right now, so help us tell Shell to put their money where their mouth is and fix the problem they played a part in creating:

http://action.healthygulf.org/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=24446

We'll be outside the Sauvage Street Pedestrian Entrance Sunday morning as the Fest opens up, interviewing Fest goers about oil companies and their accountability for our coast for a documentary short we're putting together. Stop by and share your views with us and pick up some flyers and a free t-shirt to help spread the message.

United for a Healthy Gulf,

Aaron

Aaron Viles is GRN's Campaign Director

 

The Dogwood Alliance, an amazing organization that works to hold corporations accountable for the impact of their industrial forestry practices on the forests and communities of the South, is launching a new campaign. Read more in the following blog post from Dogwood's Organizing Director, Eva Hernandez.

DOGWOOD KICKS OFF NEW CAMPAIGN AND WEBSITE

Check out the new campaign website: www.nofreerefills.org!

Will you help us kick off the national Fast Food Packaging Campaign? The Southern US is the largest paper producing region in the world. Packaging is the #1 paper product from our forests, led by the fast food industry.

Will you send a message to the fast food CEO's having the biggest impact on our forests? Click here to send your message.

While you're there you can let the CEO's know that they should a) use more post-consumer recycled paper; b) use less; and c) stop using paper for packaging from endangered forests.

We have been on the road the last couple of weeks holding press conferences and community meetings to let kickoff the campaign. We've met some great people, gotten some good media, taken some great photos and videos, and worked with awesome volunteers. No matter where we are, one thing always rings true-Southern forests are too important to be wasted for fast food packaging.

You can tell the biggest Fast Food chains to stop buying their packaging from Southern forests. We identified the top offenders and they are... Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silvers, Pizza Hut, A&W, McDonalds, Wendy's, Quiznos, Jack in the Box, and Bojangles.

Tell the 11 Fast Food Junky CEO's to stop trashing Southern forests for chicken buckets, burger boxes and to-go containers.

Click here to send your message today!

While you're there you can check out the new website and find more info about the campaign, including a downloadable report linking the top offenders to Southern forest destruction at www.nofreerefills.org.

Why fast food? Because Southern forests are too important to be wasted for fast food packaging.


Bret at the Big Chicken · Fast Food Chains are buying packaging from Southern forests
· 15% of landfill waste is fast food packaging
· The average American throws out 300 lbs. of packaging waste every year

Our fast food lifestyle is burying us in an avalanche of excessive packaging and waste. Every year millions of pounds of food packaging waste litter our roadways, clog our landfills and spoil our quality of life.

Southern forests, the jewel of the American landscape, are being destroyed to bring you fried chicken, burgers and fries, and super-sized convenience in a glut of wrappers, boxes and cups. Simple choices and creative solutions can reduce the excess and destruction while still allowing us to enjoy the level of convenience we have come to expect.

Join Dogwood Alliance in challenging corporations to change their habits. Our forests are too important to be wasted for disposable packaging. With nearly 100 paper packaging mills in the South, the packaging decisions of these corporations have a tremendous impact on our forests.

Take action today!

http://www.democracyinaction.org/da/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=24343&t=nofreerefillsAction.dwt

For the forests,

Eva Hernandez
Organizing Director
Dogwood Alliance

 

On Thursday, April 17 we loaded fourteen of us into a van and a car and drove up to Vicksburg for a hearing on the Yazoo Pumps project. Vicksburg is a 3.5 hour drive from New Orleans, so we were prepared for a long day, though I don’t think any of us expected it to be as long as it was.

The public hearing started at 7pm at the Vicksburg Convention Center. As our group sat down, one of our members was tapped on the shoulder by a pumps proponent and told that she wasn’t welcome at the hearing and should leave! It’s that kind of attempted intimidation by proponents that has kept more locals from speaking out against this project.

The EPA kicked off the hearing with a brief presentation on why the Yazoo Pumps project is so damaging, followed by a representative from the Corps who tried to convince everyone the project is sound by using some fuzzy logic. Then it was on to the elected officials.

Governor Haley Barbour’s representative made a comment that people from outside of the Delta region should not be influencing the process because locals wanted the project built. However, if the project were built, those of us living downstream would have to deal with the impacts of losing wetlands that store flood waters and filter water pollutants such as fertilizer and pesticides. It’s also troubling to hear that Mr. Barbour believes that outsiders should not have a say on a in this project given that Mississippi politicians lobbied to get the entire cost of the project paid for by federal taxpayers.

The best part of the hearing was the great diversity of people opposed to the pumps. By my count, 34 people testified in opposition to the pumps, including students, scientists, social justice groups, representatives from hunting and fishing groups, environmental groups, land trusts, and many local citizens who understand that what the Delta needs is better education, infrastructure, and health care, not a pork project that will only benefit a small number of landowners. Attending the hearing was well worth the long drive we had back home, arriving in New Orleans well after 3 am.

The Yazoo Pumps is one of the most wasteful, environmentally destructive taxpayer-funded projects ever conceived. Former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt called it the "most cockamamie" project that he had ever heard of. A retired head of the EPA wetlands division recently said, “over my 24 years at the EPA, I never reviewed a project that would do more damage than the Yazoo Pumps project.” There are various estimates of how many acres of wetlands the project would drain which range from 67,000 to over 200,000. No matter which estimate you believe, the destruction would be massive.

Now it’s your turn. If you haven’t sent a comment to the EPA in support of a veto, please do so now by clicking here. Help us achieve what could be one of the most pro-environment decisions to come out of EPA in a long time.

Dump the Pumps!

Jeff Grimes is Assistant Director of Water Resources for the Gulf Restoration Network

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