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My Report on the Gulf Ecosystem Restoration Council Meeting: Democracy in reverse
by Elizabeth Cook Thursday, Jun. 13, 2013 at 5:12 PM (email address validated)

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:

add your comments

Gulf Future community meetings
by scott eustis Friday, Jun. 28, 2013 at 10:46 AM

Beth, thanks for this article, it's amazing.

the Council hearings do suck, and what community groups and GRN have been doing in that direction is holding meetings (with food) where communities can control the agenda and get questions answered more directly by govt types who are willing to work overtime.

it's not direct democracy, but i think it is a much less frustrating communication process, both for the muckity muck govt types as well as regular people.

The community meetings were co-sponsored by: Alabama Coastal Foundation, Asian Americans for Change, Bayou Grace, BISCO (Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing), Boat People SOS, Gulf Restoration Network, Hijra House, Mississippi Center for Justice, MS Coalition of Vietnamese Fisherfolk and Families, Mobile Baykeeper, Sierra Club, Steps Coalition, and the United Houma Nation.

Communities weigh in on Restoration Draft Plan
Blog - BPs Oil Drilling Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico
Monday, 24 June 2013 11:01

Community members discuss the Council's Draft Plan in BiloxiLast week we wrapped up a series of community meetings that were held in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and co-hosted with several other organizations as part of Gulf Future. Members of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council were invited to share a meal with community members and listen to their discussion about how Gulf restoration should move forward to protect both the natural resources and the people who live and work on the coast.

These meetings complimented the public hearings, by reaching into diverse communities and facilitating small group discussions about the priorities and objectives in the Council’s Draft Plan. The turnout to these meetings was great (not to mention the food!) and the Council representatives and state government officials got to hear the value of Advisory Committees and see clearly now with their own eyes the interest in their work from smaller coastal communities.

Deb Devore with US Fish and Wildlife ServiceDeb Devore with US Fish and Wildlife Service listens closely to community discussionAlthough each of these communities are unique and their priorities differ, there were definitely some overarching themes across the Gulf. First, the priorities proposed in the Council’s draft do not include protecting people, which folks thought was a huge oversight. Our communities really understand the interconnectedness of the people to the natural resources and consider both important focuses of protection and restoration. Another theme that crossed state lines was planning for long-term resilience of the resources and the communities. Many voices in each state expressed the desire to make restoration projects hire local people and create economic opportunities for local communities. Who better to do the work of restoring these resources than the people who depend on them? When it came to the Council’s proposed objectives, protecting and improving water quality and protecting shorelines stood out in each state. Our communities understand the need to have clean water for our fisheries to thrive and we need to have healthy shorelines and barrier islands capable of protecting us from the threats of hurricanes and sea level rise.

Patty Whitney with BISCO reports the themes from the group discussion she facilitatedWe ended each meeting with a discussion about advisory committees and everyone agreed that the Council would greatly benefit from citizen committees and science committees. Some thought there should be a seafood harvest and processor committee. And in Biloxi, one group proposed a financial review committee to ensure ethics in funding allocation.

We also continued to hear from folks that they didn’t feel like they really had enough time to review the Draft Plan to make adequate comments. Hearing this in both the public hearings and the community meetings, the Council responded by pushing the comment deadline back to July 8, which gives us plenty of time to get all the notes form the discussion groups into the record. Whew!

See Residents discuss how to spend spill fines

See more photos from the meetings

Dulac, LA

Biloxi, MS

Bayou La Batre, LA

The community meetings were co-sponsored by: Alabama Coastal Foundation, Asian Americans for Change, Bayou Grace, BISCO (Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing), Boat People SOS, Gulf Restoration Network, Hijra House, Mississippi Center for Justice, MS Coalition of Vietnamese Fisherfolk and Families, Mobile Baykeeper, Sierra Club, Steps Coalition, and the United Houma Nation.

add your comments

More meetings with more NGOs
by Elizabeth Cook Saturday, Jul. 06, 2013 at 12:18 PM

Scott, the meetings you have been holding are with small and large NGOs that have a presence on the Gulf. They are not open, townhall meetings where it is advertised "all are welcome". No, I 'm afraid this is not direct democracy, but NGOs cooperating with each other to participate in a nondemocratic process run by the Federal government. I don't think an NGO knows how to truly hold a fully democratic process, as they are structured like companies with authoritarian structures and horizontal power structures. This effort will have to come from the grass roots, a democratic process on the Gulf where folks directly impacted will begin to organize for what they want and need for their communities, and want they want to oppose.

add your comments

by Jassy Wase Tuesday, Jul. 30, 2013 at 9:33 AM

This is my first time to browse on your blog and I am very much pleased. Though articles are posted way back last year but the information is still very reliable and worth the read. - Carmack Moving and Storage

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by Jassy Wase Tuesday, Jul. 30, 2013 at 9:34 AM

This is my first time to browse on your blog and I am very much pleased. Though articles are posted way back last year but the information is still very reliable and worth the read. - Carmack Moving and Storage

add your comments

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