My Report on the Gulf Ecosystem Restoration Council Meeting: Democracy in reverse
by Elizabeth Cook
Thursday, Jun. 13, 2013 at 5:12 PM
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The most recent public meeting of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, held in Belle Chase on June 12, was an exercise in democracy in reverse.
It is an undemocratic process that is largely for political theater, in my view, so I used it as such. People only have three minutes to speak. The funding is a long way off, so why not have round table discussions, that can go on all day, where people wander in and out depending on their schedule? No, in three minutes, you have to state all of your concerns about the gulf, BP, oil, the Corexit, bioremediation, the dying marshes, the culpability of the government in the use of Corexit, the fact that they want to expand drilling to Florida and the Corexit is being stocked all up and down the coast. God forbid there is another blowout of a well and the Corexit is used in massive quantities again, and this restoration process has to start all over. Common sense folks (yes, I did say that).
I should note who composes this “Council” as per their web site: “The RESTORE Act established a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (the Council), which is comprised of governors from the five affected Gulf States’, the Secretaries from the U.S. Departments of the Interior, Commerce, Agriculture, and Homeland Security as well as the Secretary of the Army and the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Gulf States recommended and President Obama appointed the Secretary of Commerce as the Council’s Chair.”
No Secretaries of Departments were present, but they did send representatives, and Garret Graves, Head of Coastal Protection and Restoration was the Louisiana governor's representative.
I brought up the fact that LSU has studied bioremediation for decades, yet no bioremediation attempts are being made to help the dying marshes; the marshes are in crisis as per LSU Professor Linda Bui's report on the dying insects, the receding, oiled marshes, whether heavily oiled or less heavily oiled, and increased toxicity of certain compounds rather than the natural biodegredation process occurring as they hoped for (Garret Graves, head of La. Coastal Authority twisted his mouth on that one). I consider this situation related to the massive use of Corexit that has hurt the ability of the natural microbes to do their job, but I didn't have time to say that last night.
I brought up the fact that Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, in his report, recommended the creation of the Gulf Restoration Task Force, after numerous public meetings across the Gulf coast. Mabus included health impacts and the timely access to health care and reimbursement of costs for health care in his report. The Task Force he recommended the creation of began holding meetings, chaired by Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA. I attended two of them.
In the Restoration Task Force Meetings chaired by Lisa Jackson, we'd try to bring up the Corexit and health impacts in those restoration task force meetings and Lisa Jackson worked hard to either shut us down or minimize the health impacts to invisibility. Read that final report from the task force; I include the link below. Page 43 through 47 deal the with goals of “resiliency” and “education”, leaving out health impacts entirely. Consequently, in my view because of this task force report's influence, the health impacts from the oil and Corexit were completely left out of the Restore Act as a result. Instead, we get something about making coastal communities "more resilient"; read the Gulf Restoration Council's report for yourself and look at their “goals” and "objectives". Restoration included? Yes. Economic impacts? Yes. Resiliency Projects and "education"? Yes. Might as well call it "re-education". Get used to the new reality on the Gulf coast: constant exposure to toxicity due to the remaining oil, continued spraying of Corexit, and a dying Northern Gulf ecosystem.
To the credit of other folks there, there were a few that suggested the comment period be extended beyond the current deadline of June 24, 2013, since the funding itself is a long way off. How can anyone really explore a subject and comment adequately with three minutes, one minute more than the New Orleans City Council allows you to comment. Utter and completely undemocratic. And no final say for the public, the "stakeholders", as they like to call us, as to which projects will be chosen and how implemented. It was suggested that folks comment on whether or not there should be the creation of a Citizen's Advisory Council, but I didn't get a chance to approach that subject, cause the guy holding up the signs telling us how much time we had to speak held up the one that said "STOP" when I was speaking after my three minutes were up. I would have asked, how can you guarantee a democratic process in the selection of such a citizen's advisory council, without town hall meetings in all communities impacted and the opportunity to vote for representatives? Maybe I should have just used the time to call for revolution and democratic take over of our energy resources. Maybe next time. What was really disappointing is that I was the only person to bring up the toxic dispersant Corexit and health and environmental impacts of its use.
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser got in his two cents saying the oil is still in the marshes, and “BP ain't making it right”. Well, neither is the EPA or NOAA or the White House for that matter, but it drew popular applause from the crowd. So did the virtually same words from Jefferson Parish President John Young when he said tar balls and oil mats are still showing up on Grand Isle and Elmer's Island. But where are these two parish presidents when it comes to addressing the lack of help for folks sick from exposure to the toxicity of the oil and Corexit, the demand for bioremediation projects led by LSU, the demand to ban the Corexit? Nowhere to be found.
This was a meeting that demonstrated the various layers of NGOs either looking for money in the restoration process, already receiving money and bragging about what they are doing and how long they've been doing it. The place was packed with representatives from NGOs. There were the mid-level NGOs like Gulf Restoration Network that at least called for an extended comment period. The place was literally filled with tiers of NGOs. Sierra Club, in the house, Audubon Society, in the house. Oxfam, in the house. Numerous other smaller NGOs whose names I can't remember, big and small NGOs all introducing themselves and gearing up for grant writing or perhaps filing claims for lost donor funds during the first eight months of the spill (more on that in another article), or already implementing funding received. What was missing was plenty of fisher folks, a few attended, and no folks whose health has been impacted by the oil and Corexit.
A few fisher folk brought up how some of the projects that involve freshwater diversion and sediment will affect and hurt the fisheries. This demonstrated a disconnect between the reality of what is needed to rebuild the coast, those implementing the projects, and the real economic effects on fisher folk. How or when or even should fisher folks be compensated for projects that destroy fisheries in the process of rebuilding coastal land? Wasn't even mentioned.
The poor turnout shows how demoralized, in my view, many folks are that they don't even bother to come out. Or maybe they are too sick, which I can understand perfectly well. I reminded this "Council" that some folks have lost everything, due to the health costs, and of course, due to the fisheries impacted. The poor turnout of fisher folks speaks volumes though as to how discouraged folks are on the coast that make their living from the waters. Discouraged or not, and we all are experiencing unbelievable levels of grief and the accompanying emotions, It's your coast, it's my coast, it's all of our coast, the Gulf belongs to all of us, and if we don't defend it, we'll lose it completely.
We should have had two hundred people there to shut the meeting down and run it the way we want to run it: democratically with democratic proposals on what changes we want as to how things are being conducted on the coast. Certainly playing these games with the Gulf Ecosystem Restoration Council won't achieve what we all want: ban Corexit, health care for all, clean energy development and production, and a recovering Gulf instead of dying marshes.
For background, it was Navy Secretary Ray Mabus whose report first floated the idea to pass legislation that would allow the Clean Water Act (CWA) civil penalty funds be dedicated, at least a portion, to restoration of the coast and communities, rather than the civil penalty funds from the CWA just going to the oil spill liability trust fund for cleaning up of oil spills. The legislation was passed in 2012, called the Restore Act, dedicating 80% of the civil penalties under the CWA for this disaster to the Gulf coast communities for restoration, and now we know, economic and "resiliency" projects. These funds could be in the range of $800,000,000, so it's no small change we're talking about. I'll include a link to the Restoration Council's web site for further info, if you care to look, and a link below to Ray Mabus' report that does include health impacts and access to health care, that started this whole process off. Oh, I'll throw in a link to Lisa Jackson's Restoration Task Force final report that minimizes health impacts, and certainly doesn't give much attention to the effects of the toxic dispersant Corexit, of which millions of gallons were used on the BP oil to sink or disperse it, rather than get it out of the water with mechanical means. A recent study showed that the use of Corexit made the oil potentially 52 times more toxic, but I didn't have time to say that last night. -- Elizabeth Cook, New Orleans, Committee to Ban Corexit (No, we're not a nonprofit).
Linda Hopper Bui's report on the dying marshes:
Study showing he toxic dispersant Corexit may have made the oil 52 times more toxic:
Toxic dispersant Corexit being stockpiled up and down the coast:
Public meeting for planned expansion of oil drilling in the Gulf to Florida/Alabama:
Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management:
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