Gulf-Wide Government Group Squashes Public Input, Climate Action

GULF-WIDE GOVERNMENT GROUP SQUASHES PUBLIC INPUT, CLIMATE ACTIONGulf of Mexico Alliance scraps public workshops in favor of Survey MonkeyNew Orleans, LA ” The Gulf of Mexico Alliance, a multi-Gulf state government partnership, created by all five Governors to protect the environmental and economic resources of the Gulf coast is scrapping their plans to hold public opinion workshops on their new draft 5 year plan in four of the five Gulf states. Though Florida citizens and conservation groups were able to meaningfully participate in development of the plan through face to face meetings, residents of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas will only be able to give feedback on the draft through an online service called Survey Monkey. The brief public comment period ends Friday, March 13th. No reason has been given as to why the Alliance is not going to hold public workshops in the other Gulf states. To see the survey, go here:http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=JxpweEqgvvqLdm_2f35MGcQg_3d_3dConservation groups and concerned citizens across the Gulf have been actively engaged with the Alliance over the past year to encourage the full incorporation of climate change into the Alliance’s plan. Currently, if citizens are concerned about the lack of planning around climate change, they must have access to a computer to make that opinion matter.Andy Wilson with Public Citizen Texas said, “They have severely limited the ability of the public to have their voices heard. In a public forum, we can ask questions about issues the Alliance will not address in their survey, such as climate change. In a computerized survey, they choose the questions and limit the answers. It’s the oldest trick in the book: If you don’t like the answer, change the questions.” Mr. Wilson added “They have also shut anyone out of the process who does not own a computer. That, alone, is troubling.”Joe Murphy, Florida Program Director of the Gulf Restoration Network noted “the Alliance held public workshops across Florida that over 150 people attended. Those that came could speak directly to decision makers, ask questions, share concerns, and engage in the community level process of protecting the Gulf of Mexico. Citizens in other Gulf states should have the same rights, access, and ability. Good public policy is made when people can talk to each other and learn from each other. Nothing good comes from limiting public discussion.” The Florida Department of Environmental Protection sent out a press release following their public workshops and stated that climate change was a major concern among the workshop participants.”The Alliance is greatly limiting public involvement in the process with these recent decisions,” says Jenny Dorgan with Alabama Environmental Council.Many coastal conservation groups and citizens across the Gulf have called for climate change to be a top priority issue for the Alliance. In response the Alliance is becoming more closed off to the public. Previously, the Federal Workgroup in charge of coordinating the participating Federal agencies furnished their monthly conference call information on their website but as of this year, that information has been removed, thus limiting the public’s ability to participate in the calls.The Alliance was contacted by the Gulf Restoration Network last year to raise concerns about using only online, impersonal, and exclusionary processes to gather public input but did not respond. Cynthia Sarthou, Executive Director of the Gulf Restoration Network said “The Gulf of Mexico Alliance is an important and useful organization but they need to step up their public outreach. I grant that Survey Monkey is popular; that said, online surveys should be used to augment, not substitute for meaningful face to face interaction between citizens and government officials. These kinds of decisions are best made when everyone has the ability to personally participate in the process.”The Gulf Restoration Network is a 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 of Mexico for future generations. On the web at www.healthygulf.org.