Blogging for a Healthy Gulf

 


Louisiana’s coast is disappearing. It’s the greatest environmental disaster happening in our country and too few people know or care about it. That’s why I chose this topic to explore on a radio program I co-host called Community Gumbo on WTUL New Orleans 91.5 FM. Click here to listen now.

I set out to answer the following three questions: what's wrong with the coast, why is the coast important, and what can we do about it? I caught up with some interesting and thoughtful individuals who are actively engaged in the issue to help me answer these questions.

Carlton Dufrechou, the Executive Director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. He is an engineer by training and explains the science behind Louisiana's coastal woes. To contact the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation call 504-836-2215 or email at info@saveourlake.org.

Mark Davis, Senior Research Fellow and Director of the Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy at Tulane Law School. He says we can't just drop money into a project and make it happen. There are legal obstacles to our goals. He talks about our state's legal traditions and some very clever solutions to our coastal policy troubles. To get in touch Prof Davis you can email him at msdavis@tulane.edu.

Dr Bob Thomas, the Interim Director of the School of Mass Communication and Director of the Loyola Center for Environmental Communication. He told me about the power of a cup of coffee, that we need to know how to communicate to a mass audience but we also just need to talk to each other. To contact Dr. Thomas email him at rathomas@loyola.edu.

Aaron Viles, Campaign Director of the Gulf Restoration Network and mastermind of many successful campaigns that protect our fisheries, our coast, and our music. He can be contacted at aaron@healthygulf.org.

Walter Williams, documentary filmmaker and creator of Mr. Bill, a favorite character from Saturday Night Live.

I hope you enjoy this installment of Community Gumbo. I want to thank all of my guests for taking the time to share their unique perspective on an issue that is so critical to all of us. I set out to get some answers about our coast but I also got to know some amazing people with great moral character and professional integrity, but even more than that, they all share a love for Louisiana that has led them to give up the big bucks and do what's best for our state. The truth is they can't do it alone. It is up to all of us who love living here to do our part too. If you want to get involved just shoot me an email me at casey@healthygulf.org or one of my guests.

To listen to the show go to Community Gumbo here: http://communitygumbo.blogspot.com/

After you listen, please take action to SAVE THE COAST!

Casey DeMoss Roberts is the Special Projects Coordinator for the Gulf Restoration Network.

 

I was just perusing the Galactic (new orleans funk band) website, to see if they may be available to headline the New Orleans Earth Day Festival (Sun. April 5, mark your calendar) and noticed that they had played Conan O'Brien this year. As I checked out the video, I noticed something even cooler, their drummer (and GRN supporter) Stanton Moore was wearing our "Defend New Orleans - Defend the Coast" t-shirt! Stanton's a big fan of the coast, and wears the shirt a ton, so I'm sure millions have been subliminally recruited to the cause to save nola and save the coast.

Stan accompanied us on a coastal flyover just after Voodoo (along with Clint Maedgen of the NOLA Bingo Show and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and Angelo Moore of Fishbone). We filmed the trip and are putting together a video short, which I'll be sending along soon. But until that's done, here's where to watch/listen to some great music and see the shirt in action:

http://www.galacticfunk.com/NEW2007/media/conan08.php?skin=4

Big thanks to Jac at Defend NOLA for the design, Alternative for donating the shirts, and Stan for rockin' the coast (literally).

Aaron Viles is GRN's Campaign Director

 

Airlie Center, Rural Virginia - I'm typing this as I wait to head to the airport, and back to the Gulf Coast. As this Times-Picayune article explains, I was here with other members of the Advisory Board of the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health to discuss our plans for the future. The Gulf Coast Fund is an impressive initiative which drew together community and advocacy organizers in the wake of Katrina and Rita to help direct philanthropic investments in the region to groups on the ground who were doing the critical work of tackling the social, racial and environmental injustices that the 2005 storm season exposed to the world.

It's a radical concept, using the groups on the ground, doing the work, to identify the most important organizing efforts underway to fund. Over the three years the Fund has existed, it's made over 200 donations to over 100 organizations, totaling about $3 million. It's not huge, but to the groups that recieve the $3,000 - $15,000 grants, it's often the difference between saying 'yes we can' and 'sorry, maybe another day.'

Check out the Gulf Coast Fund, and maybe make a donation. The groups we support and the work that gets done truly did get a shot in the arm by the inaguration of the nation's first Organizer-In-Chief, but it's still going to take a lot of work to make our coastal communities safe and sustainable.

Aaron Viles is GRN's campaign director, and has been a member of the Gulf Coast Fund's board of advisors since the Fund's inception in early 2006.

 

This past Tuesday, I was invited to speak before a Joint Committee hearing at the Louisiana Legislature.  The agenda was vague, but I was excited to speak before pretty much all of the Legislative Committees that oversee some aspect of coastal restoration and protection.  As is stated in this Times-Picayune article, the Army Corps of Engineers declined to even show up to this hearing to explain why they have missed yet another deadline to give Congress actual concrete plan to restore and protect Louisiana's coast.  The majority of the hearing centered around the Corps’ lack of action and what Louisiana could do to move forward with restoration without the Corps.  

The clock is ticking for the coast.  The Corps was ordered by Congress to deliver a plan with proposed projects that would give Louisiana "Category 5" protection from storms.  This plan was due December 2007.  What the Corps is working on, is not even an actual plan.  Instead, it will be a "decision matrix" that gives no recommendations for any particular projects.  The Joint Committee was outraged, and they should be.   We must start rebuilding our wetlands now in order to protect our communities, fisheries, and wildlife.  For the most part people in Louisiana understand the urgency, as we have seen the results of leveeing off the Mississippi and destroying our wetlands for oil and gas canals, navigation canals, and private development.  The nation has to get behind restoring Louisiana's wetlands, and the Corps is proving to be a major blockade.  Please take a moment to email Congress to ask them to demand an actual plan from the Corps so we can move ahead in protecting the wetlands that we have and restoring those that we have lost.

Matt Rota is GRN's Water Resources Program Director

 

On December 22, over 1 billion gallons of toxic coal sludge came cascading through Eastern Tennessee. The tidal wave of sludge toppled houses and dirtied rivers and streams. This toxic coal ash has been stored in an open 40-acre pond next to the 50-year-old power plant. According to State authorities, after the spill there were 54,000 people with contaminated water in Roane County alone, and many more outside the county may also have tainted drinking water.

If you think this could not happen to you, think again. More than half of all Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant.

Coal plants leave behind scarred landscapes, poor and exploited communities, and even if you are lucky enough to not live near a coal plant you are still affected by dirty coal because it is the number one source of global warming pollution in the United States.

The Tennessee coal ash spill was a man-made disaster that is directly tied to our reliance on fossil fuels. In the face of this tragedy, the coal industry still wants to build more pollution-belching coal plants, and we cannot let that happen. This just proves that in there is no such thing as clean coal.

The coal industry spent more than $45 million last year trying to convince Americans that the dirtiest fuel on the planet is in fact "clean".

Congress has the power to stop the construction of any new dirty coal plants. We're asking you to contact your Member of Congress because it is the most effective way to guarantee action. Tell them that America is ready for clean energy -- not more dirty coal. Investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency would result in more jobs for the same amount of power -- with no toxic sludge.

Send a letter to your Member of Congress Now!

We know Congress is already beginning to pay attention because on January 8, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held an oversight hearing on the Tennessee Valley Authority and the recent major coal ash spill.

1Sky steering committee member Steve Smith, the Executive Director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), already testified! It will mean even more if letters from frustrated citizens are sent to members of Congress. So, thanks for your help on this and let's work together to stop building any new coal plants.

Jonathan Henderson is GRN's 1Sky Louisiana Global Warming Organizer

 

Reports of a spill of coal ash waste at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Alabama again confirm the dangers of burning dirty coal to make electricity. Even when toxic byproducts like mercury and arsenic are removed before they are released from the smokestack, these poisons must still be disposed of. Several spills in the last three weeks demonstrate that when stored in the customary ponds at a plant site, coal ash and other residues threaten nearby residents and waterways.

The spill in Alabama is also noteworthy because the pond that is reported to be leaking contains material slated for sale as recycled construction material. Entergy recently claimed that coal waste should pose no obstacle to the conversion of its Little Gypsy generating plant to burn coal and pet coke because it asserts that it will recycle the waste as it claims to at its Westlake facility. (Note: we have been unable to confirm sales of waste material in quantities greater than 36 lbs. from that facility.)

According to John Atkeison, Climate and Clean Energy Director for the Alliance for Affordable Energy, "Making electricity from coal contributes nothing special except a grave and growing threat to the climate and poisons in the air and water."

"Our creeks, bayous and rivers and all who rely on clean water are threatened by dirty coal plants. It's time we got serious about clean energy solutions," said Aaron Viles, Campaign Director with Gulf Restoration Network, a member of Louisiana's Say Yes to Clean Energy coalition, which is challenging the spread of coal-fired power plants across the state.

According to media reports, after the TVA coal-ash spill the Alabama Department of Environmental Management inspected all the coal ash retention ponds and announced they were safe.

"This clearly demonstrates need for better regulation of coal waste and the coal plants themselves," says Jordan Macha, Conservation Organizer for the Sierra Club. "The EPA must improve regulations to better protect our communities and the environment."

"Coal is dirty, destructive and unsustainable," said Maylee Orr, Executive Director of Louisiana Environmental Action Network. We must phase out the use of coal while increasing the use of sustainable energy sources. Our natural resoucres, our health and our economic future depends on the choices we make today. Say yes to clean energy and no to dirty coal."

The Associated Press reported this morning that, "Millions of tons of toxic coal ash is piling up in power plant ponds in 32 states, a practice the federal government has long recognized as a risk to human health and the environment but has left unregulated. An Associated Press analysis of the most recent Energy Department data found that 156 coal-fired power plants store ash in surface ponds similar to the one that collapsed last month in Tennessee."

Recent coal waste spills include the infamous billion gallon disaster in Kingston, TN, which has been economically wrecked as well as environmentally assaulted. The TVA has also admitted to poor maintenance and releases into the Ocoee River in East Tennessee.

"Clean coal is a lie that was made up by a marketing department," said Paul Orr, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper. "The removal of coal is destroying whole mountain ecosystems in Appalachia. The burning of coal releases carbon, carbon that was neatly sequestered into the earth over millennia, into the atmosphere in huge quantities in the face of mounting global climate change problems. And now we are realizing how dangerous and destructive the leftover coal ash is."

Clean, renewable solutions exist to our energy needs. These tragic incidents underscore the need to both prioritize energy efficiency and require that utility companies purchase a certain portion of their energy from renewable sources, instead of relying on the dirty, 19th century technology of burning coal.

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Brought to you by SAY YES TO CLEAN ENERGY COALITION

 


GRN would never advocate rushing into coastal protection and restoration. We're certainly opposed to the "Great Wall of Louisiana" approach to storm defense. But we feel a great sense of urgency to get big restoration projects underway sooner rather than later.

We therefore greet this news of a new Corps of Engineers investigation into coastal protection and restoration alternatives with a mixed mind. If the Corps and the state would simply keep the levees BEHIND the wetlands as opposed to in front of the wetlands, this study likely wouldn't be necessary.

In addition, we remain concerned about the Corps failure to meet Congressional mandates (deadlines, content requests, etc.) for the LaCPR (cat 5) plan. On that note, check out our new campaign, here.

Aaron Viles is GRN's campaign director.

 

Happy New Year! I hope everyone's 2009 is off to a great start.

As I was wading through all the emails I received during two weeks of holiday vacation, I found a couple that bode well for cypress forests this year!

A fellow cypress protector in Georgia, Gordon Rogers, the Satilla Riverkeeper, had his opinion column published in the Marietta Daily Journal and The Macon Telegraph.

http://www.mdjonline.com/content/index/showcontentitem/area/1/section/17/item/125114.html


http://www.macon.com/203/story/574734.html

Here's to saving the cypress of the Southeast in 2009!

Dan Favre is GRN's Campaign Organizer.

 

Since Gulf Restoration Network's inception, the members of our Board of Directors have been a constant source of wisdom, information, and inspiration in the fight to protect the Gulf Coast's environment and communities. This year will mark GRN's 15th Anniversary, and, to acknowledge this milestone, several board members have contributed their thoughts on the past year and their hopes for the future.

After you've taken a look at what they have to say, click here to comment with your own reflections on the New Year.

GRN's current chair, Robert Hastings of Prattville, AL says,

"Having grown up along the Gulf coast (in Pensacola), I have witnessed first-hand (for more than 60 years) many changes in the Gulf and its coastline. Beaches where I once swam, fished, and beachcombed are now covered by condominiums, motels, and beach-front houses. The bayou where I learned to swim has been closed because of pollution. Thankfully, some coastal areas remain natural and have become even more valuable and worthy of protection. Organizations such as the Gulf Restoration Network have played a significant role in helping to protect and restore natural areas along the Gulf coast, reduce water pollution, and protect fisheries populations in the Gulf. With our help GRN will continue this mission of protecting America's magnificent Gulf of Mexico."

Page Williams of Houston, TX says,

"I begin the new year, 2009, with high hopes for the future of the Gulf of Mexico, thanks to Barack Obama's appointment of Jane Lubchenco to head NOAA. With her special interest/expertise in marine protected areas, perhaps we shall see a revival of interest in a string of MPAs across the Gulf. Perhaps our fishery management council will finally be guided toward ecosystem management, instead of their spectacularly unsuccessful single-species management policy. Perhaps science will replace politics as the driving force behind Gulf fishery management. Finally, I dare to hope!!"

Jose Miranda of New Orleans, LA says,

"My first year of board service with the GRN has been extremely rewarding and quite an eye-opener. My professional background is financial, which means that I often feel quite inadequate at board meetings where everyone is an expert in fisheries and environmental issues. I can still remember the eyes rolling when in the middle of a fisheries discussion I asked "What are menhaden?". However, Lynn, our star financial person, seems quite pleased to have a board member with whom she can discuss financial statements presentation.

GRN's board members and staff are the most knowledgeable, and dedicated bunch with whom I have ever had the pleasure of working. We all contribute in our way. The mission is far too important to sit around and expect others to do the work.

God bless and have a happy and environmentally safe 2009."

Share your own reflections on the New Year and GRN's 15th Anniversary, click here to add your comments.

Raleigh Hoke is GRN's Mississippi Organizer

 

As a “Save Our Cypress” intern over these past months I have worked to educate the public on the dangerous of using cypress mulch, push for more sustainable mulch alternatives, and hold corporations accountable for their destruction of the Gulf Coast. Through all of this, I have gained invaluable knowledge about the Gulf Coast, confidence in grassroots organizing, and stronger people skills.

Starting out I was a little shy about talking to complete strangers about environmental issues, but I set my fears aside and dove right in and I couldn’t be happier that I did! I spent the bulk of the semester interacting with people, and whether it was reaching out to rally them for an event or tabling at garden shows around the city with the Mulch Matters Kit, I built my public speaking skills and confidence. The Mulch Matters Kit contains samples of sustainable mulches and the truth behind the dangers of cypress mulch. Along with my outreach, garden clubs, teachers, or Girl Scout Troop leaders across the Gulf Coast can use the kit to educate their communities as well. So far, we have had great success with these kits and people have been passing them on to their friends’ organizations, building a strong network of people united for a healthy Gulf.

While I had been to a few events with the GRN prior to being an intern, I had never organized an event from the ground up. Collectively, the Cypress team worked on rallying people nationwide for a “Cypress Day of Action” that took place in early December to show big corporations like Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, and Home Depot that communities do care about protecting the Gulf, and to put pressure on them to stop selling cypress mulch altogether. We had a special event in Atlanta at the Home Depot corporate headquarters. I specifically focused on rallying student groups at different universities in Atlanta. It was hard, and at first I felt discouraged, but I kept my head up and continued calling and calling for weeks. Although only a few student groups responded, it was enough to make the day a great success . Persistence really pays off.

I also organized an event here in New Orleans at a Home Depot in Mid-City. As this was my first event to organize solo, I was a little anxious, but excited at the same time. The event ended up being a hit–over 25 people came out in the rain to show their support for the Gulf (double what I had expected). We were able to reach out to many people in the community to ask them to help hold Home Depot accountable for continuing to sell cypress mulch when the clear-cutting of cypress forests for mulch is damaging our natural storm defenses, wildlife habitats, and water filtration systems. We had a great response from the public that day, and I was very pleased to see everyone coming out to show their support. It turned out to be a really fun day!

Overall, I learned more than I had ever expected to during my semester at GRN. I had such an amazing time I am going to continue my work here as an intern through next semester as well. The work environment here at GRN is very positive and everyone is passionate about the conservation and restoration of the Gulf Coast. Working with such amazing people for such an important cause has been the highlight of my semester, and I look forward to doing it all over again next semester.

Jen Pipitone is a Senior at Loyola University studying Sociology.

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