Blogging for a Healthy Gulf

 

This January 23-25, the Gulf Restoration Network hosted the Students United for A Healthy Gulf Leadership Conference at Tulane University in New Orleans. The group of 22 student leaders attending came from the Gulf Coast of Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi; as well as the New Orleans metro area, in order to gain the knowledge, skills, and inspiration to be effective advocates for a healthy Gulf.

On Friday evening, after an introduction to GRN by Executive Director, Cyn Sarthou, everyone got to know one another over a po-boy dinner and continued to build the community of students working on Gulf environmental issues.

Saturday consisted of issue briefings from GRN staff, followed by workshops to develop grassroots organizing skills, such as petitioning, tabling, and public speaking. Assisting the workshops were experienced GRN interns Jennifer Pipitone, Liz Doyaga, and Sunshine Bond, and students had the opportunity to get practical experience petitioning on Tulane's and Loyola's campuses.

Sunday capped off the weekend with a canoe trip along Cane Bayou that feeds into Lake Pontchartrain, with guidance from tour director Byron Almquist. Students got to witness first hand the natural beauty offered by Louisiana, while also seeing the unintended consequences of reckless development on our wetlands. With this inspiration, we held an impromptu Save Our Cypress rally at a Home Depot in Covington to protest the unsustainable production of cypress mulch.

Many thanks to Canoe and Trail Adventure for donating the guided canoe trip, and to Whole Foods for providing breakfast. Most of all, thanks to all the dedicated student activists who work with GRN to defend our Gulf!

 
Thursday, February 19th, 2009 is . . . mardigrastimecallin graphic.jpg
This Thursday, February 19, 2009, join activists, gardeners, and concerned citizens throughout the Gulf in calling Lowe's, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart to tell them to say NO to cypress mulch. For more information including phone numbers and talking points, visit the Mardi Gras Time Call-In Day Action Page.

If you'd like to get more involved and help by recruiting friends to join in, you can find more information at the link below:

pdfMardi Gras Time Call-In Coordinator Guide

 

Save one of America's last, large free-flowing rivers: Protect the Pascagoula!

 

Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction - in an effort to expand the nation's petroleum reserve, the Department of Energy is prepared to hollow out a series of salt domes near Richton, Mississippi. In other words, they're planning on pumping oil back into the ground! To do this, they will pump 50 million gallons of water from Mississippi's Pascagoula River everyday for five years to dissolve underground salt and then dump the salty, polluted byproduct off the coast of one of Mississippi's barrier islands. This process could have serious consequences for Gulf of Mexico and Pascagoula River fisheries and the businesses and jobs that rely on a healthy ecosystem.


To pour salt on the wound, this wholesale environmental destruction will cost taxpayers $4 billion. With a new head of the Department of Energy, now is the time to stop this madness: send the DOE your personal message now.


Our nation faces a variety of real and pressing challenges, from the growing economic turmoil to the impending consequences of global climate change. Amidst all these significant challenges, it's hard to believe that the Department of Energy is ready to squander $4 billion dollars on this environmentally destructive project. It's time that the federal government focused its efforts on ending our dependence on oil rather than squandering precious dollars on solving yesterday's problems. Send a strong message to the Department of Energy today asking them to stop the salt dome madness before it's too late!


Matt Rota is Director of GRN's Water Resources Program

 

Again, that DC bureau rock star, Bruce Alpert of the Times-Picayune, brings us another painful scoop for the region's recovery.

Yeah, remember that category 5 plan to rebuild Louisiana's coastal wetlands and defend our communities? The plan Congress passed legislation demanding back in December of 2005? That gave the Corps of Engineers until December 2007 to deliver? That we still haven't seen? That's not even a plan so much as a 'decision-matrix'? Yeah, that plan.

Turns out, we won't have a final version until the end of August of 2009. Nearly two years late. I can hear the thud now. Let's remind Congress that the Corps is ridiculously late in delivering their insufficient assignment. Do that here.

Aaron Viles is GRN's Campaign Director

 

Bruce Alpert with the Times-Picayune wrote a great story about Army Corps money in the stimulus package.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has included $4.6 billion in money for Army Corps projects. Unfortunately, very little of this money appears to be going to the kind of environmental restoration projects that the Gulf Coast desperately needs. It appears to favor more of the same costly, destructive projects that have characterized the Corps' past.

The largest category in the bill is $500 million for major rehabilitation of inland waterway locks and dams. These projects are among the most costly and often lack economic justification. To make things worse, Congress is proposing to waive the usual cost-sharing provision, setting a very dangerous precedent. In 2008 barge companies received an enormous 91 percent taxpayer subsidy for all the costs of inland waterways.

There is an emphasis on "shovel-ready" projects in the stimulus package. In the case of the Army Corps, we have to ask what type of projects are ready to go. I'm afraid what the answer may be. There are a number of wasteful, destructive projects that are "ready to go," but haven't been funded in the past for that very reason.

Jeff Grimes is Assistant Director of the Water Resources Program for the Gulf Restoration Network

 

Over the last few months, GRN's Healthy Waters Team has been busy fighting to keep the rivers, bayous and streams of the Gulf region safe for ourselves and future generations. We've been waging this battle on several fronts from opposing an ill-conceived Army Corps of Engineers plan in Louisiana to protecting coastal Mississippi communities, defending the integrity of Florida's drinking water, and educating individuals across the Gulf about how to keep their communities safe from dangerous sewage pollution.

Despite the significant challenges facing the communities along the Gulf Coast, GRN's Healthy Waters team is committed to protecting the long-term health of the Gulf of Mexico and its waters.

For more about our recent efforts and successes, check out this issue of WaveMakers' News:
http://healthygulf.org/images/stories/healthywaters/wavemakers/wave_maker_news_feb_2009.pdf


Matt Rota is Director of the Water Resources Program at Gulf Restoration Network.

 


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

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