Blogging for a Healthy Gulf

 

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

 

I never really expected we would get such an amazing response to our request to musicians to help us ask the two men who would be Prez to get thee to NOLA and talk about the coast.

I'm really thankful that VOW helped get the ball rolling, and that the folks from Pearl Jam's PR shop helped us spread the word. Of course the question remains as to whether John McCain has any idea of who REM, Pearl Jam, the Meters, Jackson Browne, NIN or Indigo Girls actually are (let alone My Morning Jacket or Ok Go or other shorter discography groups). Unfortunately, my outreach efforts to Lawrence Welk were ultimately unsuccessful...

Read some cool coverage here, here, and here.

Of course the big ask in the letter, which is to get McCain and Obama to commit to the New Orleans Google/YouTube debate, seems to have been written off by the Times-Picayune and one of the event's main sponsors. I personally think we should be making an even louder stink about this, and folks who support NOLA and a more active and engaged democracy need to push hard to get the candidates to debate MORE not less. Do that here.

Here's the question they should answer:

Also, big thanks to Walter Williams for shooting Amanda at her 18th Birthday Party, Stanton Moore, Rueben Williams, and Clint Maedgen, Nicole and Sarah at Vandenberg Communications for outreach assistance, Harry Shearer for feedback, and Trevor Fitzgibbon for making the whole thing possible.

Aaron Viles is GRN's Campaign Director

 

As we near the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina we are reminded 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 due to erosion caused by oil and gas canals, subsidence and rising sea levels. 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.

On Friday, August 29, 2008 we are asking you and all of our supporters to host houseparties to commemorate the storm and ensure that the nation learns its lessons.

Last year we organized over thirty houseparties that were both informative and a lot of fun. This year we would like to organize fifty! We will send our hosts a series of short documentary films by filmmaker Walter Williams (the creator of Mr. Bill of classic Saturday Night Live) which detail our coastal crisis and the steps necessary to avert it.

We really need you to step up and open your home, church or community center to build the support necessary to make coastal restoration a national priority. It's easy, just head to our website, fill out the form and instead of sending an e-mail, you will be signed up to host a houseparty. Then, invite your friends, family, colleagues, church group, bowling team, whoever!

http://action.healthygulf.org/event/distributedEventSignup.jsp?distributed_event_KEY=442

As the nation's memory of Katrina fades, so too does our opportunity to teach the nation about the importance of our coastal lines of defense. Please help us remind our friends and neighbors through these events.

For our coast and communities,

Aaron Viles
Campaign Director
 

Once again, the Dead Zone has reared its ugly head in the Gulf of Mexico. Last week, Dr. Nancy Rabalais from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMOCON) made her annual cruise to measure the Dead Zone and despite high seas caused by Tropical Storm Dolly, the Dead Zone measures about 8,000 square miles this year, which makes it the second largest ever recorded! In my time at GRN it has been frustrating to see so little done to fix this ecological nightmare. Think about it...we have an area in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey where there is so little oxygen that shellfish and fish must swim away or suffocate.

The Dead Zone is a national catastrophe that has been overlooked for decades and it is time for EPA to step up and bring the Gulf of Mexico back from the brink of ecological disaster. Recently GRN and conservation groups that border the Mississippi River petitioned EPA to take decisive action. Please join us in this call!

It is important to let EPA know that the citizens of the Gulf and the United States want EPA to utilize its authority to make sure that the Dead Zone does not continue to grow. Please take a moment to send a letter to EPA to tell them to clean up the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico!

Matt Rota

Water Resources Program Director

For more information on what the Dead Zone is and what causes it, visit our website

 


With 100 miles of dark, slick oil covering its surface, the Mississippi River winds its way towards the Gulf of Mexico, leaving citizens across the nation once again reminded of the many reasons why we must move beyond our dependence on oil. As a 600 ft. tanker crashed into a barge spilling almost a half million gallons of diesel fuel oil into the river on Wednesday, Hurricane Dolly approaches Texas and prevents Senator John McCain from visiting a “clean” oil rig off the coast of New Orleans. All too familiar with the costs of natural and human disasters along the Gulf Coast, such snapshot events speak loudly to the offshore drilling debate.

Cynthia Sarthou, Executive Director of the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), explains, “The costs of opening up new areas for drilling along the Gulf vastly outweigh the benefits. Gas prices will be virtually unaffected, but future spills, wetlands destruction and increased pollution are guaranteed.”

Ultimately, increased drilling means more oil spills. The Mineral Management service predicts one spill of at least 42,000 gallons a year in the Gulf with at least 420,000 gallons expected to be spilled every four years. While the oil industry is justifiably proud of increased safety in drilling procedures, there is still great risk in transporting that oil from sea to land. These incidences not only create economic crises for small businesses and cause property damage, but they also make humans and wildlife more vulnerable to toxic fumes, contaminated drinking water, and serious illness in the short and long-term.

A recent report from the Journal of the Human Environment explained that the storm protection value of America’s coastal wetlands are $23.2 billion annually—Louisiana is currently losing a football field of this valuable protection every 45 minutes due to coastal erosion caused in part by the oil & gas industry. By committing to expanded oil and gas development these ‘horizontal levees’ are jeopardized in the short run by pipelines and offshore oil field support infrastructure, and in the long term by the global warming fueled sea level rise a continued reliance on oil will cause.

“The supply of oil off the coast is peanuts compared to world demand for oil, and any benefit at the pump pales in comparison to the costs of drilling, such as decreasing tourism and Hurricane protection, and the loss of the natural beauty of Florida beaches. In addition, new drilling means new pipelines, oil barges, storage facilities, refineries, and the pollution and public health threat they inevitably bring,” said Joseph Murphy, the Florida Program Coordinator for GRN.

 

Tell McCain & Obama: Debate in New Orleans

Outrageous cartoons, foreign policy differences, oil drilling flip-flops, the fight for

the White House is really underway. With Louisiana's Governor Bobby Jindal in the running for the McCain veepstakes the Republican contender seems to spend a lot of time in Louisiana, but it is time that we put the issue of the Gulf Coast environment and recovery front and center in this race.

In the almost three years since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast we've seen significant steps from federal leaders towards a more sustainable coast and safer communities, but these efforts will need substantial resources, funding, and time to succeed.

Now is the time to make sure that the future president of the United States commits to the Gulf States. Help us ask the candidates to commit to: tackling the Dead Zone, a hurricane recovery that includes safe and sustainable communities and rebuilt coastal lines of defense, and spotlighting their plans for recovery at the Google/YouTube debate in New Orleans.

Head here to sound the call for the coast and send that message to the candidates:
http://action.healthygulf.org/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=24937

 

The Google/YouTube event should be a fantastic opportunity to see our coastal issues put on display - but we need the two candidates to commit to the event now. Thanks for helping make that happen.

 

For our coast and communities,

 


Aaron Viles
Campaign Director

 

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