Environment
 

Time to strike while the Bullock and wetlands are hot

In addition to The Times-Picayune’s story on FEMA’s massive lump sum compensation to battered New Orleans Schools, Bayou Buzz shared this good news:

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu will join Oscar-winning actress, Sandra Bullock, to announce the opening of the Warren Easton High School health clinic on Sunday, August 29.

The Warren Easton school-based health clinic is scheduled to open this fall as a full-service medical and dental facility. It is the product of a partnership between Tulane Medical Center, Louisiana School Health Connection and the Warren Easton Charter High School Foundation. Major funding for the $700,000 facility comes from the Kellogg Foundation, Sandra Bullock and The San Francisco 49ers Foundation.

Bullock deserves congratulations for generously investing her personal wealth in New Orleans. Nonetheless Bullock raised eyebrows a few weeks ago when she pulled out of the Be the One petition drive for Gulf Coast restoration, after she learned that one of the sponsors, America’s WETLAND, received funding from Shell Oil. Then, shortly thereafter, Bullock reversed course and rejoined the Be the One campaign after representatives from Women of the Storm allayed her concerns, and changed America’s WETLAND from “sponsor” of Be the One, to “partner.”

Note: Be the One is strictly concerned with Gulf Coast restoration, it shouldn’t be confused with the abstinence education site of the same name which encourages “Pants on for Safety.” (I joined that group by mistake, but, like Bullock, quickly pulled out.)

Bullock’s views on the Be the One effort were apparently influenced by Brendan Demelle’s post at DeSmog blog. DeMelle makes a big deal out of funding America’s WETLAND gets from oil companies. He claims Big Oil wants to restore the wetlands in order to protect their drilling and refining infrastructure. They’d prefer taxpayers pay to fix the wetlands damage they helped cause.

This is news?

Stripped of all the guilt-by-association insinuations, DeSmog blog’s argument is pretty thin. While it’s true that King Milling is president of America’s WETLAND (and former President of Whitney Bank), and his wife, Ann Milling, is president of Women of the Storm, and neither are known for being anti-Big Oil, does that mean their coastal restoration isn’t genuine and important?

If King Milling is a simple shill for Big Oil, he’s not doing a great job. In the past, he has praised in-depth articles that do not gloss over the oil industry’s responsibility for coastal loss, and forcefully criticized an oil-friendly White House whose policy on coastal restoration, when it was intelligible, was basically “run out the clock and let someone else handle it.”

Granted, America’s WETLAND web site always emphasizes the oil and gas industry’s importance to the nation, while rarely acknowledging their contribution to the coastal problem. But that’s about what you’d expect. On the other hand, their emphasis on the  “Energy Coast” might be the best way to draw bipartisan Congressional support to address Louisiana’s coastal crisis.

Naturally, I’d prefer that the site included quotes like this one from Times Picayune columnist Bob Marshall’s recent series on the disappearing coastal village of Delacroix:

If levees were all that had happened to the delta, the wetlands in place at the turn of the century would have remained largely intact for hundreds of years, coastal scientists have said. But in the 1930s, oil and gas was discovered in the coastal zone, unleashing a frenzy of canal dredging that would compress the wetlands’ demise into 70 years.

A “frenzy” of dredging following oil and gas discoveries accelerated wetlands loss by hundreds of years. The point is rarely made: industry accelerated the wetlands crisis into our lifetimes. While it would be nice if America’s WETLAND inform its audience about this fact, they wouldn’t be the first to gloss over it.

As you read America’s WETLAND’s explanation of the Causes of Wetlands Loss, you’ll notice that they often categorize the erosive canals that kill our coast as a “shipping” issue (parts XI and XII), without noting the obvious connection of “shipping” to the oil and gas industries. When it explains the causes of wetlands loss at length, but doesn’t clearly acknowledge the role of oil and gas-related channels, they do open themselves to Demelle’s charge of “greenwashing”.

But that’s not the whole story. The site does address oil and gas issues that you might not expect. In their section on “subsidence” they note that oil and gas extraction might be a contributor. Then in part IX, they cite highly-salinated Produced Water as a cause of wetlands loss:

In the late 1980s, it was estimated that about 730 million barrels (almost 31 billion gallons) of produced water were discharged annually in Louisiana waters.  Not only is the brine potentially harmful, but there may be many other toxic substances present.  Produced water has been shown to contain up to 2800 picocuries per liter of Radium 226 (the maximum allowable for the Riverbend Nuclear Plant near St. Francisville is 30 picocuries of Radium 226).

That’s an informative paragraph that would’ve been helpful in the New York Times story I discussed here.

At the very bottom of AW’s “Causes” section, they cite a “recent” study from 1996, which enumerates and categorizes the localized causes of wetlands loss. It shows that when direct and indirect impacts are considered, “Oil and Gas Canals” are the leading cause of localized coastal land loss.

Yes, the information is buried, but it’s there. If America’s WETLAND was a total “greenwash”, it wouldn’t contain such information.

America’s WETLAND will host a conference in New Orleans about the world’s deltas in October. In their press announcement, President King Milling says

“In the working deltas of the world we have provided the infrastructure and resources for great economies and progress, but the key question is, at what price?… We are asking all interests to consider the future and tie the economics to environmental sustainability for a livable world after we are gone.”

I can get on board with that statement. Sure, in my perfect world, Milling would directly tell Big Oil that they should do the right thing – stop downplaying their role in the wetlands disaster and volunteer to help pay for the damage they’ve caused. For example, Milling could’ve weighed in on a dispute recounted in this important Bloomberg article on wetlands loss:

A consensus of coastal scientists puts wetland losses attributable to oil and gas activities at 36 percent, says Douglas Meffert, a deputy director of Tulane University’s Center of Bioenvironmental Research. The Gulf Restoration Network estimates the share as high as 60 percent, says Aaron Viles, the group’s campaign director.

“The idea that we’re mostly to blame is crap,” says Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association, a 1,100-member trade group based in Baton Rouge. He cites a U.S. Department of Energy estimate that the industry accounted for no more than 15 percent of coastal loss.

Environmentalists say 60 percent, industry and the DOE say 15 percent, and the scientific consensus is around 36 percent. Milling could’ve said, statesmanlike, “Hey, Big Oil and environmentalists, given the urgency of this issue, why don’t we all compromise, split the difference and agree to use the scientific estimate? Then we can work to solve this crisis together, after broadly agreeing about the oil and gas industry’s responsibility for the mess.”

(And speaking of things Milling might’ve said, it would have been ideal if he had excoriated oil industry spokesman Chris John when John said oil companies were already doing their “part” to save the coast because they already “pay taxes.” John’s comment is still one of the most outrageously smug things I’ve ever heard. Big Oil pays to fix the wetlands by paying taxes –  sometimes, kicking and screaming, to other countries. Yeah, give them a medal.)

But while I’d love for America’s s WETLAND to sound more like… me, that preference shouldn’t get in the way of the larger mission to save the coast. The window of opportunity is closing, and King and Ann Milling’s organizations are able to unite officials, celebrities, and industry to increase nationwide awareness about the crisis. I don’t think they are pure shills for Big Oil. And while I’m sure Oil companies will never fully pay for their damage to the coast, I will note that a figure like King Milling is in a unique position to get them to admit fault and contribute large sums directly to Gulf Coast restoration.

Truly, if Big Oil can cry like stuck pigs over a drilling moratorium (a policy that seems increasingly justified as more blowout preventer problems come to light), and if they can come together and spend $1 billion on a project to create a solution for oil gushers created by blowouts, then why can’t they unite to address our wetlands crisis and contribute to a fund to protect their $100 billion of assets on the “Energy Coast?”

No time like the present.

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  • Wait, hold on a minute. Are you saying the right and the left should meet in the middle and work on a solution?! Madness!

    Also, Dat. Pun.