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Three Gulf Coast victories scored since the BP spill

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You will hear a lot of gloomy reports about the state of the Gulf Coast as we approach the fourth-year commemoration of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster on April 20. And that’s fair. BP deserves little cheer in the face of widespread health problems across the Gulf, for both humans and marine animals, and the disappearance of entire fishing communities. Despite what BP is telling us, it ain’t all good. But it ain’t all bad, either. Gulf Coast communities from the Florida Panhandle to Texas’s right shoulder had been through a few disaster rodeos before the BP spill. They’ve survived hurricanes named for just about every letter of the alphabet. And they’ve endured careless and reckless decisions from every level of government, way more than one time too many. Given those past experiences, residents and activists along the Gulf corralled together after the BP disaster to make sure their most immediate concerns would be heard this time around. Region-wide networks like the Gulf Future Coalition and the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health were formed immediately after the spill to harness the expertise of Gulf citizens who often historically were excluded from recovery processes. Through guiding documents like the Unified Action Plan for a Healthy Gulf and media projects like Bridge the Gulf, community members were able to voice their concerns and demands, free of bureaucratic or political filters. These projects gave Gulf residents the opportunity not only to frame the Gulf recovery narrative, but also to influence government-led recovery plans. The result has been three demonstrable victories: 1. The Gulf Coast gets to keep the money: The current civil trial against BP to determine how much the company will pay in Clean Water Act fines won’t conclude until next year, but scientists and legal experts expect fines to total upwards of $20 billion, which normally would be great news … for the U.S. Treasury. Under the Oil Spill Liability Act, such fines are directed to a special Treasury account to be used to cope with future oil tragedies. But Gulf Coast communities said, “Wayment, y’alls oil and gas drillers been foulin’ up our waters for decades. We deserve that money for the tragedies y’all been causin’ today.” The community groups wrote up a new law called the RESTORE Act, which would keep 80 percent of the BP fine money right there in the Gulf, and out of reach of D.C.’s balanced-budget stalkers. Inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom says no one’s been able to get anything passed through Congress the past few years. Well, the RESTORE Act passed, and it’s now law. The Gulf Coast keeps the money. Derrick Evans, director of the Gulf Coast Fund, explains it better in this video. 2. Gulf Coast residents get some health care (even as they’re denied the full benefits of Obamacare): Unexplained illnesses have become prevalent in the wake of the spill, particularly among those involved in the emergency cleanup response immediately after. Despite an untold number of Gulf residents complaining of respiratory problems, rashes, and nausea, BP stated it would not hear any health-related grievances through its claims process. In fact, BP publicly doubted that any of the reported illnesses were connected to the oil spill. But Gulf advocates did not let BP off that easy. When the company settled part of its civil case with a party of commercial fishermen and oil workers for $7.8 billion in 2012, activists were able to finagle a $105 million carve-out for health centers to be built in every Gulf state. These new health facilities will provide services to all Gulf residents, not just those directly impacted by the oil spill, and also epidemiological training for doctors so they can better monitor for spill-related illnesses as they surface over time. “These communities gave input early on that helped to shape the program that is now coming back to provide health services to them,” says Steve Bradberry, executive director of The Alliance Institute, which helped facilitate the community input. Another silver lining here is that the new health centers, some of which are just now coming online, are being built in states where the governors have turned down federal funding to expand Medicaid. 3. You don’t have to rely on Anderson Cooper for your Gulf news anymore: When disaster strikes the Gulf, national media forces like CNN and The New York Times drone in to capture the melee, then disperse at the first sign of another news story elsewhere in the world. And then Spike Lee comes and shoots a documentary, and it’s a wrap. But that’s not the whole picture anymore. Gulf residents have taken their stories into their own hands, eyes, and voices, mainly through documentaries. The result is what film scholars will hopefully one day recognize as the definitive canon of cinematic Gulf tales of survival. I’ve written about a couple of them, such as Leah Mahan’s Come Hell or High Water and Nailah Jefferson’s Vanishing Pearls. Add to that list Monique Verdin’s My Louisiana Love and Margaret Brown’s The Great Invisible. Then offscreen there’s Cry You One, a play that takes its audience directly to the bayous and wetlands of Louisiana for its narrative — literally. These stories — along with those told in the hundreds of local blogs, news outlets, and books that have sprouted in the past few years — will give future historians a view from the ground of what restoration looked like, who benefited, and who was excluded.Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics

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Obama delays Keystone decision — again

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Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before: The Obama administration is delaying a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. But this is different from all those past delays. This is a brand new delay — and it might push the final determination past the midterm elections. As Politico notes, “A delay past November would spare Obama a politically difficult choice on whether to approve the pipeline, angering his green base and environmentally minded campaign donors — or reject it, endangering pro-pipeline Democrats such as [Sen. Mary] Landrieu, who represents oil-rich Louisiana.” The Washington Post explains the reasoning behind this latest delay: The Obama administration has — again — postponed a decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline by giving eight different agencies more time to submit their views on whether the pipeline from Canada’s oil sands to the Texas gulf coast is in the national interest. The 90-day period for interagency comments was supposed to end May 7, but the State Department extended that deadline, citing “uncertainty” created by a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling that could lead to changes in the pipeline route. The State Department, which must make the final decision on the permit because it crosses an international boundary, said it would use the additional time to consider the “unprecedented number” — 2.5 million — of public comments that were submitted by March 7. Queue the predictable outcry from pipeline supporters. That includes not just Republicans (though outcrying is their specialty) but also the 11 Democratic senators from red and swing states who recently wrote Obama a letter calling on him to quickly approve the project. “This decision is irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable,” said Landrieu, who organized the letter writers. She vowed to use her new position as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to force approval. (Good luck with that.) Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski from the oil-loving state of Alaska called the delay “a stunning act of political cowardice” and said that “the timing of this announcement — waiting until a Friday afternoon during the holy Passover holiday in the hope that most Americans would be too busy with their families to notice — only adds further insult.” Keystone opponents are of two minds. Billionaire climate hawk and campaign funder Tom Steyer called it “good news on Good Friday.” The League of Conservation Voters went further and called it “great news.” The Natural Resources Defense Council seems to agree: The State Department is taking the most prudent course of action possible. … Getting this decision right includes being able to evaluate the yet-to-be determined route through Nebraska and continuing to listen to the many voices that have raised concerns about Keystone XL. The newly extended comment period will show what we already know: the more Americans learn about this project, the more they see that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest. But 350.org slammed the administration for its procrastination. “It’s disappointing President Obama doesn’t have the courage to reject Keystone XL right now,” the group said in a release. “It’s as if our leaders simply don’t understand that climate change is happening in real time — that it would require strong, fast action to do anything about it.” Still, the group claimed a partial victory: “this is clearly another win for pipeline opponents.” Anti-Keystoners will, of course, keep fighting the proposal. On Earth Day, April 22, they’ll kick off a Reject and Protect protest on the National Mall. “The encampment will feature 15 tipis and a covered wagon, and begins on Tuesday with a 40-person ceremonial horseback ride from the Capitol down the National Mall,” says 350. “Ranchers from Nebraska, tribal leaders from Nebraska, Minnesota and the Dakotas, actor Daryl Hannah, the Indigo Girls, environmental and social justice leaders, and others will take part at the encampment over the week.” And Steyer has promised to help fund political candidates who oppose the pipeline. Politico reports that he “pledged Thursday to leverage his largely self-funded super PAC to support members of Congress who come under attack for their opposition to the proposed Canada-to-Texas pipeline.”Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics

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Senior Dem’s Tough Re-Election

After 38 years in Congress, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) is facing his toughest race yet and could join a number of longtime members in leaving Congress next year.

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Go It Alone, Obama, for Democracy

He’s been hammered for going around Congress with executive orders. But he’s within his authority—and he should go further on voting and transparency to make government work better.

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Intel Bigs: Don’t Free Israeli Spy

The Obama administration’s proposed deal for convicted spy Jonathan Pollard is facing a bipartisan backlash from Congress.

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Xi wins EU pledge to weigh free-trade deal

<!– google_ad_section_start –> President Xi Jinping won a promise from the European Union yesterday to consider a multibillion-dollar free-trade deal with his country, a long-held goal for Beijing which divides Europe. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Senior party officials at start of trial of ‘mafia’ tycoon Liu Han in Xianning, Hubei

<!– google_ad_section_start –> More than 150 top Communist Party officials arrived in Xianning, Hubei province, yesterday to oversee the highly anticipated trial of Sichuan mining tycoon Liu Han for alleged mafia-style crimes. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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How a Dream Became a Law

Enacting the landmark Civil Rights Act took a lot more than arm-twisting by Lyndon Johnson. Civility and canny bipartisanship in Congress were the key factors.

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Kerry, Lavrov look for ways to cool standoff over Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State, Russian foreign minister meet in Paris to discuss de-escalation

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Fedor Burlatsky obituary

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Political scientist who sought reform from within the Soviet Communist party and was an early advocate of perestroikaBehind its facade of unity, the post-Stalin Soviet Communist party was nothing like as single-minded as its leaders pretended and as many in the outside world believed. It contained radically different undercurrents: among the reformers essential to Mikhail Gorbachev’s eventual programme of perestroika was Fedor Burlatsky, who has died aged 87.A vivid personality and at times an influential figure in intellectual and political life, he observed enough of the rules of the game to maintain a comfortable, although far from lavish, lifestyle. His political writings often pushed to the limits of the permissible: he was an eloquent representative of those party insiders who were critical both of the influence of the military-industrial complex and of Russian nationalist currents within the party.

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Climate change ‘complicates’ global security

Top scientists say climate change will complicate and worsen global security problems such as wars and refugees.

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Tensions rise as Myanmar holds census

Buddhist nationalists threaten to boycott tally over fears it could lead to recognition for Rohingyas.

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China seizes US$14.5b assets from family, associates of ex-security chief Zhou Yongkang

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Chinese authorities have seized assets worth at least 90 billion yuan (HK$112.5 billion) from family members and associates of retired domestic security tsar Zhou Yongkang, who is at the centre of China’s biggest corruption scandal in more than six decades, two sources sa <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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China seizes $14.5bn of ex-official assets

Illegal assets were seized from family members and associates of retired domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang.

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US officials cut number missing in landslide

Number of people presumed missing after Washington state disaster drops from 90 to 30 after many are confirmed alive.

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NM GOP rep fires new press secretary over tweet about Jews going ‘up in smoke’

Seventy-two hours after Rebekah Stevens had been introduced as communications director for Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., the congressman asked for, and received, her resignation after fall-out from her Twitter account became too large of a distraction for his office, according to the Albuquerque…

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Vitali Klitschko adds heavyweight support to Ukraine’s chocolate king

Ex-boxer backs billionaire Petro Poroshenko for president in an attempt to prevent the return of former leader Yulia Tymoshenko Former world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, considered a strong contender to become Ukraine’s next leader, upended the country’s presidential race Saturday by announcing he will throw his support instead behind a billionaire chocolate maker.Klitschko told his UDAR party that he plans to run for mayor of Ukraine’s capital city, Kiev, paving the way for current presidential favourite, businessman Petro Poroshenko, in the May 25 vote.

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Car bomb hits Lebanese army checkpoint

At least three soldiers killed in suicide car bomb attack on army checkpoint in border town of Arsal, officials say.

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Venezuela death toll rises amid new protests

Two more deaths linked to demonstrations, according to government, taking total during weeks of protests to 39.

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America, Inc. at it’s Finest

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