Filed Under:  Gulf Coast, Local

Gulf advocates meet even as BP trial is delayed

5th March 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Zoe Sullivan
Contributing Writer

As the BP trial was postponed to allow time for further settlement negotiations, more than 100 environmental and social justice advocates from across the Gulf Coast gathered in Alabama recently. The “Gulf Gathering” first met in 2009, but this is the third session that has focused entirely on the impact of the BP disaster. This year the goal was to discuss the ongoing impact of the spill on the region’s economy, health and environment and to strategize solutions to these issues. Panel presentations complemented small working group sessions.

Ian McDonald, a professor of oceanography from Florida State University, gave the keynote address. In that presentation, which was supplemented by slides and a high-definition video of the spewing wellhead, McDonald told the assembly that BP was “hiding the body” by “actively” obstructing the collection of knowledge relate to the spill. One example of this was the company’s refusal to measure the rate of the flow of oil being discharged by the ruptured well.

Participants represented a range of interests, from fishing communities and oil-worker families to environmental conservationists. The local realities facing the different groups also varied widely, as the importance given to industry versus the environment differs in coastal communities spanning the region from Texas to Florida.

In the sessions focused on employment, Telley Madina represented Oxfam America and brought news that Louisiana has successfully negotiated a modification to the Department of Labor’s National Emergency Grant, which funds training and re-training of impacted workers.

“We applied for the modification because it was obvious that we weren’t getting enough people in the program,” Madina told The Louisiana Weekly. “The goal in Louisiana was to serve 1,200 people. So far, I believe, it has approximately served 300.”

Under the modification, which was approved in late February, family members of fisher folk can apply for the funds to take workforce training courses. Also eligible are those who were unemployed, even temporarily, during the spill. Neighboring states will now have to connect with the U.S. Department of Labor in order to see if they can also obtain such a modification.

Another focus of the event were efforts to establish a Regional Citizens Advisory Council (RCAC). A similar organization was set up in Alaska in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez spill in order to “[promote] environmentally safe operation of the Alyeska Pipeline marine terminal in Valdez and the oil tankers that use it,” according to its website. Mark Swanson, a member of this RCAC, which focuses on Prince William Sound, participated on a panel and responded to questions from the audience. The organization’s website stresses that “industry must balance the need for environmental protection against the pressure for profits” and explains that the RCAC sponsors scientific studies. The home page includes a request for proposals on the biodegradation of oil in the Sound and on a system for comprehensive dispersant monitoring.

Responding to questions from The Louisiana Weekly about the role an RCAC would play on the Gulf Coast, Aaron Viles, Deputy Director of the Gulf Restoration Network, said that: “[t]he BP drilling disaster exposed that the oil industry had no plan B for a failed blowout preventer, and showed their response plans to be works of fiction. We deserve a Gulf RCAC to make sure spill-response plans are accountable to the communities that pay the price for the oil industry’s mistakes.”

Health was another primary focus at the Gathering. Among the health issues raised during the conference, Louisiana chemist Wilma Subra pointed out the possibility that new oyster beds could be built on old ones that have been contaminated by toxins from the spill. Participants also made frequent reference to the Gulf Coast Detoxification Project, an initiative based in Raceland and run by Dr. Mike Robichaux. Dr. Robichaux has been helping a few dozen people go through a natural process of purging chemical toxins believed to originate from the oil disaster from their bodies.

One detox participant, Jorey Danos, told The Louisiana Weekly that prior to his detox, he was experiencing extreme stomach pain and much higher levels of aggression. His wife,

Jolene Plaisance, said that he had also had multiple seizures, which now seem to have stopped.

This article was originally published in the March 5, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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