In June, the President created an Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force to develop a first-ever national ocean policy.
If you've been paying attention to our coast and oceans for a while, this may sound a bit familiar. Back in 2003 and 2004 two separate commissions made recommendations on actions needed to help protect our coasts and oceans, the independent Pew Oceans Commission, and the Bill Clinton created, George Bush appointed U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. As with many commission reports, these generally weighed down bookshelves and gathered dust.
This past Monday, October 19th, the Ocean Policy Task Force was in New Orleans for their fifth of six listening sessions across the nation to gather expert opinion and public input. Over 300 people came to voice the issues confronting the Gulf of Mexico. Listen to me talk about what a national ocean policy should address in the Gulf, and see some of the other media thatresultedhere.
The hearing was really an impressive display of support for the Gulf, Louisiana's wetlands and the need to link the Mississippi River to all coastal coordination. Thoughtful testimony was offered by a number of friends of the GRN, such as Tracy Kuhns, Steven Peyronnin, Maura Wood, and Jordan Macha (representing GRN member groups Bayoukeeper, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, National Wildlife Federation & Sierra Club respectively), former GRN board member Mark Davis of the Tulane Institute on Water Law and Policy, Pam Dashiel from the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainability, and Charlie Smith of the Louisiana Charter Boat Association. Issues such as sustainable fishing (and managing areas such as blue fin tuna spawning spots better), off-shore aquaculture (against), and global warming were all brought up.
Colorful testimony was put on the record by Messiah Darryl Paul Ward, (who I'm pretty sure offered the first spoken word performance for the task force so far) and Lucianne Carmichael of A Studio In the Woods who talked about the role of art in connecting people to nature, and extolled the current production of the one-man performance Loup Garou that's closing this weekend (and which GRN is the community partner for).
BUT that wasn't the beginning of the Obama Administration's attention on the Gulf. The President himself was in town the week before, bringing with him key cabinet officials such as Janet Napolitano, Arne Duncan, and most importantly for the coast, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Nancy Sutley. Ms. Sutley held a listening session in St. Bernard parish with coastal advocates including my boss Cyn Sarthou and others, held a press conference at Bayou Bienvenue to communicate support for coastal restoration, and even took a couple of coastal wetlands tours when she was back the next week to chair the Oceans Policy Task force public hearing. Said Sutley "We've heard before and we've heard here again today the need for urgency and we certainly understand the need for urgency." Sutley is co-chairing an inter-agency working group on Gulf coast wetlands restoration efforts that GRN and others feel is a critical opportunity to speed up the Corps and make sure federal agencies are all working together, with the state to make restoration a priority.
That working group is a useful sign that the Obama administration is prioritizing the coast in their attention to our region. Of course, he's got an awful lot of important priorities that we're competing with, so let's make sure he continues to hear from us.
Another hopeful sign was that the President brought up the coast as he was addressing the town hall last week. Apparently, he even added an additional reference to the issue when he edited the speech himself. Though the President didn't get any questions on the coast, he weaved it into an answer he gave to a question about recycling and global warming. Oh, and don't doubt that there were plenty of folks who WANTED to ask him about the coast. My arm was in the air, as was at least 8 folks I KNOW of.
The Gulf of Mexico is an amazing natural treasure. From deep water corals far off shore, to miles of seagrasses hugging our coasts, we have diverse habitats which can help spawn enormous fish populations. Unfortunately, we haven't always followed scientific advice to ensure that there will be enough fish for our great-grandkids to catch. From commercial trawlers to recreational sportfishermen to folks ordering off a restaurant's 'fresh-catch' menu - we haven't demanded the best possible management of the Gulf's natural resources.
Thanks to leadership in Congress, the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act is ensuring that local fish populations have sensible, science-based annual catch limits. Please take a moment today and support the rulesthat our federal and state regional managers at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council are putting together to conserve and rebuild our schools of fish.
Red snapper, mackerel, grouper, and other species have shown that when sensible limits are put in place, fish populations can begin to rebound. Fair and uniform rules should be set up to make sure that all fish populations in the Gulf have the protections they need to thrive, while feeding our families, providing recreational opportunities, and playing critical roles in the marine environment. Please take a moment to ask the Gulf Council to put science-based rules in place.
Last week, I had the opportunity to go to Des Moines for the Hypoxia Task Force Meeting. This task force, made up of federal and state agencies, was first convened in the late 90â€™s to find solutions to the growing Dead Zone in the Gulf. Over the past decade, little action has come out of the Task Force. I, along with our conservation partners, the Iowa Environmental Council have expressed frustration with this lack of action on Iowa Radio, and in an Op-ed in the Des Moines Register. The lack of action to truly address the Dead Zone has been due to many factors, from lack of funds to resistance from certain states. However, it seems that a new wind might be blowing in the Task Force. At the Des Moines meeting, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack presented a new program (via video) that directs $320 million to reducing polluted agricultural runoff in the Mississippi River Basin, and it was encouraging to see that many folks in the media covered the announcement.
We have been advocating for this kind of targeting for a long time, and it is nice to see some action. This is a good first step, and I hope that this will spur on more action from USDA, as well as EPA. Presentations from EPA at the Task Force meeting were also encouraging, and it seems that there is some will at the federal level to actually take concrete actions to reduce the size of the Dead Zone. That being said it is still mainly talk, and it will take more than $80 million per year, divided up between 12 Mississippi River states to make a significant dent in the Dead Zone. The Gulf has suffered enough, the time is now for the feds and states to step up to the plate and be held accountable for their actions (or lack thereof) to reduce the size of the Dead Zone.
â€˘ The Grand Prize has been awarded to the short film, "The Human Cost," by Edward Holub and Christian Roselund. The film highlights Hurricane Gustav's devastating impact on the Native American Pointe Au Chien Tribe and the residents of Chauvin, LA, juxtaposed with the impacts of the oil and gas industry's destructive footprint on Louisiana's coast. Watch and share the film below. We will be adding the other winners in future blog entries.
â€˘ Second Prize goes to the trailer for the film "Paradise Faded: The Fight for Louisiana," by Jared Arsement. Paradise Faded is a compelling look at the causes, effects, and solutions to one of the largest environmental disasters in American history; the loss of Louisianaâ€™s Coastal Wetlands.
â€˘ Third Prize goes to the short film, "The Cypress Graveyard: Restoring the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle," by Pouria Baladi. This film describes the degradation of the cypress swamp on the outskirts of the Lower 9th Ward, due to the impacts of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet navigation project, and current student-led efforts to restore the area. The blend of community voices, academic leaders, and student workers created a powerful short detailing what has happened, and a hopeful vision of what could be.
â€˘ The Student Prize goes to the claymation Public Service Announcement "Protect Our Wetlands," which uses humor to urge action to protect and restore Louisiana's coastal wetlands. The PSA was produced during the 2009 Claymation Nation Summer Camp, by youth filmmakers Bixby Boss, Kells Bush, Tyrese Craige, James Pichon, and Justin Turner.
â€˘ The Judges Prize has been awarded to the short film, "Home," by filmmaker Matt Faust. Home is powerful and moving account of the post Katrina loss experienced by Gulf Coast families.
The Protect Our Wetlands, Protect Ourselves Environmental Video Competition is a joint initiative of the Charitable Film Network and the Gulf Restoration Network. A panel of judges featuring CFN and GRN representatives joined by filmmaker Walter Williams (creator of the play-doh figure Mr. Bill) scored the films on content and production values to determine winners.
Winning submissions will be featured at the 2009 Voodoo Experience, in the No Coast, No Music Theater, during the "Five Minute Films Festival" (October 30th to November 1st). Contest prizes include environmentally friendly products from Whole Foods Market and VIP Loa passes to the 2009 Voodoo Experience valued at $1,000.
We want to thank all the filmmakers who sent entries. The quality and caliber of the films were excellent, and made for a great afternoon of film viewing. For more information about the Protect Our Wetlands Video Competition and sponsorship opportunities contact:
CFN is a diverse community of media-makers, dedicated to connecting and collaborating with nonpofits, activists, and artists on noteworthy campaigns that contribute to the community-at-large.
GRN is a diverse network of local, regional, and national groups and individuals committed to uniting and empowering people to protect and restore the natural resources of the Gulf region for future generations.
On Sunday, September 20, our Louisiana fundraising event took place at Bayona in the French Quarter and raisedsignificant funds for the campaigns of the Gulf Restoration Network. Ivor van Heerden talked about currentissues facing Louisianaâ€™s wetlands. The seventy-five attendees enjoyed samplings of hors d'oeurves by Chef Susan Spicer and her staff, listened to music by the Leon "Kid Chocolate" Brown Trio and bid on fabulous silent auction offerings including Voodoo Experience VIP tickets, an Aveda gift bag from Paris Parker Salon and Spa, a certificate for a cooking class at the Savvy Gourmet, a sculpture by artist Joan Kay, and paintings by artists Nancy Adams and Beth Skrmetta.GRN staff also thanked Edwin Neill III of the Neill Corporation, an Aveda distributor, for their tremendous fundraisingefforts for GRN during Aveda Earth Month.
GRN extends special thanks to:
Event Supporters Abita Brewing Company, Nancy Adams, Bayona and volunteer staff, Leon and Pamela Brown, Johnny Lopez of Perfect Presentations, Joan Kay, Glazersâ€™ Distributors of Louisiana, Inland Seafood, Paris Parker Aveda Salon and Spa, Savvy Gourmet, Photographer Bart Siegel, Beth Skrmetta, Sysco, Ivor L. van Heerden, Wine Sellers by Ben Lazich, VoodooExperience and RehageEntertainment
Event Committee Members Mark Davis, Caroline Helwick, Jose Miranda, Sandy Rosenthal, Sig, Susan Spicer, Catherine Sumner, and Polly and Bob Thomas
In 2007, the state of Mississippi was granted $600+ million in federal Katrina relief funds to solve sewage and water quality problems exposed by the storm. While much of this money will go to recovery projects, the state wants to use some of these taxpayer dollars to subsidize developersâ€™ projects that threaten Mississippi's streams, wildlife, and wetlands far from the storm zone! To make things worse, the state has violated federal law by not adequately analyzing the damage that the badly planned developments will have on the state's environment. To fight against these threats against Mississippi, the Gulf Restoration Network is working two fronts: legal and bureaucratic.
On Tuesday, September 8th, GRN held a press conference at the Dan Russell Federal Courthouse in Gulfport to discuss the notice of intent to sue letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Mississippi Development Authority, and the Utility Authorities of Jackson, Harrison, and Stone Counties for violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA.
Congress created NEPA to prevent wasteful spending by requiring the government to â€ślook before it leapsâ€ť meaning that direct, indirect and cumulative impacts to the environment must be studied before the project can move forward. MDA, HUD, and the Utility Authorities have attempted to shortcut this safeguard and, in the process, failed to develop the information necessary to inform themselves and affected members of the public of the significant, unnecessary, and wasteful damage some of the projects will cause. The damage at issue includes destroying wetlands, fragmenting important wildlife habitat corridors (including those that threatened and endangered species depend on), increasing pollutant loadings to the Pascagoula and Coastal Streams Basins and degrading Mississippi Sound and the Gulf of Mexico. Finally, there is a lost opportunity in using limited hurricane recovery funds to subsidize private real estate development instead of helping communities in need recover.
Furthermore, the public has largely been kept out of the decision making process which has greatly upset local Mississippians who will be impacted by these developments.
We hope that these agencies will show a good faith effort to comply with federal laws and to help motivate them we are reaching out to Secretary Donovan, head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Please help out and send Sec. Donovan a letter asking him to make sure that Katrina relief funds only go to Mississippi communities in need.
Casey DeMoss Roberts is the Assistant Director of Water Resources for the Gulf Restoration Network.
Tomorrow is the last day to apply to be a GRN intern this fall! I've posted the necessary info below, along with an inspiring write up from April Wilson, who worked with us earlier this year.
The Gulf Restoration Network is looking for student leaders to get their campus and community involved in the fight to Defend Our Coast! From unspoiled wetlands, beautiful beaches, and cypress forests to the ports of Houston, New Orleans, Biloxi, Mobile, and Tampa, the Gulf is a unique and invaluable asset to the United States, and now is the time to make local and federal governments act to save it.
In the Gulf Region, students can earn college credit while working on some of the most pressing environmental issues facing the region: restoring Louisianaâ€™s coast and natural storm protection, protecting water quality, saving coastal cypress forests, defending Floridaâ€™s Gulf Coast, sustaining fisheries, and stopping climate change.
Student leaders will be trained in grassroots organizing, advocacy, and communications while working closely with GRN issue staff to build the local, state, and national support needed to fix our coast and protect the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico.
To learn more about internships available check out this link: http://healthygulf.org/staff/jobs-internships.html . For more information, feel free to contact Collin Fox Thomas, Campus Organizer, at collin @healthygulf.org or call 504-525-1528 ext. 200. September 9th is the deadline for Fall internships, so let us hear from you.
And April Wilson says, "As the Gulf Restoration Network Media/Communications intern for the past eight months, I have learned so much about the environmental issues Louisiana and the Gulf Coast face in such a short period of time. GRN has opened my eyes to help me recognize that if you are concerned in any way with your life, future generations or the overall instability of the world, then it is vital to care and protect nature. Because without a healthy earth, issues such as race, politics, religion, gender equality, etc. wouldnâ€™t exist.
One of the most valuable lessons I learned from GRN was to expect the unexpected. As an intern I had the opportunity to do some â€śtablingâ€ť which consists of spreading information to the public through local events. Through tabling, I have learned how to communicate complex environmental issues to everyone, which I feel is a great asset to have. With people asking me questions, and having so many conversations, it made me look deeper and acquire more knowledge about some of these environmental concerns.
I was astonished that so many people were so interested in these issues, but didnâ€™t really know much about it. Some had an idea that environmental issues were occurring, but few knew exactly what the problems were or any of the possible solutions. It warmed my heart to know that once people began to understand the issues, they felt compelled to help in any way possible. This proved to me that GRN was stepping in the right direction by passing on the knowledge of how the importance of our environment which will help unite the public and help us push forward in the movement.
One of best moments at GRN was when I got to fully run my own event. One of my professors from Loyola University informed the class that she was planning an earth day festival at her church. When I heard this, I knew I had to take a chance, and really come into my own. I decided to go with our Defend our Coast, Defend Ourselves campaign which confronts the fact oil and gas industries have made a significant negative impact to our wetlands and asks for accountability by these industries and our government. It also raises the issue that our wetlands are not only vital to our storm defense, but to our local economy, fisheries, energy, and communities. Within the campaign, we ask the public to sign a petition to Governor Jindal that requests that he make coastal restoration a top priority. It took a lot a planning, but with a lot of effort and great advice from GRN staff, it turned out to be a great event. Over 50 people signed the petition, many more took information packets, several people invited us to future events, and a few even signed up to become members.
Overall, this experience has been valuable to my future goals and I have learned how to work as a team player, which I believe is necessary to any successful environmental organization. GRN has taught me how important it is stand up for what you believe in and to always be conscious of your actions and how they may affect your environment. This opportunity has widened my understanding of how an environmental organization works, and what are the most effective ways to relay key messages to the public. I have truly enjoyed working at GRN. Due to great experience I had, I have decided to continue working in the environmental field now that I have graduated. Thus, I would like to thank all of the GRN staff for helping be blossom into a more caring, worldly and responsible person. I will always be indebted to for taking on the difficult challenge to be part of the environmental movement that will hopefully make the worldâ€™s life, and mine, better. "
Thanks to April and all of the interns and volunteers who give their time and passion to fighting for the Gulf Coast.
This week, GRN released its â€śClean Up Your Act!â€ť report card, which graded each of the Gulf states on how well it protects state waters. The report points out problems in state policies that fail to safeguard Gulf waters for swimming and fishing. For example, no Gulf state has numeric standards that would reduce nitrogen and phosphorous pollution in all state waters. This pollution is linked to algal blooms, fish kills, and the massive Dead Zone in the Gulf. The full report can be viewed here.
â€śClean Up Your Act!â€ť assesses each state on four categories that are critical for successfully protecting our fresh and marine waters.
Â·Water quality standards
Â·Human health protections
Â·Limits on nitrogen and phosphorous pollution
Â·Encouraging and facilitating public participation in water quality policy
These categories represent the most critical areas in which states need to strengthen their efforts to protect waters.
The average grade in these categories for all the states is a D+. Individual grades are as follows:
The report has caught the attention of citizens, the press, and state environmental leaders from all around the Gulf.
Ellis Pickett, GRNâ€™s Texas Organizer, was featured on air with Doug Pike on Houstonâ€™s AM 790. Guidry News of Texas posted the news of the release on its website.
You can listen to Joe Murphy and Matt Rota of the GRN discuss the report card on WMNF News in Tampa, Florida. The report card made front page news in Mobile, Alabamaâ€™s Press-Register. The Advocate of Baton Rouge, Louisiana covered the story, and the Jackson Free Press in Mississippi also published an article.
It has been four years since the man-made failure of Louisianaâ€™s hurricane protection system left New Orleans completely devastated.Decades of coastal erosion spurred on by global warming, the activities of the oil and gas industries, and the inadequate levee system designed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers allowed Hurricane Katrina to penetrate deep into the heart of the â€śBig Easyâ€ť which made landfall in late August 2005. The effects of Katrina on New Orleans and the the GulfCoast are inextricably connected to climate change, government failure, and environmental devastation by oil companies.
Over a million people from New Orleans and the small towns on the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts were forced to move inland either within the state or to neighboring states. Although nearly all planned to return, many have not. The U.S. experienced its first massive displacement of citizens due to climate impacts. The event left hundreds of thousands without access to their homes or jobs, separated people from relatives, and inflicted both physical and mental distress on those who suffered through the storm and its aftermath. Initially, many lives were lost, while many more were disrupted. A USGS analysis of land change data from satellite imagery and field observation indicated that 217 square miles of Louisiana's coastal wetlands were converted to open water because of Hurricanes Katrina. For every 3-4 miles of wetlands that are lost, thatâ€™s a foot of storm surge that will not be stopped from inundating our communities. It is estimated that the total economic impact in Louisiana and Mississippi exceeded $150 billion. Clearly, Katrina was the single worst environmental catastrophe to ever hit the United States.
Several events marking the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina have been taking place across the New Orleans metro area. Scores of students have fanned out across the city to do volunteer work. In St. Bernard Parish, folks gathered at ShellBeach to remember the 163 victims who lost their lives in Katrina. In the Lower 9th Ward neighborhood of New Orleans loved ones gathered at the monument on Tennessee Street at North Claiborne to join in prayer and for those who were lost. At Congo Square in ArmstrongPark in the historical Treme neighborhood, a festival was held to celebrate the progress that is being made in the recovery. The fourth annual Katrina march and second line was held. At the Superdome, people gathered once again to join hands and to circle the Dome in unity. The Gulf Restoration Networkâ€™s held its Flood Washington Fest as one of at least 120 events held around the United States calling on the Senate (link to: http://action.healthygulf.org/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=27827) to restore coastal wetlands and pass effective climate change policy.
We were thankful to hear President Obama make some statements in addressing Hurricane Katrina that showed his understanding of the role our coastal wetlands and barrier islands play as our first lines of defense against future storms, and we were excited to see his Administrationâ€™s announcement of a Gulf Coastal Restoration task force to coordinate (and hopefully speed) federal agency action for our natural storm defenses (link to: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aZ0haa8rKMYU)
Yet, as these events take place, and the national media focuses some attention on our fledgling recovery, it is apparent that most of our political leadership has failed to learn the lessons of the past failed government policy which have contributed greatly to the mass destruction we faced in 2005.
The most glaring example of the failure of our leadership four years after Katrina is the lack of leadership from Louisianaâ€™s congressional delegation on the issue of climate change. While the passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 was a giant step forward in the fight against global warming, the lack of a single vote from any member of Louisianaâ€™s delegation sends a strong message, that well, we just donâ€™t get it. Now that the Senate will be taking the reigns over climate change policy, Louisiana has one last chance to get it right and to be on the right side of history. Yet, Senator Vitter is out of the question as he is a climate skeptic, leaving only Senator Landrieu to show real leadership on this issue. Unfortunately, she seems more interested in expanding offshore drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico than addressing the culpability the Oil and Gas industries are guilty of in destroying our wetlands, our coast, our communities, and our climate. But, until Senator Landrieu casts her final vote (hopefully this fall) on climate, clean energy and green jobs, there is still a chance for her to step up and join ranks with those who see the looming threat of climate change as an opportunity for economic and environmental prosperity. Rest assured, with the memory of Katrina as our motivation, we will continue our fight down here in New Orleans until we, and our leadership, finally see the light.
Jonathan Henderson is the Louisiana Global Warming Organizer for the Gulf Restoration Network. For more information, contact