Blogging for a Healthy Gulf

 

Alabama Governor Bob Riley put the final stake in the heart of open-loop LNG in the Gulf of Mexico. When he signaled he would veto the project, the foreign energy company sponsoring it pulled their permit application. This is big news for the marine fish populations out around the Pinnacles Reef area, and shows once again, that when fisherman line up with environmentalists, big things can happen. Special credit goes to Casi Calloway at Mobile Baykeeper and the great folks in the Gulf Fisheries Alliance. Check it out here.

Aaron Viles is GRN's Campaign Director.

 

Back in July, I blogged that the second largest Dead Zone ever measured had developed in the Gulf. Though the Dead Zone was almost 8,000 square miles, you might be surprised to know that Louisiana does not officially acknowledge that this polluted area exists! The New Jersey-sized Dead Zone is a real problem that threatens Louisiana's fishing economy and the health of the Gulf every year.  Admitting that there is a problem is always thefirst step in solving it.

The Clean Water Act requires States to list all waters that are polluted - the first step in prioritizing them for clean-up.  Currently, most of the coastal waters and the Mississippi River are not listed by Louisiana as being polluted and needing a real cleanup plan, despite the fact that they are loaded with the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that causes the Dead Zone. 

Please take a moment to send a letter to EPA and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and tell them to make sure that Louisiana admits there is a problem and works with the EPA to clean-up the Dead Zone and the Mississippi River!

http://action.healthygulf.org/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=26072

Matt Rota is GRN's Water Resources Program Director
Blog updated for clarity on July 22, 2010

 

I still remember the first time I saw oil and gas rigs from the beach. I’m a native and life-long Floridian, used to open vistas and sunsets not marred by industrial facilities offshore. I was on a road trip in college and visited Dauphin Island, Alabama and Grand Isle, Louisiana and was both amazed and disheartened to see rigs offshore. It’s a sobering experience, and one that I have never forgotten.

This year, in the “silly season” of elections, the issue of expanding offshore oil and gas drilling along the OCS (Outer Continental Shelf) has been given renewed life as the oil industry realizes the Bush Administration gravy train may be ending. A bad economy, high gas prices, and election year posturing have combined to create a political window for the oil industry to seek eliminations of the moratoriums and restrictions that protect most of the OCS around the United States. Candidates seem all too willing to sacrifice the public interest to keep big oil happy, and as you read this Congressional moratoriums that have been in place for years to protect the OCS from drilling have been allowed to expire.

Perhaps folks supportive of the oil industry in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas wonder why Florida seems so concerned about offshore drilling. And, in fairness it should be noted that even a slight majority of Floridians now seem to support some expansion of drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The multi-million dollar campaign of lies from Big Oil connecting drilling to lower gas prices has worked, and people who are scared as our economy worsens (understandably so) want some sort of solution now. The reality is, spin and falsehoods aside, there is almost no connection between expanding drilling in the OCS and gas prices going down.

The Presidential, Congressional, and other legislative moratoriums and restrictions on drilling in the OCS go back 20 years in some cases. For years, Democrats and Republicans came together to agree that protecting our oceans, our nation’s fisheries, critical state tourist economies, and military training areas was more important than drilling. Billions of dollars were spent to buy back oil drilling leases in environmentally sensitive areas. The common ground found was underscored by the idea that we need to protect our coastal ecosystems, communities, and economies.

Now, with a race for the White House and the fear of high energy prices being used to scare Congress into some action (Drill Baby, Drill anyone?), decades of good policy is being thrown out the window. What is best for America is secondary to what is best for Big Oil. If we can’t get it right on an issue like this, how will we ever confront and address climate change?

Despite the lapsing moratoriums, Big Oil won’t be drilling off the Gulf Coast of Florida anytime soon. Legislation passed in 2006 (a compromise between Democrats and Republicans, and between coastal communities and the oil industry) both opened more of Lease Area 181 to drilling and created a 125 to 230 mile buffer zone off the Gulf Coast of Florida. Lease Area 181 is a large lease area on the border between the MMS eastern planning area and central planning area. In this compromise protections were put in place for Florida’s coastal ecosystems and economies, as well as protections for military training areas in the eastern Gulf. In exchange for that Big Oil got access to large areas of Lease Area 181 previously off limits to them. Whether or not that legislation will hold remains to be seen.

Perhaps after the November elections some common sense will return to Congress (if only fleetingly) and we’ll see energy legislation that solves the real problems and promotes a sustainable energy future for America. I drove out to Cedar Key, Florida the other day (I like to consider it the unofficial capitol of the Nature Coast) to ponder the future of the Gulf Coast of Florida.

At sunset I gazed out across the intact and healthy open coastal marsh and the Gulf of Mexico and rejoiced that the only lights I saw were stars as day faded to night. Gulf Restoration Network is committed to the idea, and the reality, that Florida’s Gulf Coast should stay rig free. The risk to our economy and environment is too great. Shifts in the political winds aside, the right thing remains the right thing and that is the standard by which future generations will judge us as we chart the energy future they will inherit.

Joe Murphy is GRN's Florida Programs Director

 

Green Jobs NowI'm sure with all the challenges this overactive hurricane season has presented, the New Orleans race for Congress is probably the last thing you have been thinking about. But that doesn't change the fact that election day is fast approaching. October 4th is the primary - do you know who you'll be supporting?

GRN is excited to invite you to come out Saturday to hear directly from the candidates on issues related to responding to global warming, building a green energy economy, and creating green jobs now! Given New Orleans vulnerability to the effects of climate change such as rising sea level and stronger storms, as well as the opportunity that our recovery represents, we think the next member of Congress from Louisiana's Second District (your district) should be a leader in advocating for the transition toward a cleaner, greener New Orleans.

Please come out and hear from the candidates yourself!

Saturday, September 27th 7-9pm. Loyola's Roussel Hall (click for map)

The forum will be moderated by WWL News Anchor Dennis Woltering, and we have confirmation from 6 of the 7 candidates (unfortunately, Representative Jefferson will be unavailable).

The forum is the capstone event in a day of New Orleans activities for the National Day of Action for Green Jobs Now, so please go to www.greenjobsnow.com to find out details for all the other great events being planned. For questions about the forum, please contact Jonathan Henderson.

Hope to see you at the forum,

Aaron Viles
Campaign Director
 

Protect Gulf WildlifeWith just a few months left in office, it looks like the Bush Administration is angling for a big legacy: a legacy of increased extinctions! We need your help to get Congress to prevent the Bush extinction plan from becoming law.

The Administration is proposing drastic changes to the Endangered Species Act that threaten to undermine our nation's commitment to endangered fish, plants and wildlife. The changes would massively weaken one of the most important measures of the Endangered Species Act-the responsibility of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure that federal agencies, like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, do no harm to endangered species such as the Louisiana Black Bear, Florida Panther, West Indian Manatee and other endangered species throughout the Gulf states and the nation.

Using backdoor, regulatory changes, the Bush administration is working to implement their extinction plan, despite the fact that Congress and the American public have already rejected these proposals in the past!

Please take a moment right now to click here and help preserve our nation's commitment to protecting our wildlife and wild places: http://action.healthygulf.org/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=25996

United for a Healthy Gulf,

Cyn Sarthou
Exective Director
 

Four days ago, Hurricane Ike swept ashore across Galveston Island. The enormous storm whipped up the Gulf and brought massive storm surge destroying coastal communities along Texas' northern coast and into Louisiana. While millions swelter without electricity and begin to clean up and repair their homes, the full extent of the damage is just beginning to be revealed.

Once again we are students in the 'School of Big Storms.' We hope we will learn from our mistakes as we begin to rebuild for our future. GRN supporters and member groups in the impacted region need our help to ensure our coastal wetlands and barrier islands are protected. Our natural storm defenses must be spared from continued development and allowed to do their job of reducing storm surge and absorbing rain and runoff.

Today, the Houston Chronicle featured an important article on limiting development and the need to follow building setback requirements proposed by the state. You can also read this article from The New York Times about the potentially harmful toxic sludge left behind by receding floodwaters. And, Dr. Jeff Masters has been contributing to his Weather Underground blog with updates on the damage including photos of the destruction and more details on how individual communities were impacted by Ike. Check out this assessment of the damage in southern Louisiana from LEAN, a GRN member group. And you can read this article from the Houma Courier on the fisheries disaster in the Gulf declared by the NOAA Fisheries Service.

GRN will continue to work across the Gulf to ensure our natural storm defenses are protected and restored. We will get back to our supporters on opportunities protect our natural defenses and protect ourselves. We wish our supporters and member groups in the impacted area a safe and healthy recovery.

Sincerely,

Aaron Viles
Campaign Director

 

This past week has been difficult for many of us in the Gulf. However, I have some great news to share! On September 2nd, the EPA took the final step to veto the Yazoo Pumps Project, an antiquated Army Corps of Engineers project that would have destroyed over 200,000 acres of wetlands in Mississippi, including habitat for the endangered Louisiana black bear.

Last March, we asked you to send a message to the EPA urging them to veto this project, and you answered our call. This victory would not have been possible without you, and we thank you for your support!

These are anxious times with hurricane season upon us, but please join us in celebrating this victory. This is only the 13th time in history that the EPA has used its veto authority to protect wetlands, and this is by far the most destructive project ever stopped. You can read the news story here.

Thanks again for your efforts to protect the Gulf of Mexico.

Sincerely,

Cynthia Sarthou, Executive Director

 

I hope everyone is safe, and staying dry. I'm typing this from my evacuation-vacation in Seattle, safe with my family.

We're all on pins and needles as we watch the storm batter our coast and communities. Instead of just being glued to cnn/weather channel, GRN friend and collaborator Walter Williams put his nervous energy to work and cut a new film which captures our coastal crisis, and hopes to help inform the teachable moment that Gustav is presenting to the nation.

Take care,

Aaron

Here's Walter's blog and film:

No one understands the stress New Orleanians live under. No one else in this country has to stare down total annihilation not only every year, but often several times a year, while trying to rebuild their lives. We’ve been in the bull’s eye for seven days now and it’s time for us all to leave home.

Can anyone out there really relate to this? An entire major city having to flee from their homes, not knowing if they’ll see them again…not knowing if they’ll see their family and friends again…not knowing if they’ll see the city they love again… From my talking to people around the country, they evidently can’t.

And the shame is that this did not have to happen. They would not have built the oldest Cathedral, a US Mint, the biggest federal building on the beachfront facing utter destruction every year. That’s because we were 80 miles from the coast and never worried about flooding from the gulf. Now our protection has been eaten away and we sit here living under a strain that few could endure.

And the people proven to be responsible for fifty percent of our land loss continue to deny their culpability. They’ve known about this dirty little secret for decades, have the money to rectify it, but thumb their noses at us, because the state and federal government refuse to take them to task. That’s because they appear to all be one in the same. As far as I’m concerned, they all have Katrina blood on their hands and unfortunately may have more coming this week, by refusing to fix what they broke.

We have one of the largest land building machines in the world, the Mississippi River, to build new land to regain our protection. It’s not rocket science, it’s mud and gravity. They’ve tried to convince us that levees are the problem. We didn’t even need levees just forty years ago when Betsy slammed directly into us, because we used to have the state of Delaware between us and the sea. There were no seawalls on the 17th Street canal or the others, yet they didn’t overtop. Something has changed drastically in the last forty years, coincidentally the height of oil and gas activity in southern Louisiana.

I hope we survive this one and the one following close behind, but regardless, Americans should not be forced to live like this particularly when there is a viable solution. Please watch the video I cut together today about this, before high-tailing it. It’s called “Blood and Oil” and is on YouTube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8iSAYxPWVM

I’m really tired and pissed.

Safety to all on the road and I hope to see you all soon. Maybe we just need to click our heels.

Peace,

Walter

 

What if I told you that you could help GRN protect and restore the natural

resources of the Gulf region for less than a cup of coffee a day?! Making a monthly gift to the Gulf Restoration Network is the easiest way to have a large and lasting impact on our organization and not on your finances.

And now, thanks to our friends at the Voodoo Experience, we will be drawing from our universe of sustaining members for two FREE passes to the music festival on August 31st, and September 30th. We will also award the grand prize of 2 LOA VIP 3 Day passes to the sustaining member who gives largest monthly donation between now and September 30th.

This year's headliners are R.E.M., Nine Inch Nails, Stone Temple Pilots, and Erykah Badu. You have the opportunity to hear some of your favorite bands and help save the Gulf coast at the same time! Only GRN could offer a deal like that!

Last year, we had a fantastic time at Voodoo, setting up a great tent, educating Voodoo goers about the coast, and getting rock stars and radio djs to help us pitch our coastal text messaging campaign. This year will be even better, with a "NO COAST, NO MUSIC" promotional CD in the works that will feature Voodoo artists and some great ideas about other ways to educate fans about the coast. You're going to want to see what we come up with.

Now, we pride ourselves on having some pretty savvy supporters and we understand that your decision will not be taken lightly. I just wanted answer a few more questions that you might have, so you can make an informed decision. Donations are entered into a secure online account and once entered only the last four digits of the account are visible. Charges will appear as the company that processes the transactions for us, Democracy in Action.

For just $1 a day or $30 a month you can provide a sustaining stream of funding for GRN to accomplish its goals. Become a sustaining member today!

United for a Healthy Gulf,

Cynthia Sarthou
Executive Director

P.S. On this third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Gustav looming in the Gulf is a poignant reminder of the importance of our coastal lines of defense, our wetlands. Louisiana continues to lose a football field's worth of coastal wetlands every forty-five minutes. This loss threatens our nation's energy resources, fishing, and most importantly is leaving New Orleans and other coastal communities more vulnerable to future storms like Katrina. We have a long road ahead of us to ensure the protection and restoration of the Gulf's natural resources. Please consider a sustaining membership for the health of the Gulf coast, our home.

 

As lunchtime foot traffic filled the halls of One Shell Square, a fantastic group of concerned citizens and activists carrying signs and shouting “Shell Fix the Coast You Broke!” followed a major celebrity and his entourage into Shell Oil’s New Orleans headquarters. The star carried an oversized invoice charging the company $361,984,000 for the cost of restoring wetlands that the company has destroyed.

Who was this Hollywood star, using his megawatt smile to help ensure a sustainable response to hurricane Katrina? Brad Pitt? John Goodman? Harry Shearer?

Oh nooooooo! This cause has been championed by the one, the only, the play-doh, Mr. Bill of classic Saturday Night Live, and a current national MasterCard “priceless” commercial. Mr. Bill (seen below with security detail and starlets in tow) waltzed into One Shell Square to hand Shell the bill, and helped kick off a new campaign aimed at holding oil and gas companies responsible for the role they have played in wetlands loss.

Working with a fantastic coalition that included Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Rodnreel.com, the Sierra Club, United Houma Nation, the Alliance for Affordable Energy and of course, Walter Williams, New Orleans Filmmaker & Mr. Bill Creator, GRN fired a shot across Shell's bow that even the massive energy corporation can't ignore. There is solid evidence that forty to sixty percent of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands loss can be traced to oil and gas activities, and it is only fair that companies like Shell pay for the cost of the damage they have caused.

While Shell’s fortunes continue to rise, coastal Louisiana’s marshes are disappearing at an astounding rate and thus leaving the whole region more vulnerable to future hurricanes. According to records from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, Shell Oil has dredged 8.8 million cubic yards of wetlands while laying pipelines since 1983. These activities alone have caused the loss of 22,624 acres of wetlands in the last 25 years.

“I am very optimistic that the oil industry will step up and do the right thing,” said Walter Williams, at our press conference “because it is in their own self interest. The wetlands not only protect New Orleans, but they are the only thing protecting their oil infrastructure. Pipes that used to
be underground are now exposed to open water and are being battered. What will the price of gas be if the strategic oil reserve suddenly starts emptying into the Gulf?”

We feel the current situation in southern Louisiana informs the national debate around expanding offshore drilling on the Atlantic and Pacific Coast. Increased off-shore drilling would be detrimental to coastal communities, which is clear in the case of Louisiana. Decades of oil and gas activity along the coast have left the Mississippi River’s once mighty delta a pale comparison of its former glory.

Restoring Louisiana’s coast would benefit the state and nation’s economy in countless ways. Every three to four miles of wetlands reduce storm surge by one foot, so reversing the land loss crisis would help guard thousands of homes and businesses from future devastation. “The recreational hunting and fishing industry in Louisiana is a major driver of the state’s economy, but it is increasingly threatened by coastal land loss,” stated Mike Lane, publisher and co-owner of RodNReel.com. “Irresponsible corporations such as Shell Oil have made billions of dollars in profit from the resources of our state and it is time that they gave back to the coast.”

The state of Louisiana and Governor Jindal recently made a laudable commitment to spending more than a billion dollars in state funds on coastal projects in the next four years, but even this massive sum of money is only a down payment to fix the problem of coastal land loss. To truly restore the coast and protect South Louisiana communities will likely require a commitment of upwards of $50 billion dollars, a burden which outstrips the currently identified state and federal revenue streams.

While significant projects have been authorized by the federal government, appropriating these funds will be far more challenging. To ensure Louisiana’s coastal needs are met, parties responsible for the coastal wetlands crisis must be brought to the table. Oil and gas companies like Shell have played an integral part in creating the problem, so it only makes sense for them to help to fix the coast they broke.

Help tell Shell here.

Aaron Viles is GRN's Campaign Director

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