Corruption / Energy & Environment / Transparency

Grassroots Organizations Battle to be Heard

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Oil Spill Commission hearings attract advocacy groups to New Orleans

As the National Oil Spill Commission began in New Orleans, those not invited took to the streets to voice their concerns. No more than 60 people are to speak at the two-day hearing, and this sparked the New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce to host a rally outside the venue (the Hilton Riverside).

Public attendance may have been minimal at 8.30am on a Monday, but that did not discourage a variety of competing advocacy groups. They took the opportunity to interact with the array of media present, including C-SPAN and local television affiliates.

The NORBCC, represented by board member Louis Libers, is “trying to make sure that [the black community] will have an opportunity to participate in the rebuilding efforts and the clean-up efforts in the Gulf.” Rather than commit to a particular policy, the organization and community they represent “just want to be involved in the process,” and so far they do not see that engagement.

Protesters with the Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster

Other attendee organizations, such as the Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster, held less subtle views. They advocate a complete cessation of drilling in the Gulf, until safer technology can be established.

One member, Tim Dodt, hopes “this incident will lead people away from fossil fuels… so they get serious about renewable energies.” He had travelled all the way from Michigan to aid in the clean up. However, he “ran into a lot of road blocks,” and he “hasn’t been able to help with anything.” His sign read “No Lies, No Cover-up, No Censorship – Full Transparency,” and now he is primarily concerned with the toxicity of the dispersants being used as part of the clean-up.

Paul Besse (right) with another volunteer from the Louisiana Grassroots Network

Only a few steps away, volunteers for the Louisiana Grass Roots Network disapproved of any moratorium, as both a punishment on innocent parties and a dampener on employment in the area. Volunteer Paul Besse also pointed out how local governments had proposed sand barriers for impeding the oil from entering inland marshes. Yet the Environmental Protection Agency delayed this and then only approved around 10 percent of the project. He is not opposed to federal involvement, but in his view they appear to be hindering rather than helping with the clean up.

Nearby, a dozen taxis and their drivers lay idle – watching and waiting for customers. One driver, Eratua Mwangala, shared that business was down to about half of the normal level for this time of year. Tourists, he thinks, are staying away, perhaps because they suspect the quality of the local seafood. As a driver, he says he will not be eligible for compensation, since his impact is not direct, but that doesn’t change the fact that he can no longer pay his bills.

Although the groups present might have seemed at odds with each other, there was a consensus that more transparency, urgency, and action are desperately needed. Their patience has run down with the ongoing talk, as the effects continue to deepen.

Fergus Hodgson is the capitol bureau reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be contacted at fhodgson@pelicaninstitute.org, and one can follow him on twitter.

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