Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Environmentalists Join Forces in New Orleans To Foster A Growing Alliance to Combat Climate Change and Fossil Fuels

It is time we wake up the world to stop abusing and destroying a gift of life – before it is too late,” Chief Arvol Looking Horse from South Dakota said to a group of environmentalists from across the country who joined him at a water ceremony on the shore of the Mississippi River in New Orleans on World Water Day.  
The ceremony took place on the fourth day of programming hosted by the environmental advocacy group Indigena, on climate change and communities fighting against it.

“Creative alliances are formed when you are invited to come together,” Janet MacGillivray, Esq., with Indigena, told DeSmog. “That’s what we did with the four days of gatherings at the New Orleans Healing Center.”

Keeper of the Mountains Foundation president Paul Corbit Brown, and Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Nebraska, were among the invited speakers who stressed the need for groups to come together.

They joined Louisiana environmental groups and activists who participated in panel discussions in the days before a protest by hundreds of Gulf Coast residents and environmentalists from across the country against the federal lease sale of 44.3 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to the oil and gas industry. 
Video: Paul Corbit Brown speaks in New Orleans

Holding up a bottle of polluted water from Fayetteville, West Virginia, at a panel discussion on climate change injustice, Brown told the audience that water from the river where he took the sample made it to New Orleans before he did.

“Polluted water in West Virginia doesn’t stay in West Virginia,” he said. ”It makes it way to other places, including here.”

The Keeper of the Mountains Foundation’s mission is to move Appalachian communities away from an extraction economy to an economy that values people, land, and mountain heritage. The foundation conducts outreach programs to teach groups from around the world about mountaintop removal and other negative impacts of the coal industry. The foundation is involved with fighting for human rights while working toward helping the region transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

The foundation also acts as an environmental watchdog. Brown was the first photographer to document the site where a train carrying North Dakota crude derailed into a West Virginia creek and burst into flames in 2015. After a state trooper blocked his way, threatening him with arrest if he tried to get to the accident site, he chartered a plane and shot aerials of the wreckage that were published by the Huffington Post.

His photos contradicted Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s description of how much oil contaminated the creek, according to Brown.

Brown’s work as a human rights photographer before he became an environmental activist taught him that you can’t separate human rights from environmental injustice.

“There is a growing movement of people trying to connect the dots,” Brown told DeSmog. “It is not that mountaintop removal is worse than uranium mining – or worse than what happened with oil and gas in Louisiana, or worse than frackng or any other environmental catastrophe created by the oil and gas industry. People are waking up to the understanding that this fight is all of these fights.”

On a panel of women in the environmental movement, Jane Kleeb announced that Bold Nebraska is expanding with the formation of the Bold Alliance, which will have branches in Iowa, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. The alliance will continue Bold Nebraska’s work that includes stopping fossil fuel developments by developing clean energy projects.

Bold Nebraska is a progressive political advocacy group that was a leading voice in the fight to stop the northern route of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The organization joined forces with indigenous tribes in the fight to stop the tar sands pipeline.

Video: Jane Kleeb speaks in New Orleans

When word reached Kleeb that President Obama rejected the permit TransCanada needed to build the northern route of the Keystone XL Pipeline, she had a celebratory whiskey and then spent a little time with her family. But hanging up her hat was never an option for her.

“The fight to save the planet is bigger than stopping one pipeline,” Kleeb told DeSmog.

Kleeb announced that Cherri Foytlin will run Bold Louisiana. Foytlin, a Louisiana native, became an activist after the BP oil spill, and has been at the forefront of the fight against pollution and social justice ever since.

“We plan to continue to tackle fossil fuel projects while lifting up clean energy and developing a base of populist independent voters,” Kleeb said.

Hundreds crashed the government’s lease sale on March 23 held at the Superdome in New Orleans. Though the protesters weren’t able to stop the auction, their action sent a message to the federal government that further development of the fossil fuel industry is not a popular move with those concerned about climate change.

Video: Jane Kleeb and Mekasi Camp-Horinek protest against new oil and gas lease sales In the Gulf of Mexico.

“Here in New Orleans, apathy just isn’t an option,” MacGillivray told DeSmog. Despite the trauma from superstorms and the destruction of the environment, she believes the spirit of the people in New Orleans can’t be extinguished.

Paul Corbit Brown outside of the Superdome where protesters gathered after the lease sale for a rally. ©2016 Julie Dermansky

Brown was moved by the protest. It was a reminder that he is not alone in recognizing the need to unite people fighting for social and environmental justice, which happened at the protest.

“What we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves. It is that simple,” Brown told DeSmog. “If we continue to contaminate the earth and take from her as if there is no tomorrow, we will not have an Earth we can live on tomorrow – it is that simple.”

Video: Chief Arvol speaks in New Orleans

Lead Photo: Paula Horne-Mullen, Janet MacGillivray, Esq., Chief Arvil Looking Horse, Jane Kleeb and Jason Kowalski and others gathered in New Orleans. ©2016 Julie Dermansky

Environmentalists Converge on New Orleans To Disrupt Gulf of Mexico Oil and Gas Lease Sale

Hundreds of Gulf Coast residents and environmentalists from across the country protested against a federal lease sale of 44.3 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to the oil and gas industry yesterday in New Orleans.

The group marched from Duncan Plaza to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome — where the sale was held — calling for an end to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and an immediate hiring of a thousand workers to clean up and repair aging oil infrastructure, including rigs, platforms, pipelines and refineries.

They included Gulf Coast residents and local environmental organizations 350 Louisiana, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Bridge the Gulf and Vanishing Earth. Members of national groups Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Oil Change International, Indigena, Bold Nebraska, Keeper of the Mountains Foundation, the Center for Biological Diversity, Rethink Energy, Tar Sands Blockade and Rainforest Action Network also took part in the protest.

No effort was made to stop the protesters from entering the Superdome or the room where the auction took place. While the protest had been publicized since February on social media, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) seemed caught off guard.

Protesters march to the Superdome in New Orleans. ©2016 Julie Dermansky

Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, leads protesters to the lease sale inside the Superdome. ©2016 Julie Dermansky

The protesters chanted throughout the lease sale, which lasted about an hour and a half. They drowned out the voice ofBOEM Gulf of Mexico Regional Director Michael Celata who was calling out the bids and announcing the lease winners.


“We have being saying ‘Yes’ and going along with drilling in the Gulf far too long,” Cherri Foytlin, a Gulf Coast activist, told DeSmog, “Today I said, ‘No.’”

Security personnel tried to remove Foytlin from a platform at the lease sale. When police officers grabbed her, Foytlin went limp, ending up lying on her back. Rather than drag her away, she was permitted to remain on the platform.

Police try to remove Cherri Foytlin from the protest. © 2016 Julie Dermansky

Cherri Foytlin, after being released by the police, returns to where she was standing before they tried to remove her. ©2016 Julie Dermansky

“They could have arrested me,” Foytlin told DeSmog. “But there were too many of us that they would also have to arrest.”

A representative from BOEM asked Foytlin what the group thought they were going to accomplish since their actions were not going to stop the sale. Foytlin explained she was protecting the planet for the sake of her children.

She asked him to “go back to the President and tell him that this is just the beginning. Our numbers are swelling.”

“If this president really wants to be the guy he said he was going to be after Paris, he needs to be proactive and stop the sale of federal land for drilling right now,” Foytlin told DeSmog.


“This is horrible,” BOEM representative Caryl Fagot said to DeSmog. “What do they think they are doing?”

BOEM representative Caryl Fagot reacts to protesters during the lease sale in the Superdome. ©2016 Julie Dermansky

At a March 17 public hearing on the next round of Gulf of Mexico lease sales slated for 2017, Fagot said nothing would stop the March 23 auction and that the place to voice one’s opinion was at one of the BOEM public hearings beforehand, not at the event itself.

The activists disagreed. “This is beautiful,” Bucket Brigade director Anne Rolfes told DeSmog.

Oil and gas industry representatives at the federal lease sale in the Superdome. ©2016 Julie Dermansky

John Filostrat, a BOEM public affairs officer, makes an effort to control the crowd. ©2016 Julie Dermansky

Rolfes testified at BOEM’s hearing, but still had hoped to stop the lease sales. The hundreds of people willing to disrupt the meeting gave her hope. Two years before, only a couple dozen protesters attended the lease sale.

After the sale, a few of the protesters taunted workers who were taking down BOEM’s displays in the Superdome’s hallway. “You should be ashamed,” one of the activists said to them.

“The sneakers you are wearing are made with oil. Your cell phone too,” a worker countered. The worker conceded safety on the oil rigs isn’t what it should be, but told DeSmog he thought the protesters were ignorant.

Twenty-six offshore energy companies submitted 148 bids on 128 blocks for Central Sale 241. No bids were submitted for Eastern Sale 226, according to BOEM’s press release.  It was the fewest bids submitted at in auction in the last 20 years.

The protesters held a rally outside the Superdome after the sale. Among them was activist Hilton Kelley, the Goldman Environmental Prize winner who has fought to keep pollution at bay in the African-American West Side neighborhood of Port Arthur.

“The people who live on the Gulf Coast have suffered enough because of BP,” he told DeSmog.

“Though we didn’t stop the sale, our voices were heard,” Kelley said, describing the protest as “righteous.”

Protesters pose for a group photo as a helicopter passes over them. ©2016 Julie Dermansky

Lead photo credit: Children take part in a protest against new federal lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico. ©2016 Julie Dermansky

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Momentum Builds Against Obama Admin Plans To Auction Oil and Gas Drilling Rights In Gulf of Mexico

Hundreds of Gulf Coast residents are expected to join a coalition of environmental and social justice groups on Wednesday to protest outside the Superdome, where the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) intends to auction off leases for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Forty-seven organizations sent a letter to President Obama last week calling for him to cancel the planned lease auctions that would release millions of acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling. The sales include 43 million acres set to be auctioned on Wednesday, and another 47 million acres proposed for auction in 2017. 
Only two people spoke at BOEM’s public hearing in New Orleans on March 17 on the bureau's proposed plan to offer 47.41 million acres to the oil and gas industry to lease in the Central Planning Area of the Gulf of Mexico in 2017.

BOEM representative Caryl Fagot told DeSmog after the public hearing:  “This was the place for people to voice their opposition to new leasing, not at the auction itself, when it is too late.”

BOEM makes a presentation at a public hearing in New Orleans. ©2016 Julie Dermansky

Though the Obama Administration recently took the Atlantic Coast out of its 2017-2022 plan for offshore fossil fuel development, it proposed three leases for the Arctic and ten for the Gulf of Mexico.

Fagot pointed out that those who missed the hearings on proposed lease sales in the Gulf to take place in 2017, have until May 2 to send in their comments.

The two speakers who testified were Anne Rolfes, the director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and Monique Verdin, member of the United Houma Nation tribe and a Gulf Coast liaison of the Indigenous Environmental Network. Both called for no new leasing in the Gulf. New drilling puts the region at risk for another oil spill and any oil recovered, when burned off, will contribute to climate change.

Video: Monique Verdin Speaks at BOEM’s Public Hearing in New Orleans.

Rolfes thinks BOEM did a bad job getting the word out about the March 17 meeting because many area residents oppose expansion of offshore drilling operations. She became aware of the hearing only two days prior, after finding a public notice in a local weekly newspaper.

BOEM defended its public hearing notification process, stating it ran ads in local newspapers and posted the information on the bureau’s website. But BOEM representatives admitted its last two hearings were not well attended. There was only one person at one event, and at another, no one showed up at all.

Video: John Filostrat, a BOEM public affairs officer, explains the new agencies created to replace the Minerals Management Service after the BP oil disaster. 

BOEM is one of three agencies created by the Obama Administration to replace the Minerals Management Service, after it was determined the regulatory agency was ill-equipped to prevent or deal with the BP oil disaster. The bureau is responsible for environmental studies and managing new leases on the outer continental shelf.

The other two agencies are the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and the Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR). BSEE is responsible for safety and environmental regulations on all offshore energy developments, andONRR collects royalties from oil and gas produced on federal property.

An environmental activist at the March 17 hearing voiced his concern about the BOEM plans to lease in 2017. He said leases are in waters that are double the depth of the waters where the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred, and asked BOEM how the bureau would get a similar incident under control in much deeper waters.

“It would be difficult,“ a BOEM representative conceded.

Vessels at the site where the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, leading to the 2010 BP oil disaster. ©2010 Julie Dermansky

“We take unknown environmental damages into account in our work,” Beth Ord, a biologist with BOEM, told DeSmog. However, despite the incomplete scientific data on the impacts of the BP blowout, it is BOEM’s job to determine the feasibility of new projects in the Gulf, and make sure that if new drilling takes place, it is done safely.

“The Gulf of Mexico has been devastated by negligent oil companies and continues to be plundered for profit,” said Ruth Breech, a senior campaigner at Rainforest Action Network at a press conference before BOEM’s hearing. Breaking up the regulatory agency doesn’t change her stance that the oil should be left in the ground.

Organizers of the upcoming Superdome protest hope they can build on the momentum created by the national Keep It in the Ground movement’s direct actions to block federal auctions of drilling rights on public lands across the country.

“The people in the Gulf Coast are finally waking up to the utter destruction of handing over our Gulf of Mexico to Big Oil. Oil spills, a destroyed coast and seafood in peril is what has come from drilling over the last fifty years,” said Rolfes, who is working with the Rainforest Action Network and other groups to stop the auction on 23 March.

Rolfes acknowledged that many jobs in Louisiana are connected to the oil and gas industry, making her stance a touchy subject in Louisiana. But she believes new job opportunities can be created to restore the coast and build renewable energy sources.

“In a chilling foretelling, BP nicknamed its own Deepwater Horizon oil drilling lease ‘Macondo,’ the cursed town of mirrors in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, and the story of generations doomed to repeat history,” Janet MacGillivray, Esq., with Indigena, wrote in a press release. MacGillivray’s organization is involved with the programming including seminars and films that is taking place in the days preceding the auction.

Josh Fox, the producer and director of Gasland and Gasland 2, will screen his film How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, at the Joy Theater on 21 March. All of the events are free and open to the public.

The information presented at BOEM’s public hearing is on the bureau’s website. Public comments on the proposed 2017 leases can be made by email until May 2.

Lead image: Anne Rolfes, the director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Monique Verdin, a Gulf Coast Liaison for Indigenous Environmental Network, and Ruth Breech, a senior campaigner at Rainforest Action Network at a press conference held before BOEM’s public hearing in New Orleans. ©2016 Julie Dermansky