You are browsing the archive for Environment.

Tim DeChristopher at NN11: Obama Administration Pursues Activists Like Previous Administrations (VIDEO)

1:40 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

While at Netroots Nation 2011, I had the privilege of speaking to some very inspiring and courageous people, who have no qualms about speaking the truth. One of those videos, an interview with climate activist Tim DeChristopher, is now up at TheNation.com.

DeChristopher placed fake bids in a public land auction to disrupt drilling by energy companies. He has been convicted on two felony charges and now could face a number of years in prison.

In the interview, DeChristopher recounts how he disrupted a Bureau of Land Management oil and gas auction at the end of 2008 that the Bush Administration was holding as a “parting gift to the oil and gas industry.” DeChristopher registered as a bidder and wound up outbidding most of the companies’ bidders that were present.

He now is set to be sentenced on July 26.

“Before I was ever indicted, the Obama Administration overturned the auction and admitted it was illegal in the first place, not because of my actions but because the BLM had violated its own rules,” DeChristopher explains. He makes clear the Obama Administration has had the option all along to not pursue him but yet has chosen to push a case against him for the maximum four and a half years. And, he claims that it may not be all the popular to press charges especially since he is a nonviolent climate activist who “was standing in the way of something that was admittedly illegal.”
Read the rest of this entry →

Anti-Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Activists March on Blair Mountain

7:24 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

From Marmet, West Virginia, to Blair, West Virginia, hundreds are marching across the Appalachian region throughout this week to honor the historic labor event known as the Battle of Blair Mountain. This event designed to remember one of the largest battles in US labor history, however, is not just about history. A coalition known as Appalachia Rising is using the five-day march to call attention and protest mountaintop removal coal mining.

Parson Brown, co-founder of the Topless America Project, a small group from Chicago that has been producing a documentary on mountaintop removal coal mining for more than five years, reports at the end of the first day of the march the “exhausted marcher”s set up camp. They were met with “steady slew of harassment.” A local came on the scene and tried to “sabotage” the media RV. Cars, coal trucks and “emergency” vehicles, according to Brown, made laps around the marchers blasting horns and sirens.

Eventually the “county commission” forced the marchers to pack up and vacate the grounds or face “mass arrests.” The marchers returned to Marmet, where they had begun their march. But, they expect to continue marching to Blair Mountain.

In the end, participants expect to march fifty miles. Each day participants will go about ten miles. The march will culminate in a rally in Blair, West Virginia, where Emmylou Harris, Ashley Judd and other artists will perform. Also, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is expected to speak at the rally.

While many of the people participating are marching, some are being tasked with the job of preparing meals, setting up camps, driving shuttles and delivering water to those who are walking each day.
Read the rest of this entry →

A Roar of Anger Against the Coal Industry That Cannot Be Ignored or Silenced

9:52 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

352250460_ee2f9e5565.jpg

The anger and courage of Americans who have been expressing opposition to the coal industry and expending energy to chip away at the power coal companies have to destroy America’s environment is paying off.

A federal judge
recently "ordered Patriot Coal Corp. to spend millions of dollars to clean up selenium pollution at two surface coal mines in West Virginia," an order that environmental groups said was the "first time a court has demanded restrictions on selenium, a trace mineral commonly discharged from Appalachian surface mines, where the tops of mountains are blown away to expose coal."

Activists especially those affiliated with Appalachia Rising are building up support for the abolition of surface coal mining in America. Applachia Rising plans to confront the Obama Administration and other politicians for their failure to halt this devastating mining practice on September 27th just after they have a two-day conference at Georgetown University on September 25th and 26th.

While most activism against the coal industry in America is focused on ending the practice of mountaintop removal in Appalachia, there is a movement of solidarity building in this country against coal. The dirty practices of the coal industry are all around us. If you consider the fact that Patriot Coal has operations in Illinois and other parts of the Midwest, it is not hard to see why citizens in cities like Chicago are taking on the coal industry and demanding the industry cleans up its practices.

Clean Power Chicago
, a grassroots coalition of organizations in Chicago working to clean up two coal-fired power plants and build a clean energy future for Chicago, in the past month achieved a huge victory: Alderman Ricardo Muñoz signed on as a co-sponsor to the Clean Power Ordinance, which organizers in the coalition hope will pass and help reduce emissions from Midwest Generation’s Fisk and Crawford coal plants in Chicago.

Alderman Muñoz is the alderman for the ward where the Crawford plant is located. His sponsorship, which was the product of lobbying by a grassroots organization known as the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) and ward residents, sent a huge signal to other aldermen in the city of Chicago and increases the likelihood that other aldermen will support the ordinance.

I spent some time interviewing three leaders who are playing key roles in the movement toward a clean energy future in Chicago. They spoke to me about how this initiative has earned the support of national environmental organizations like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club and how it could be a model for other cities with residents who want to organize their community to advance clean energy agendas.

Dorian Breuer, a member of the Chicago environmental all-volunteer group in the Pilsen neighborhood called the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO), explained this is "a case where we are acting locally to affect our local health that will have "global effects." According to Breuer, the coal plants in Chicago are "the largest single source of carbon emissions in the city of Chicago."

Addressing the reality that this is the second time Chicago residents have mounted an effort to clean up the plants (an attempt was made in 2002), Brewer suggested more and more residents "recognize the pollution [from] these coal plants [does] not stay in a small band around this coal plant, which are in the communities we live in.

"The health effects go citywide and they know the statistics of not just these coal plants but all the pollution from coal plants affecting the outside air in Chicago," explained Breuer.

Christine Nannicelli, an associate field organizer with Sierra Club, explained, "Our asthma rates here in the city are staggering and they are some of the highest in the nation."

Clean Power Chicago’s website lists the following facts from the EPA and other experts: on average, 1 out of 7 school-aged children has asthma; in a number of Chicago-area neighbors upwards to 1 out of 3 children suffer from asthma; 13 million school days are missed each year due to asthma; asthma is the third-ranking cause of hospitalization among children under 15 and nearly 2 million emergency department visits each year are asthma related; and it is estimated that the number of people with asthma will grow by more than 100 million by 2025.

Coalition organizers said the public health aspect of this really resonates with Chicagoans and plays a key role in convincing Chicagoans to take action.

In relation to the public health aspect of the issue, Edyta Sitko, an organizer with Greenpeace in Chicago, explained people want to "move away from fossil fuels that are not only contributing to global warming but having dire health effects on our city." And, she contended, "There are a lot of cities looking toward Chicago being a leader and cleaning up the coal plants in Chicago."

On top of that, organizers view this as a "justice issue." Breuer described the communities around these coal plants as having the following characteristics: lower income, lots of minorities, lower education levels, higher rates of unemployment, lower quality schools, and higher number of students per teacher ratios."

Affirming Breuer’s description, Nannicelli said, "The two neighborhoods, Little Village and Pilsen, where these two coal plants are located and the predominantly lower income Hispanic neighborhoods around these plants" are really moved to action because of the social justice aspect of this issue.

The campaign has placed a focus on aldermen as the key to success. Sitko described how the grassroots are convincing aldermen to support the ordinance:

"About a month and a half ago, we launched an organizing effort in Alderwoman Leslie A. Hairston’s ward specifically around asking her to sign on to the Clean Power Ordinance. There was an organizer in Hyde Park that had been working with constituents there–getting sign up letters, getting phone calls into Alderwomen Hairston’s office–letting her know she needed to support the ordinance. Before a press conference on Thursday, [on Wednesday night] we called a community meeting in Hyde Park. A few hours before we found out that Hairston had signed on."

Much of the effort owes a lot of its success to Alderman Joe Moore, who represents the 49th Ward, which includes Rogers Park, West Ridge, and Edgewater, making it one of the most diverse and vibrant communities in Chicago.

Midwest Generation, the owner of the plants, asserted, according to Chicago News Cooperative journalist Kari Lydersen, "the city lack[s] the authority to regulate the coal plants" and "only the state and federal government could do so." The corporation further asserts, "If the Moore proposal passes, the company will challenge Chicago’s regulatory authority in court."

Breuer said of Midwest Generation’s disregard for its pollution of Chicago’s climate, "The reality is thanks to relaxed campaign finance and lobbying laws the company has a lot of power. We found that over the last ten years, when we looked at state of Illinois records, it donated 100,000 dollars just to local aldermen in the city of Chicago and that’s a huge amount."

Breuer contended Midwest Generation has "an interest" in not spending "a lot of money to clean up their plants" and that is "absolutely impacting public space." But, he concluded Midwest Generation always says they are "following the law and the public in theory has created the law" so they can’t be faulted for doing any wrong.

"Most of what they do is fully within the law. And that’s why this campaign is targeting the law," said Breuer. "That law operates in favor of coal plants and against the local residents and all the residents anywhere near coal plants."

Now that Alderman Muñoz has signed on, the coalition hopes to earn the support of Danny Solis, who is the alderman for the ward where the Fisk coal plant is located They hope Muñoz’s leadership and example will compel him to take similar action and sign on in support of the ordinance.

The ordinance has 13 co-sponsors: Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, Alderman Leslie Hairston, Alderman Freddrenna Lyle, Alderman Sandi Jackson, Alderman Toni Foulkes, Alderman Joanne Thompson, Alderman Ricardo Munoz, Alderman Sharon Dixon, Alderman Ed Smith, Alderman Scott Waguespack, Alderman Rey Colon, Alderman Eugene Schulter, Alderman Mary Ann Smith.

The story of this Clean Power Ordinance Coalition is just one example of how Americans can take personal responsibility for the health of their community and the environmental future of America. Thousands are tuned in to the impact of the coal industry and no matter what the coal industry does these Americans are not going to back down in the face of their corporate power and influence over public policy and the wider American population.

100 Days Since the BP Gulf Oil Disaster Began, NOLA Natives Explain Disaster is Not Over

8:36 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

4654252107_ed080f435d.jpg
Flickr Photo by dsb nola

 

One hundred days after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded creating the worst environmental disaster in the world’s history, those who live down along the Gulf coast in the areas that have been most impacted are standing strong and reminding the world that, while the well gushing oil may have been capped and while BP CEO Tony Hayward may be going to Siberia, the disaster is not over.

 

Elizabeth Cook, a Louisiana native, said she’s “lived in New Orleans most of [her] life” and “when this happened, [her] sense of anger and grief moved her to begin to talk to friends about organizing some sort of people’s response.” She had been organizing post-Katrina on the housing issue because after the hurricane there was a real situation with lack of housing, which produced a huge homeless problem.

 

She connected with a group called the Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster and helped organize a People’s Summit that took place on June 19th. She has been organizing protests, press conferences, meetings, gathering data, creating fact sheets, and writing about the disaster in the Gulf ever since.

 

Cook described the current situation:

 “We don’t know how long the dispersant is going to remain in the water with the oil, how long it will take to break down the dispersant and/or the oil. We’re not sure of the full impact on our marine life and our wildlife and also the government and BP are not forthcoming with scientific information about this. Certain areas of the Gulf have been reopened for fishing and their testing the seafood for oil but they aren’t testing it for dispersants…

… We want to remind folks and make people aware this is not over. We’ve got 1.8 billion gallons of toxic dispersant that was dumped in the Gulf and also sprayed pretty close to shore in Barataria Bay and along the shoreline of the Gulf coast. We are continuing to see the effects of this toxic chemical. We need to be vigilant. We need to demand accountability. We need to demand remediation and bio-remediation.“

 

Robert Desmarais, also someone who lives in New Orleans, said he’s been back since the city flooded after Katrina (the federal walls broke along the canals in his neighborhood and he was unable to come back to where he lived for a while). Now that “this volcano in the Gulf” has erupted, Sullivan explains “it just hit me very hard. I’d come back to the city, redid the house, got very involved in politics and I’m [now] facing exile again. I’m angry.”

 

For people like Desmarais, the worst-case scenario is a real possibility. Desmarais said it’s “really sad to think that if something happened in this hurricane season a lot of people including me probably wouldn’t want to come back to a city that had been flooded by oil as well as water. A lot of us see that [if that happened] it would be the end of the city. And, a lot of people are hurt, really hurt.”

 

The plight of fishermen in the Gulf, as a result of the disaster, is especially disconcerting for Desmarais.

“The real crisis is along the Gulf — Mississippi, Alabama, where my family is from. Those people fish for a living. I’ve had students who have left school at the age of 16 because they figured they were going to do what their father and grandfather had done. They were going to be a shrimper. They were going to be a fisherman. And, that’s all they knew. That’s all they wanted. They loved the life. It wasn’t just a way of earning a living. And now not only do they have no means of earning a living any longer but that whole lifestyle – going out in the boat in the morning, being in the water, being with friends and relatives—that’s being poisoned.”

 

Those impacted—for example, the people in the oyster industry who are having to close up shop—are going to be compensated for the economic and emotional trauma being endured. Right? Partially, at least. In full? Highly unlikely.

 

According to Cook, Kenneth Feinberg, the pay czar administering the BP escrow fund, is working for BP (although he claims to be independent) and saying “folks have to make a decision as to what their long term damages are going to be now and accept the payouts now.”

“This is absurd. This is a contradiction because no one knows yet what the long-term damages or impacts of the toxic oil and dispersant are going to be on the livelihoods of people down here. Yet, they’re being asked to make a decision now as to what kind of monetary payout to accept,” said Cook. “And this is outrageous. There should be a national cry. Folks should not be put in these positions. This is unfair, unjust and criminal.”

 

In addition to this apparent corporate scheming to escape accountability and responsibility, another scheme continues on. Those down along the Gulf still are unconvinced that information is flowing properly. They do not think they know what is happening and many are skeptical that the oil has in fact stopped leaking into the Gulf.

 

“Personally, I was lied to twice by coast guards,” explains Desmarais. “A coast guard told me dispersants weren’t harmful,” which was contrary to scientific information Sullivan has been reading.

 

Desmarais added, “Residents haven’t been told how much oil was gushing out. And, the “worst thing was that the Coast Guard ordered under penalty of arrest for a felony and a $40,000 fine that no one” could get within sixty-five feet of a prohibited site. At that point we went to see the ACLU and we complained about this.”

 

Cook spoke with someone with a nonprofit organization in Louisiana monitoring the Gulf’s water and he said he got the “necessary permit to go within 65 feet but they had since laid boom so he could only get within 80 feet.” She added, “I spoke to a Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries person who explained that you don’t want people trampling around Barrier Islands where chicks are yet.” There would be no problem except:

“We have got to be able to somehow assess our damages. We have got to be able to see, to witness, to document. With all of the clampdown on information, the purpose isn’t just to protect the birds, the islands where they are nesting, it’s to clampdown on the flow of information.”

 

Residents are relying on fishermen for information and, because they aren’t being told how polluted their environment is, people have gone ahead and are testing their own rainwater to “circumvent the clampdown” and do what they can to get the data needed to stay healthy and as free of toxic chemicals as possible.

 

There are some residents finding a sliver of hope and optimism in the midst of what some think is a disaster with no end in sight. Sullivan shared his thoughts on people who have come down to the Gulf to organize, take action and give back to people in the Gulf.

 

He explained that he has “learned to appreciate the people who come here” as they are “animated by an amazing generosity for Louisiana.” He said it “touches me to the heart. Sometimes they are not so saddened by the immediate effect that they see, that my own depression might not allow me to see. And they wake up to possibilities that stimulate me quite a bit and get me energized again with hope. For their energy and inspiration I’m very glad to see them here.”

 

People have come here with the intent to reach out to residents and help them confront BP and the government. People like Frederick-Douglass Knowles, an English professor, spoke with a member of the Emergency Committee and within weeks, left his home in Connecticut to travel down to the Gulf and hear stories from people.

 

Knowles didn’t know any of the people he would be meeting, where he would be staying or what plans he would be taking part in until he got to the Gulf, but what he did know was that he would hear stories from people like Desmarais. He said that he now has stories he can take back to Connecticut when he returns home.

 

“What I’ve witnessed is a very strong presence of strong-spirited people in New Orleans. They have been through a lot,” said Knowles. “They went through Hurricane Katrina years ago and they are saying, ‘You know, we’re not going to take this lyin’ down.’”

 

Knowles hasn’t made it to the “frontlines” or the coast but he has talked with a few residents, people like one lady he remembers who lives on the coast and her yard is the ocean. Her backyard has become “an oil swamp.” She is breathing “toxic fumes every single day” and there’s nothing she can do; this is her home.

 

When Knowles arrived, he learned the Emergency Committee would be organizing for “100 Days of Outrage,” which takes place today, July 30th. The event meant to promote the organizing of 100 different actions across the nation in response to the ongoing situation in the Gulf moved Knowles to contribute his energy and spirit to the creation of a “100 Days of Outrage: Collective Piece,” a collective poem one hundred verses long made up of 4-line verses from one hundred different people expressing their poetic reaction to the disaster in the Gulf.

 

He now thinks people all over the country should come down here and spend some time seeing what has happened through their own eyes so they can really get a sense of what has taken place here.

 

Actions all over the country are taking place as a result of "100 Days of Outrage." For example, Burlington, VT will hold a Rally and Speak Out Against BP in Burlington City Hall Park. In Kalamazoo, Michigan, they will be marking the 100th Day with a protest action to call attention to their city’s recent oil disaster that has unleashed millions of gallons of oil into a major Michigan river that runs through their city. And, in Chicago, there will be a demonstration against Nalco, makers of Corexit.

 

Thousands if not millions will be taking snapshots of themselves with a sign or quote on the snapshot. They will be posted on the StopGulfOilDisaster.org website for everyone to see how millions aren’t giving up on the people who are down in the Gulf still suffering from this disaster. (If you would like to have a photo posted  and participate in this effort, send it to stopgulfoildisaster@gmail.com.)

BP, Government Block Press from Reporting Their “Ballet at Sea”

9:00 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Flickr Photo by kk+

 

"As high tourist season approaches, there will be people who ‘come on down to Alabama’ regardless of the oil spill. A delicate balance between preparation for the worst and the pleasure of tourists is in the making."

 

"At first glance, the process looks chaotic, but after a minute of watching the orchestration a brilliant concert plays out. One of the young men of the Alabama National Guard is from a town not far from the work on Dauphin Island’s west end, as are many others in his outfit. He says that being on active duty in the place he calls home is something state guards hope for. Though they go wherever and whenever they are deployed, often overseas, working to protect home surf and turf is always a welcome assignment""

 

"A ballet at sea as mesmerising as any performance in a concert hall, and worthy of an audience in its own right."

 

 

Anderson Cooper, host of "Anderson Cooper: 360" on CNN, has been tracking BP’s obstruction of freedom of the press. Cooper is in his element when covering the Gulf coast. Having earned respect and credibility through coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Cooper has no problem with publicly challenging attempts by BP to keep journalists or reporters away from the damaged areas of the Gulf.

 

 

COOPER: "the Coast Guard today announced new rules keeping photographers and reporters and anyone else from coming within 65 feet of any response vessel or booms out on the water or on beaches — 65 feet.

Now, in order to get closer, you have to get direct permission from the Coast Guard captain of the Port of New Orleans. You have to call up the guy. What this means is that oil-soaked birds on islands surrounded by boom, you can’t get close enough to take that picture.

Shots of oil on beaches with booms, stay 65 feet away. Pictures of oil-soaked booms uselessly laying in the water because they haven’t been collected like they should, you can’t get close enough to see that. And, believe me, that is out there.

But you only know that if you get close to it, and now you can’t without permission. Violators could face a fine of $40,000 and Class D felony charges.

What’s even more extraordinary is that the Coast Guard tried to make the exclusion zone 300 feet, before scaling it back to 65 feet"

 

The order comes just days after the ACLU of Louisiana wrote the following letter urging an end to blocking of the press and censorship of information:

 

"We have learned from several sources that law enforcement officers have prevented members of the public from filming activities on the beaches affected by the BP oil spill. We have learned of the following incidents, among others: 

Several reporters have been told not to film at spill sites in Louisiana. Incidents include attempts to film on a beach in Grand Isle and near Venice. Reporters are told that they are not allowed to record because BP doesn’t want filming there.

Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge, off of Grand Isle, is blocked by Jefferson Parish deputies. Deputies told one reporter not to photograph them blocking the road.

At least one person was told by a Terrebonne Parish sheriff’s deputy working private security detail for BP that he wasn’t allowed to film the outside of the BP building in Houma from a private, non-BP-owned field across the street. The deputy admitted that the guy wasn’t breaking any laws but tried to intimidate him into stopping filming and leaving anyway.

We have reason to believe that deputies in other coastal parishes may also be working with BP to impede or prevent access to public lands and to interfere with members of the public and the media.

This letter is to notify you that members of the public have the right under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to film, record, photograph, and document anything they observe in a public place. No one — neither law enforcement nor a private corporation — has the legal right to interfere with public access to public places or the recording of activities that occur there. Nor may law enforcement officials cooperate with private companies in denying such access to the public.

 

Additionally, BP has "reporters" working for them, producing stories on the oil disaster that they contend are not being covered by media organizations.

 

The reporting consists primarily of puff-piece accounts of the damage, how awesome it is to be flying over the damage and looking down at the wetlands that the oil will likely spread into and further destroy. It consists of celebration of the tourism the Gulf coast has to offer and a profile of tourists who have not canceled their vacations. And, it glamorizes the service of the National Guard who have helped BP militarize the Gulf and turn areas into off-limit zones that members of the media are not allowed to venture into.

 

On July 2nd, Anderson Cooper covered BP’s employment of "reporters" to propagandize their clean-up effort:

"It turns out BP has dispatched two employees to the Gulf who call themselves, according to their blogs, BP reporters. But their reporting looks nothing like our reporting or the rest of the media’s reporting. It’s far more positive. (voice-over): Check out this blog by BP reporter Tom Seslar, the same guy who interviewed Vicki Chaisson. Here, he interviewed a family in the seafood business, who says — quote — "There is no reason to hate BP, and, "The oil spill was an accident," this from folks in the seafood business, which has been destroyed by the BP spill"

"…COOPER: The — I mean, for 70-some odd days now, I have been kind of, I guess, complaining or pointing out the lack of transparency that BP has, even though they had promised transparency.

It doesn’t seem like — I mean, that still seems a major issue that no one else seems to be as concerned about as we have talked about.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But they can’t be, because they have an obligation to their shareholders, just like they can’t be transparent about the flow.

We discussed this last night. When the guy says, well, we don’t — it’s irrelevant to us what the flow is, you have to pay probably, maybe $4,000 a barrel for the flow. And so they’re — you can’t — you can’t believe anything that they say, because they have an obligation to their shareholders…"

 

NOLA.com reported that Associated Press photographer Geoffrey Herbert thinks there is reason to be concerned about the restrictions:

"Often the general guise of ‘safety’ is used as a blanket excuse to limit the media’s access, and it’s been done before"It feels as though news reporting is being criminalized under thinly veiled excuses. The total effect of all these restrictions is harming the public’s right to know."

 

In the middle of June, Associated Press writer Tamara Lush wrote:

Journalists covering the Gulf of Mexico oil spill have been yelled at, kicked off public beaches and islands and threatened with arrest in the nearly three weeks since the government promised improved media access.

Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government’s point person for the response, issued a May 31 directive to BP PLC and federal officials ensuring media access to key sites along the coast. BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles followed up with a letter to news organizations, saying the company "fully supports and defends all individuals’ rights to share their personal thoughts and experiences with journalists if they so choose."

Those efforts have done little to curtail the obstacles, harassment and intimidation tactics journalists are facing by federal officials and local police, as well as BP employees and contractors, while covering the worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. history.

 

Lush went on to further illuminate how Adm. Allen’s directive on May 31 was likely public posturing, purely an empty gesture to stem the outrage among journalists in attempting to cover the disaster:

_ On June 5, sheriff’s deputies in Grand Isle, La., threatened an AP photographer with arrest for criminal trespassing after he spoke to BP employees and took pictures of cleanup workers on a public beach.

_ On June 6, an AP reporter was in a boat near an island in Barataria Bay, off the Louisiana coast, when a man in another boat identifying himself as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife employee ordered the reporter to leave the area. When the reporter asked to see identification, the man refused, saying "My name doesn’t matter, you need to go."

_ According to a June 10 CNN video, one of the network’s news crews was told by a bird rescue worker that he signed a contract with BP stating that he would not talk to the media. The crew was also turned away by BP contractors working at a bird triage area _ despite having permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enter the facility.

_ On June 11 and 12, private security guards patrolling in the Grand Isle area attempted repeatedly to prevent a crew from New Orleans television station WDSU from walking on a public beach and speaking with cleanup workers.

_ On June 13, a charter helicopter pilot carrying an AP photographer was contacted by the Federal Aviation Administration, which told the pilot he had violated the temporary flight restriction by flying below 3,000 feet. Both the pilot and photographer contend the helicopter never flew below 3,000 feet. However, the federal government now says helicopters in the restricted area are allowed to fly as low as 1,500 feet.

 

The federal government has sided with BP and helped BP obstruct press freedom. Even if the coverage would not condemn BP as criminal, even when press is willing to go along and play by the rules BP has outlined for media, the federal government has refused to give credence to the concerns of members of the press.

 

Now, with Adm. Allen’s order, it appears the government will continue to protect BP. If it is protecting BP now, what will it do for BP later? Does such behavior warrant concerns about whether BP will actually pay one hundred percent for what it should as a result of the company’s negligence and risky deepwater drilling operation?

 

In Obama Administration-speak, how long before the mantra becomes , "We need to move forward instead of looking backward," and Americans find it impossible to hold BP accountable because attention is no longer being directed at BP and the Gulf? Certainly, it seems the Administration and BP would like Americans especially journalists to concede that there’s nothing to see here (or there) and, yes, they should move along.

 

People in areas nearby the damaged areas of the Gulf are depending on reports. In the same way that those impacted by Hurricane Katrina depended on reporters and journalists to cover what was really going on in the aftermath, fishermen, BP workers, residents who live on the coast, etc. are all depending on those who understand the value of reporting to society to stay firm, hold strong and not bow to the orders of BP or government officials to shy away from telling real stories of the people and areas most impacted in the Gulf.

Obama’s Oval Office Address: Is the Gulf Half-Empty or Half-Full?

12:32 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Nearly sixty days after an explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed eleven workers, injured seventeen others and created an oil gusher that has been spewing black clouds of oil ever since, President Obama delivered an Oval Office address with the hope of stemming the flow of anger among Americans.

President Obama explained that this is "already the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced." Seemingly forgetting the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he added, "Unlike an earthquake or a hurricane, it is not a single event that does its damage in a matter of minutes or days. The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years."

The term continued to be "spill" despite the fact that it should now be accurately referred to as a "leak." It isn’t a spill; if a coffee cup falls over and coffee spills, it doesn’t continue to produce coffee for hours and hours after it spills. If a coffee cup could do that, there’d be no reason for people to buy over-priced cups of coffee from Starbucks.

And, actually, "leak" is too timid. This is not a "leak" or "spill." This is a "gusher." It’s a hemorrhage. The planet is hemorrhaging and those at the top who are running the cleanup effort have no idea how to make the planet clot so the hemorrhaging will stop.

President Obama essentially broke the address up into three parts: the cleanup effort, the recovery and restoration of the Coast, and steps being taken to make sure another disaster like this never happens again.

Outlined by President Obama was the fact that "millions of gallons of oil have already been removed from the water through burning, skimming, and other collection methods" and that "over five and a half million feet of boom has been laid across the water to block and absorb the approaching oil. " Obama also explained that the federal government has "approved the construction of new barrier islands in Louisiana to try and stop the oil before it reaches the shore" and is also "working with Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida to implement creative approaches to their unique coastlines."

President Obama claimed, "if something isn’t working, we want to hear about it" and "if there are problems in the operation, we will fix them." There was no mention of the fact that fancy paper towels are being used in the cleanup effort–that cleanup technology seems to be very simple and inadequate. (Perhaps, if relief wells fail, BP and all those involved in the cleanup efforts will try to shove a ginormous tampon into the floor of the ocean to stop the flow.)

There was also no mention of the Corexit dispersant being used, which Pro Publica reports has been removed from a list of products approved for use on oil spills in the U.K and is "more toxic and less effective on south Louisiana crude than other EPA-approved dispersants."

Obama’s talk of focusing on recovery and restoration becomes even more hollow when you consider further information on the use of Corexit to disperse the oil:

What’s more, the EPA and the Coast Guard are allowing BP to use these dispersants underwater near the ruptured well. They’ve called it a "novel approach [31]" that will ultimately use less dispersant than if the chemicals were applied on the surface. The undersea application, however, is not the recommended [32] application [33] procedure laid out in the EPA’s information on Corexit.

The EPA has acknowledged that dispersants entail "an environmental trade-off [34]," and that their long-term effects on the environment are unknown. It has promised to continue monitoring their use, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency is working with BP [35] to get less toxic dispersants to the site as soon as possible.

On behalf of the fisherman whose way of living have been completely under attack as a result of this disaster, Obama said, "Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s recklessness. And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent, third party."

However, this meeting is only scheduled to last 20 minutes. That is hardly enough time to properly address the situation and use the bully pulpit of the presidency to force BP to spend less time trying to save their image and more time trying to save the ecosystem in the Gulf.

If President Obama’s only going to spend 20 minutes, then he should just call Tony Hayward and "ask" him his question about a third-party account and the cleanup. He should just friend BP on YouTube and then engage in a chat in the comments thread of one of BP’s videos that, as Jon Stewart said last week, treats Americans like they are victims of domestic abuse.

Also, as Chris Matthews pointed out just after the address, no specifics were laid out on how this account to be "administered by an independent, third party" will be organized and properly handled:

"…[Obama] never mentioned what power he has as chief executive of this country to make [BP] understand they need to put this escrow account in third party hands. Is he gonna litigate? Is he gonna file an amicus brief with a class action suit, wait seven years for this to happen or is he really gonna demand it happens? He said, "I can ask them to do this." I’m amazed he just says he has that power…"

That President Obama thinks the American people will believe he has this situation under control when he intends to still ask BP and not make demands of them is confounding. The government should be past asking. It should be discussing accountability and consequences for the massive cover-up that has taken place in the Gulf, which has contributed to an increase in the devastation in the Gulf.

But, there was no mention of jail time for those responsible and no mention either of a more feasible option, debarment, a move that could "bar BP from receiving government contracts" and "cost the company billions and end its drilling in federally controlled oil fields."

President Obama casually explained that he was assured everything would be fine, that limited offshore drilling "would be absolutely safe" and "the proper technology would be in place and the necessary precautions would be taken." Who or what agency told him this and why does it seem that what they had to say was taken at face value? Given the reservations environmentalists, scientists, and engineers have had about drilling, why doesn’t it seem those people were talking to the president when he made a decision to open up limited offshore drilling?

Shakeups at Mineral Management Services (MMS) were detailed as if to show that regulatory agencies will now handle and regulate corporations like BP properly. But, given the way the EPA has handled the Corexit dispersant and the reports that the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) may not be properly updating their standards on the levels of chemical exposure that cleanup workers are allowed to be exposed to, should we really believe oversight is going to hold oil corporations accountable from this point on?

If one considers Jason Leopold’s recent investigative report on BP’s Alaska oilfield and its safety, one must question how BP is conducting operations all over this country. One must also ask if other oil companies are getting away with safety issues as well.

No portion of the speech addressed the reality that BP is stemming the flow of information in the Gulf and the reality that "journalists in the gulf are now dealing with a hybrid informational apparatus that does not reflect government’s legally mandated bias toward openness and transparency."

If President Obama really wanted to address the way the disaster is being handled, he would have asked why BP has been permitted to invest and expend valuable time, money and resources on public relations and use the National Guard to help protect the corporation’s image and increasingly bleak future instead of putting a hundred percent of BP’s available manpower, equipment, and assets into cleanup operations. If he really wanted to give an address that was not simply void of specifics and instead filled with platitudes and great speechifying, President Obama would have said his administration will condemn any further attempts by BP to block scientists’ access to information and take up air time disinforming and misinforming the public on the extent of the damage in the Gulf.

Keith Olbermann characterized the situation correctly, "We needed to hear the president articulating the anger of this nation at this fiasco, at this ongoing and unstoppable fiasco in the Gulf."

Something needed to be given to lift Americans’ spirits, to make Americans believe that this could be the critical juncture where American government not only makes the transition to pushing for a clean, renewable energy future in this country but also a future where corporations are not just simply allowed to reign supreme and go unchecked.

In the end, all Obama could give Americans was a prayer, a short anecdote about shrimpers who are joined by community during shrimping season for a "Blessing of the Fleet" that involves clergy from many different religions praying for the safety and success of the men and women who will be going out to sea.

Obama’s message at the end of his speech was not only will God "remove all obstacles and dangers" but He will "be with us always" and "even in the midst of the storm."

If this was what we Americans are to hang our hopes on, we can reasonably expect that this disaster will continue until way past Christmas. We can count on BP to still be trying to halt the flow of oil when boys and girls are looking forward to Santa Clause coming to town.

This disaster is not in need of a clergyman or a preacher. It’s not in need of a benevolent, kind and understanding man. It’s not in need of a collegiate and professorial person or someone who was quite the corporate candidate for president in 2008.

This disaster needs a champion of people sovereignty over corporate sovereignty. And, when Obama becomes that champion —someone closer to the trust-busting President Teddy Roosevelt than President Grover Cleveland, who was president when the Supreme Court granted personhood to corporations.

World Oceans Day: Soon to Be World Dead Zones Day?

9:41 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Flickr Photo by NOAA’s National Ocean Service

The Ocean Project, which consists of over one thousand aquariums, zoos, museums and conservation organizations, has designated June 8th “World Oceans Day.” This day, which earned official recognition from the United Nations General Assembly as the result of a resolution passed in December 2008, is a new celebrated day, and, as oil continues to gush at perhaps 100,000 barrels a day into the Gulf of Mexico (which connects to the Atlantic Ocean), this day carries even more significance.

 

Ocean conservation is essential to the future of our planet. In fact, the UN recently reported on estimates from a report indicating the world could face fishless oceans in 40 years, a notion that should frighten all the people of the world into becoming stewards of the Earth.

 

The Ocean Project says people should celebrate World Oceans Day because the world’s oceans “generate most of the oxygen we breathe, help feed us, regulate our climate, clean the water we drink, offer us a pharmacopoeia of medicines, and provide limitless inspiration.

 

Those behind the day have the best of intentions when it comes to World Oceans Day. They would like people all over the world to change the perspective of others who do not understand what oceans have to offer, to discover how daily actions affect oceans and how we are all interconnected, to change our ways and act as caretakers for the ocean, and/or to participate in activities and celebrate the oceans of the world.

 

One would like to think the most obvious threat to oceans would be on the table for discussion: the continued practice of offshore oil drilling in deep and shallow areas of the ocean. The Gulf oil disaster caused by BP, Transocean and Halliburton should compel us to justify the risks being created, which contribute to further pollution of the world’s oceans.

 

Unfortunately, World’s Oceans Day is likely to be marked insincerely. The news is President Obama is going to re-open waters to shallow oil production. Before any investigative commission provides a report on moving forward after this disaster, the Obama Administration is bowing to the oil lobby and doing it on the World Oceans Day; one could liken this move to cutting aid to African countries stricken with AIDS on World AIDS Day.

 

President Obama appears to think repeating angry toothless rhetoric about BP’s CEO Tony Hayward over and over again–rhetoric which creates the perception that he does not like that Hayward continues to control BP and how cleanup efforts continue in the Gulf–will get America through this crisis that may last until Christmas and be enough to convince Americans major changes to the regulation of oil companies are going to be made. It seems President Obama is doing this for show and not because this is all the federal government can do.

 

The Pew Oceans Commission understands that the oceans are in crisis. They find the BP oil disaster intersects with campaigns to secure protections for bluefin tuna, end overfishing in the Southeast, protect life in the Arctic, conserve sharks, address global warming and develop a clean energy policy. It also brings to the forefront the need for a national ocean policy.

 

The Commission describes why a national ocean policy is necessary:

 

 

The increasing industrialization of our oceans threatens the fragile health of marine ecosystems.  If poorly planned or managed, drilling for oil and natural gas in federal waters, developing aquaculture and building wind, wave and tidal energy facilities all have the potential to damage America’s marine environment. Currently, several federal agencies manage industrial activities in our oceans under a number of statutes, and there is little coordination or consideration of the cumulative impacts their decisions have on the health and productivity of marine ecosystems and coastal communities.

 

Among its cardinal recommendations, the Pew Oceans Commission called for establishing an enforceable national policy to protect, maintain and restore the health of marine ecosystems.  This will not only support economically and culturally valuable fisheries, but also provide countless recreational opportunities for the public and protect critically important ecological services, such as air and water purification.  The commission also recommended changing the organizational structure and laws governing our oceans to make their protection and productivity a priority, and it urged better coordination and management of the full spectrum of activities affecting marine resources.  Finally, it proposed establishing a permanent source of funding for ocean and coastal conservation and management. [emphasis added]

 

Not only do Americans need to recognize the folly of expanding oil drilling in American oceans without a clear policy to protect the oceans and properly regulate oil rigs, but Americans need to recognize the threat global warming poses to the oceans (and face up to the reality that increased oil production contributes to global warming).

 

Sadly, there has been a decrease in the number of Americans who find global warming to be a concern. Media coverage and political discussion of “climate change” (the political re-branding of global warming) has led people to doubt the science behind global warming despite the fact that there is very, very little debate (if any) among scientists on whether global warming is taking place or not.

 

Sixty-seven percent responded in a Gallup poll in March of this year that they do not think global warming will pose a serious threat to them or their way of life in their lifetime while thirty-two percent said yes it would pose a threat and affect them at some point in their lifetime. The poll also found that more and more Americans think natural causes are responsible for the change in the Earth’s temperature, not human activity.

 

Oil and energy lobbyists whose utmost concerns are profit and short-term gains have conspired against science and worked tirelessly to sow doubt in the minds of Americans through public relations campaigns, “astroturf” citizens’ groups, and fake research studies that skew data to favor their free market agenda. The American Enterprise Institute, which receives a substantial amount of money from ExxonMobil, planned “Energy Citizen Rallies” in 2009 to attack “climate change” legislation in Congress.

 

People like Art Robinson, who is running for Congress on the GOP ticket, also increase the likelihood that the planet’s oceans will become total dead zones. Robinson claimed in an issue of a newsletter he edited in 2004 called Access to Energy:

 

“Wastes dumped into the deep ocean will soon reach the bottom, where they are less hazardous than nearly any other place on Earth. Most materials will remain there: marine organisms are rare in the deep ocean, food chains are long, and few materials will be carried back to mankind. And that is what waste disposal is all about…”

 

“…The oil companies’ reckless greed, we are told, has devastated the oceans with their oil spills. Baloney…”

 

“…As for oil spills in the open and deep ocean, they amount to far less than natural seeps and river runoff, and any unbiased oceanographer will confirm that they are a boon to marine life, inflicting damage mainly on the oil and shipping companies. For crude oil is a natural, organic, biodegradable product of the earth’s ancient plant and animal life, and it is this type of hydrocarbon that marine life in the open and deep ocean is starved for…”

 

“…The environment, then, has no better protector than its owner, and no worse enemy than a system where everything belongs to “the people.” Species are endangered when they belong to everybody and nobody; and nothing short of the profit motive will protect them.”

 

If the future of the world’s oceans are not endangered by arrogant numbskulls preaching the Gospel of the Free Markets like Robinson, then they are significantly at risk by people like Dick Armey who preach the Gospel of Christian Fanaticism (and manufacture Tea Party rallies through ventures like FreedomWorks).

 

Appearing as a witness at a Republican bicameral hearing on climate change legislation on Capitol Hill in July of 2009, Armey testified:

 

DICK ARMEY: What I’m suggesting is we have a sort of an eco-evangelical hysteria going on and it leads me to almost wonder if we are becoming a nation of environmental hypochondriacs that are willing to use the power of the state to impose enormous restrictions on the rights and the comforts of, and incomes of individuals who serve essentially a paranoia, a phobia, that has very little fact evidence in fact. Now these are observations that are popular to make because right now its almost taken as an article of faith that this crisis is real. Let me say I take it as an article of faith if the lord God almighty made the heavens and the Earth, and he made them to his satisfaction and it is quite pretentious of we little weaklings here on earth to think that, that we are going to destroy God’s creation. [...]

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Mr. Armey it’s great to have you here. Great to see you again and we appreciate all you’ve done throughout the years and your work on Capitol Hill. Great job. [emphasis added by Think Progress]

 

What’s worse? Armey’s comments or the fact that this country has senators like Orrin Hatch who praise people for making pathologically insane comments like these in hearings that should be based in science?

 

The goals of World Oceans Day are paramount. However, this country doesn’t understand the value of the environment. Many may suggest that humans have a duty to protect and preserve the environment but far too many think God or the Almighty Dollar will save the environment and are blind to the reality that Mother Nature is under siege from fanaticism and free market desires.

 

One can hope more Americans will find the moral fortitude and courage to take on those that spread disinformation to pollute science, which demonstrates global warming is a threat to our oceans. One can hope more Americans will directly call out this country’s inability to have a future focus, which forgets short-term profit and favors the long-term protection of the environment for future generations of Americans.

 

Unfortunately, anger and frustration seem to be better responses than hope. Hope often makes people passive. As it becomes obvious the world’s oceans need the help of thousands if not millions of citizens now more than ever, the oceans need physical and meaningful action, not hope.

“Embedded Media” Only Allowed to Cover BP Oil Disaster?

11:16 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

CBS journalists were filming a beach in South Pass, Louisiana, when, according to CBS, a "boat of BP contractors and two Coast Guard officers told them to turn around or be arrested." The incident is thought by bloggers tracking the oil leak in the Gulf to not be the only time that BP has challenged the right of journalists to film.

If in fact BP has instructed crews to specifically regulate and turn away groups with video cameras or even still cameras, this raises many questions about what Americans are able to access and not access, what they are able to document and not document.

Should a person have to be embedded with authorities, corporations or organizations at the center of a disaster in order to document a disaster? Must a person be with a recognized news organization that regularly gets into press conferences in order to film critical events like the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico right now?

RAW STORY noted the effect of BP’s restrictions on reporting on the disaster and leak so far and mentioned how anecdotes from bloggers have become "a primary source of additional information." Keep in mind the videos released by BP so far have only been released as a result of pressure from Congress and other organizations. That is why BP is finally releasing a live feed of the leak.

Journalists were told by "someone aboard the boat" this is BP’s rules, not ours. That alone would be enough to seriously question the situation and ask why citizens should have to follow rules and only document what authorities, corporations, or organizations involved grant citizens permission to document. But, the Coast Guard was present and they released a statement on the matter that was published by the Mother Nature Network.

"CBS Evening News reported they were denied access to oiled shoreline by a civilian vessel that had clean-up workers contracted by BP, as well as Coast Guard personnel on board. CBS News video taped the exchange during which time one of the contractors told them (on tape) that " … this is BP’s rules not ours."

Neither BP nor the U.S. Coast Guard, who are responding to the spill, have any rules in place that would prohibit media access to impacted areas and we were disappointed to hear of this incident. In fact, media has been actively embedded and allowed to cover response efforts since this response began, with more than 400 embeds aboard boats and aircraft to date. Just today 16 members of the press observed clean-up operations on a vessel out of Venice, La.

The only time anyone would be asked to move from an area would be if there were safety concerns, or they were interfering with response operations. This did occur off South Pass Monday which may have caused the confusion reported by CBS today.

The entities involved in the Deepwater Horizon/BP Response have already reiterated these media access guidelines to personnel involved in the response and hope it prevents any future confusion." [emphasis added]

That the Coast Guard, a national military organization, is going along with whatever happened between BP and the CBS journalists should lead those involved in the creation and production of media to be even more concerned. The Coast Guard is, with this statement, legitimizing BP’s right to limit the privileges of those wishing to document the destruction.

When one breaks down the "400 embeds aboard boats and aircraft to date" the Coast Guard claims BP has allowed, it comes out to approximately 13 embeds per day in the month since the oil rig explosion occurred. And, if each embed is one journalist, this means 13 journalists per day have been allowed (on average) to document the disaster and response efforts/failures.

Is this satisfactory? Have all those interested in documenting been allowed to embed and see the devastation? Who has been turned away because BP didn’t agree with the intentions or motivations of a videographer or how a journalist wanted to frame the story?

Read between the lines. In the U.S. war in Iraq journalists have been embedded and they have followed instructions on what to cover and not cover. Such embedding has become standard procedure. Embedding socializes those engaging in media coverage. It leads them to see what is happening from the official point-of-view that those at the center may want media coverage to come from.

The Coast Guard statement also says, "The only time anyone would be asked to move from an area would be if there were safety concerns, or they were interfering with response operations." What constitutes a safety concern or interference with response operations? If that is up to BP’s discretion, it seems like anyone deemed to be a "threat" to BP could be deemed a "safety concern" and directed to leave.

It’s unlikely that CBS will push back against BP if they have in fact been restricted from filming areas of destruction on the Gulf coast. The news organization risks access privileges if they challenge authorities. The news organization also risks advertising dollars if it mounts a campaign against BP for restricting journalist access to the Gulf.

That does not mean there should not be an increased effort to track BP’s restriction of access to the Gulf. In a time when any person should be able to be a blogger, photographer, or filmmaker and can be a blogger, photographer, or filmmaker, pushing back against a corporation’s attempts to hide what is really happening in the Gulf is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, there is no record of incidents of this nature. Despite the fact that countless journalists or videographers might share anecdotes about trying to film or document corporations like Monsanto before being threatened with arrest for filming, this is not a trend that can be discussed quantitatively yet (and certainly an organization should consider tracking this comprehensively). But, when put into a world context, it makes one wonder just how much freedom people really have in this country.

Reporters Sans Frontieres, an organization that tracks the state of press freedom around the world, consistently reports on incidents like what happened between CBS, BP and the Coast Guard.

In February 2007, journalism student Mehrnoushe Solouki, who has dual French and Iranian nationality, was arrested and held in Evin prison for a month for filming "the families of the victims of violence in the 1980s and her notes and film were confiscated." She was in Tehran with the intention of producing a documentary on the 1988 ceasefire between Iran and Iraq.

In April 2005, CBS cameraman Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein was filming a ceremony at Mosul University and was shot by U.S. troops "during an exchange with rebels." He was arrested and held by the U.S. military for a year before being released. Charges were eventually dropped making it even more likely that the fact that he was there filming with a camera was why he was ultimately arrested.

In December 2005, three television crews were prevented from covering the third round of voting in Egypt’s parliamentary elections.

In March 2004, Pakistan engaged in efforts "to stop foreign and local journalists from freely covering an offensive against Taliban and al-Qaeda supporters in the Wana region of South Waziristan."

In November 2002, prior to the U.S. invasion, French TV reporters in Iraq were preventedfrom filming. The reporters attempted to report on the "Oil Road" but were bullied and censored. Reporters Sans Frontieres reported, "Police even banned them from filming rubbish on the grounds saying "this is not good for the government’s image."

In February 2002, Palestinian police prevented journalists from covering the trial of three Palestinians charged with murder. The journalists managed to film a part of the trial but the "cassettes of the television teams were forfeited by police." This happened less than a year after a photographer and an editor for Reuters, a cameraman for APTV, the satellite television correspondent of Abou Dhabi and a photographer for the AFP had been arrested and forced to forefit their footage of a demonstration in a refugee camp in Nusseirat.

It may seem over-the-top to place the incident between BP and CBS in the context of incidents between governments and press in other countries. But, with the consent of a military organization like the Coast Guard, threats of arrest made against journalists or individuals seeking to conduct coverage of a situation especially in public areas like beaches must be compared because, if it is not challenged, the repression could rise to the level of actual arrest and detention of individuals on a regular basis.

Either journalists and individuals who believe in their right to document and gather information allow authorities, corporations or organizations to place restrictions on access or they challenge it. If challenged, invariably one must expect incidents like the ones covered byReporters Sans Frontieres to occur. If BP is serious about controlling the images and words seen in relation to the oil leak, they will have to repress people.

At a time when surveillance is entirely acceptable and normal, when cameras at traffic intersections photograph those running red lights, when cameras watch your every move in city, state, federal or private buildings, when street cameras track movements of people in areas thought to have high levels of crime, the public must decide whether it will or should assert its right to survey and cover anything in the same way that authorities, corporations or organizations would assert their right to survey and cover anything.

The democratization of media makes it possible for all of us to be, at least, amateur journalists. Coverage of events no longer has to be left up to officially recognized news organizations (see OpEdNews.com and countless other Internet news sites for further examples).

This is more than an issue of press freedom. This is an issue that concerns the public’s right to share and disseminate information.

Obama’s Oil Spill Panel: Will It Be Better or Worse Than Carter’s Three Mile Island Accident Commission?

9:25 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

In the next few days, President Obama will announce the formation of an independent commission to investigate the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster. The commission will likely be similar to previous commissions convened by presidents to investigate the space shuttle Challenger disaster and the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island.

The commission convened will likely face tremendous pressure from BP, Transocean, Halliburton, and other oil and energy company interests who wish to ensure the commission organized by the Obama Administration does not come to a decision that puts further constraints on offshore drilling or drilling for oil altogether.

McClatchy Newspapers reported May 18, 2010, that BP is withholding facts about the oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico and the Obama Administration is allowing BP to withhold facts. The story said:

"… the results of tests on the extent of workers’ exposure to evaporating oil or from the burning of crude over the gulf, even though researchers say that data is crucial in determining whether the conditions are safe.

Moreover, the company isn’t monitoring the extent of the spill and only reluctantly released videos of the spill site that could give scientists a clue to the amount of the oil in gulf.

BP’s role as the primary source of information has raised questions about whether the government should intervene to gather such data and to publicize it and whether an adequate cleanup can be accomplished without the details of crude oil spreading across the gulf.

Private assurances to not follow all the data and testimony from workers, researchers, and scientists on the disaster may also be made so that information in any published report will have a limited negative impact on oil companies like BP.

Time constraints will likely be placed on the commission that will impact or hurry the work of the commission like time constraints did for the commission that investigated the Three Mile Island accident.

A "Supplemental View by Bruce Babbitt," former governor of Arizona who served on the commission that investigated the Three Mile Island accident stated:

"We had a real problem coming to grips with this issue because of the time constraints on examining the characteristics of other utilities operating nuclear power plants. I can, therefore, understand the difficulties in formulating a specific recommendation at this time.

Yet I must believe that our findings do support more than what we have said here by way of recommendations. We cannot simply urge the utility, industry, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to pay more attention to safety and to establish higher standards.

While this Commission has clearly addressed the institutional shortcomings of the NRC in its recommendations, it has not addressed the institutional problems of the industry."

The likelihood that the commission will not investigate the full extent of the accident and address the systematic or institutional failings of oil companies certainly exists.

The Three Mile Island Commission was a decent selection of individuals that combined a diversity of institutional perspectives. In addition to Babbitt, Patrick E. Haggerty, co-founder of Texas Instruments, Inc., Carolyn Lewis, Assoc. Prof. of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, Paul A. Marks, Vice President for Health Sciences and Frode Jensen Professor at Columbia University, Cora B. Marrett, Prof. of Sociology and Afro-American Studies at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, Lloyd McBride, President of the United Steelworkers of America, Harry C. McPherson, a partner with Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, and McPherson, Russell W. Peterson, President of the National Audubon Society, Thomas H. Pigford, Prof. and Chairman of the Dept. of Nuclear Engineering at U.C. Berkeley, Theodore B. Taylor, visiting lecturer at the Dept. of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University, and Anne D. Trunk, a resident of Middletown, Pennsylvania, all served on the Commission.

Voices present on that commission that should be present on the one convened by the Obama Administration include a health scientist, a voice who can speak about the impact oil has on wildlife, a union leader who can speak on behalf of the workers, an engineer who can discuss the reality of oil drilling, and, most importantly, a resident from the Gulf coast who can testify on the impact of the oilrig disaster in his or her community.

There is a small likelihood that the Obama Administration convenes a truly diverse panel on the oil rig explosion and leak in the Gulf. As Politicoreports, there are at least two investigations that have been started on the disaster: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is leading a study of the causes of the oil rig explosion; Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is working on how to split up the Minerals Management Service (MMS) into two agencies so oil drilling can be better regulated and reviewing the rules for drilling. Those investigations may be continued and finished and become the extent of the commission’s investigations; whether new, original investigations are launched for the purposes of a comprehensive public report on the disaster is probably unlikely given the track record of presidential commissions in the past decade.

Finally, it is possible that voices will not be as independent as the administration would like us to believe. Players appointed to investigate will likely be from institutions that sound like good organizations that conduct good research and studies. Upon further investigation, they will probably be revealed to have ties to the very companies or industry being investigated.

The public should hope the Obama Administration surprises those concerned about the future of the Gulf of Mexico, the people in communities on the Gulf coast, the nature and wildlife in the region, the wellbeing of workers who are employed by energy companies, and the impact on oil on planet Earth. But, the reality is that President Obama made an announcement calling for new areas to be open for offshore drilling weeks before the oil rig disaster.

Be weary of the fact that companies could use this disaster to re-brand their companies, regain the confidence of politicians, up their funding of key political leaders in shrewd manners that are not altogether obvious when campaign spending reports are disclosed, and continue to obstruct movement towards dependency on clean, renewable energy in this country.

The oil rig disaster was tragic. The aftermath could be even more tragic if the people are not vigilantly following the work of all those involved in investigating the tragedy.

________________________________________________________

If you enjoyed this article and would like to support me, please consider following this linkto my Democracy for America Scholarship for the 2010 Netroots Nation Conference application. Please voice your support so I can attend and enhance my ability to effectively compel artists and media makers to be aware of how the use of Internet technology can enhance their craft and ability to connect and mobilize people for social change.

Thank you