GRN's Steve Murchie speaking to media.Citizens and representatives of GRN and other organizations gathered today on the banks of the Mississippi River in New Orleans to mark four years since the beginning of the BP drilling disaster, which started on April 20th, 2010. This was one of three concurrent events across the Gulf, with the others located in Biloxi, Mississippi and St. Petersburg, Florida. In New Orleans and around the Gulf, we stood up to demand that BP and other oil and gas companies be held accountable for their actions, and called for transparency and genuine public participation as restoration efforts begin to move forward.
â€śToday should not have to be about reminding the nation that thousands of Gulf Coast residents continue to be impacted by the environmental and economic damage created by the BP Oil disaster,â€ť said Colette Pichon Battle, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy. â€śThe request by coastal residents four years later is the same as in 2010. Clean up the oil. Pay for the damage. And, ensure that this never happens again.â€ť
Black skimmers flying along the beach on Mississippi's Ship Island.Today, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) announced an award of $3.6 million for coastal restoration planning for Mississippi. This grant funding is roughly one percent of the overall NFWF monies to be distributed to Mississippi.
We applaud NFWF and the state of Mississippi for committing funds to conduct comprehensive planning for restoration and management in the wake of the BP oil disaster. Using the best available science and meaningful public participation will help ensure the vision and values of the people of Mississippi are met, and an integrated coastal restoration plan is created. The outcomes of this grant provide Mississippi with the opportunity to inform all restoration priorities so that the goal of a healthy and productive Gulf of Mexico is comprehensively addressed by all funding streams.
By embracing real public participation and the best available science, Mississippi can jump out ahead of Florida, Texas and Alabama in coastal restoration. Restoration dollars will flow to the states that have their act together, and today Mississippi demonstrated that it's serious about competing.
This is a call for immediate action. Please read below, view the photos, share with your networks, and call your legislators asap.
Many of you have heard that there is an assault underway in the Louisiana State legislature by the oil and gas industry to derail a lawsuit seeking to hold the industry accountable for the devastating damages it has caused to Louisiana wetlands. While the industry is clearly not the only cause of wetland destruction, it is a major cause and should be held accountable. Statements by industry representatives themselves admit to the industry's culpability. In fact, even Louisianaâ€™s Coastal Master Plan blames much of the wetland destruction on the oil and gas industry. To view a timeline of internal oil and gas industry memos, as well as laws, legal decisions, and enforcement actions relating to industry activities over the last several decades, Click Here
Despite those admissions of guilt, certain members of the legislature and Governor Jindal are carrying water for the industry and attempting to shield the industry from any liability. It should come as no surprise that many of those legislators have direct ties to the industry. If successful, the oil and gas industry will put a choke-hold on justice by preventing the people of Louisiana from having their day in Court. We cannot allow this to happen.
The lawsuit in question is not an attempt to stop drilling in Louisiana or the Gulf as some have been misled to believe by statements made by certain oil industry lobbyists. The lawsuit is merely an attempt to collect damages from those companies that have broken the law by violating their permit agreements and in so doing caused serious harm to our natural storm defense system, thereby putting our communities at an ever-increasing risk for catastrophic storm damages. Below you will find staggering, dramatic, and irrefutable evidence of these damages in a slideshow of aerial photos that I have recently taken. Thanks to Southwings.org for providing the aerial support needed to capture these images. Please share these photos widely. As you view each photo, please be sure to read the description where I have included actual permit language and the name of the company/permitee. The photos match some of the permits issued over the years that are located within the territory that falls under the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East's jurisdiction. These are very damning photos indeed and are precisely why the industry does not want to go to court. Be sure to enlarge the slideshow and as pictures appear click Show Info for descriptions.
Okatibbee Lake is fed by streams receiving water from several permitted discharges from Kemper The Kemper IGCC (lignite gasification) power plant will use Meridianâ€™s treated municipal sewage water to make steam for the turbines that produce electricity. That water becomes property of Mississippi Power when the company purchases it from Meridian and pumps it 41 miles to an 85-acre holding reservoir at the power plant. MDEQâ€™s view is that the municipal gray-water in the pipeline ceases to be "water of the state" when the company buys it from the city. GRN has submitted comments on the permit that question the treatment standards that MDEQ is requiring for water in the reservoir.
The holding water reservoir can discharge to nearby Chickasawhay Creek in emergencies. During construction over the last two years, the reservoir has already discharged to this nearby creek that feeds Okatibbee Reservoir. Declaring these waters not to be state waters because they are the subject of a purchase contract is a convenient sleight of hand by MDEQ. Discharges have already occurred in non-emergency settings during plant construction. Discharges are to nearby waterways which are certainly "waters of the state." We continue to ask for proof that this water wonâ€™t be harmful to release. Discharges can happen during extreme rainfall - tropical storms or hurricanes - or during plant shutdowns. Local streams and Okatibbee Reservoir deserve better protection from MDEQ .
When preparing these comments, GRN also consulted the Pat Harrison Waterway District â€“ another state agency- that manages Okatibbee Lake. That agency was relatively unconcerned about the quality of the water the lake could receive from Chickasawhay Creek upstream that feeds into their recreational lake.
A cleanup worker gathers oil on the shore of the Texas City Dike, March 24, 2014. Photo courtesy of USCG/Stephen Lehmann.On Saturday, March 22nd, a bulk carrier collided with a barge containing a million gallons of fuel oil in Galveston Bay, Texas - spilling approximately 168,000 gallons of oil into the surrounding environment. This spill, which closed the busy Houston Ship Channel for several days, occurred near important habitat for migratory birds, including the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. To date, the Coast Guard is reporting that 28 birds and 15.5 miles of beach have been impacted by the oil. The Houston Chronicle has an dramatic set of photos showing oiled wildlife and beaches, and cleanup efforts.
This most recent oil disaster is a grim reminder of the impacts of dirty energy on our communities and environment. Twenty-five years after the Exxon-Valdez disaster in Alaska and nearly four years after the BP disaster, little appears to have changed when it comes to oversight and monitoring of the oil and gas industry. It seems like every time I open a newspaper, there is a new spill.
Last July, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed a lawsuit demanding that oil, gas and pipeline companies take responsibility for the damage they have done to Louisiana's coastal wetlands. Now, Big Oil is lobbying the Louisiana legislature to bail them out and make taxpayers foot the bill instead. If you are a Louisiana resident, click here to urge your state legislators to oppose a bailout for Big Oil.
Every day we lose a little more of our coast. So far weâ€™ve lost land equal to Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, and St. John the Baptist Parishes combined. Scientific studies, some of which the oil and gas industry has participated in, show that 36-80% of the land lost is related to oil and gas activities. Big Oil should pay its fair share to clean up the mess it made.
If oil and gas companies get their way, taxpayers will be on the hook for most of the $50 billion state Coastal Protection Master Plan. Right now a court will decide what the oil companies owe to help save our coast, but Big Oil is spending big bucks lobbying legislators to bail them out. If you live in Louisiana, please take action to tell your state legislators to protect taxpayers, not Big Oil.
Concerned citizens gather outside federal courthouse in New Orleans during phase one of the BP Trial.
As we approach April 20, 2014, four years since the Deepwater Horizon exploded off Louisianaâ€™s coast in the Gulf of Mexico, communities across our Coast are reminded daily of the destruction caused by BPâ€™s negligence. Last Friday (21 March), U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier announced the start date for the third and final phase of the civil trial against BP â€“ January 20, 2015 â€“ which will determine the amount of fines BP will pay as a result of the 2010 BP Oil Disaster.
In 2013, the first two phases focused on the liability of BP and its drilling partners, and how much oil was released into the Gulf of Mexico.
With the court date set for 20 January 2015, it will be another year or more before BP finds out exactly how much they will have to pay in Clean Water Act fines. Meaning, we wonâ€™t find out how much money the RESTORE Council will receive to begin restoration across the five Gulf States.
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality hosted a meeting on March 19th to update interested people on the process of developing and setting nutrient criteria for Mississippi. At some point in the next 2 to 3 years, after many delays, the MDEQ will finally release state-wide standards for nitrogen and phosphorous pollution limits either in the form of single numerical concentration amounts, or as concentration ranges in combination with other water quality indicators. When they do, industries and city utility departments will have to meet these standards. Already the cities and industrial discharge permit holders are groaning and sending signals to the MDEQ that they are worried about how the standards will be implemented. The MDEQ has responded by doing some hand-holding as it slows down on the work to develop the standards and has conversations with permit holders about implementation. Without even knowing what the standards will be, the MDEQ is nevertheless working to calm the permit holderâ€™s fears. This makes little sense, but regulatory "jitters" are contagious and unpredictable.
Other things covered at this meeting included a new study of options for modifying the designated uses placed on waterbodies (see photo). Designated uses for waterbodies are a part of a state's water quality standards. They are human uses and ecological conditions that are recognized and protected in state water quality standards. The study was presented by Tetra Tech, an engineering consulting company. Mississippiâ€™s current designated use list is short, with 4 or 5 uses depending on sub- grouping. Other states subdivide into many specially tailored uses, but Mississippi keeps it simple. The "Aquatic Life" use-classification is the most basic and least protective. It simply means that a waterbody must be healthy (unpolluted) enough to support the propagation of the organisms living in it.
Fertilizer being spread on Iowa corn field. Courtesy USDA NRCSThe Gulf Restoration Network, and its partners, has tried for 15 years to get state and federal governments to work with farmers to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution flowing down the Mississippi River that causes the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Much of this pollution results from over application of fertilizer. The conservation community even asked Congress to require that as a condition of getting federal subsidies and conservation dollars, farmers be required to create plans would help them to reduce their use of fertilizer and implement practices reduce runoff of fertilizer into local waterbodies. All of these efforts were met with resistance. As a result, the level pollution flowing down the river has not decreased at all and the Dead Zone continues.
Now, Walmart has begun an initiative to reduce fertilizer on 14 million acres of farmland by 2020 by requiring that suppliers of crops, including the big three -- wheat, corn, and soy -- to develop â€śfertilizer-optimization plans.â€ť Farmers have always said they want the market, rather than regulation, to drive their practices, and now they have it.
I find it sad, however, that a corporation like Walmart is taking action to protect the people and the environment from nutrient pollution when our federal and state agencies wonâ€™t. In fact, states, including Louisiana and Florida are working to stop nitrogen and phosphorus pollution clean-up plans in the Chesapeake Bay!
Good for Walmart. We are looking forward to hearing more details about this initiative and the cleaner water that could result.
Florida Panther at Big Cypress National Preserve, which is near the site of the proposed fraking well. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/Ralph Arwood.On March 11th, a powerful coalition of neighborhood groups, environmental organizations and outraged citizens gathered at a community center outside Naples, Florida to take a stand against acid fracking. They raised their voices to demand that the EPA deny the Daniel Hughes LLP oil well a permit for an underground injection disposal wellâ€”the type of well used for acid fracking. Over 250 people from around Florida came together to express their grave concerns about acid fracking. Environmental organizations including Environment Florida, Gulf Restoration Network, Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, 350.org and the South Florida Wildlands Association worked with the Naples-based Stone Crab Alliance and Preserve Our Paradise to bring people out to the event. The rally preceded the start of an EPA information session, and, in an odd twist, coincided with a Florida Department of Environmental Protection advisory committee meeting. Although the FDEP has already rubber-stamped the permit for the oil well itself, an administrative hearing judge extended the comment period until after the advisory committee had met. The advisory meeting did nothing to sway the opinion of a visually and verbally outraged public.