Baton Rouge and the Louisiana Democracy Project

1001447_546530882053016_556959833_n 1002091_546530888719682_202879575_n943721_10152880080220247_1298885727_nOn the first day of arriving in Baton Rouge the Ride For the Future Team was invited to attend a meeting called Pray for our Air. So we got on our bikes and headed over there. We pass the second largest oil refinery in the country to the north and sporadic patches of an Exxon-sponsored flower garden to the south. We were overwhelmed by the horrible stench of the plant.
Stephanie Anthony began the meeting with, “The first thing we should all do is pray for our air. God we pray that the politicians, lawmakers, and businessman allow our children to breathe clean air.” Stephanie Anthony of the Louisiana Democracy Project was hosting a meeting at Allen Chapel Baptist Church in the Scenic Blvd. neighborhood, a fence line community. The 2,400 acre ExxonMobil petrochemical complex had an underpublicized incident last week. Only one resident at the meeting had received a phone call from ExxonMobil following the accident. The company representative only stated that an incident had occurred and that it had already been resolved. No quantitative measures of exposure were mentioned to the resident. Last week’s incident is one of several that occurred in the past year. Ms. Anthony and several community members are outraged by the audacity of Exxon’s request for a new permit to increase the annual limit of chemicals released into the atmosphere. Exxon already releases 24 tons of sulfur dioxide a day, a dangerously high amount.
In response, the community has formed a petition to be presented at the Environmental Protection Agency conference on environmental justice in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Hopefully the petition would place Exxon on probation for new permits so that Scenic Blvd. residents have healthier air. The Ride for the Future team collaborated with the Louisiana Democracy Project and canvassed around the neighborhood surrounding Exxon to gain signatures and support for the petition.
A few days later we met with Stephanie Anthony again and helped to clean up a community garden at the Little Rising Sun Baptist church. We met with local children and showed them our crane project.
-Erik Rundquist
-Omar Navarro

Arriving in Baton Rouge: A list of Positives

936387_4754798842712_1893710202_nI am writing this the evening of June 4th, 2013. The following are the contributions to what I now reflect on as a great morning.

1. The sun was hidden by the big fluffy clouds. 50% chance of rain but it never did, instead our team was greeted continuously by the cool breeze, which flew past us and created the illusion that we were light and purposefully speeding across the roads towards our destination. I could feel myself getting stronger as my feet relentlessly peddle. I felt the same ache in the muscles of my legs but it didn’t stop me or slow me down this time, I only wanted to go faster.

2. I managed to take wonderful pictures of my team on the road. Although what hung above us most frequently were thick blankets of cloud, occasionally they would separate and let the sun rays fall onto Baton Rouge, which enhanced all the colors that we could see: our shirts a juicy bright orange, the sky blue with a radiating calmness and the trees a lush green.

3. A happy accident. We stopped at Home Depot on our way to Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, halting our bikes in the parking lot. A few people asked us questions, their curiosities about what a group of sweaty young adults were doing in a Home Depot parking lead to their momentary stop beside us. I never tire of the shocked reaction, the unrestrained gasp of “What?” when we tell people that we are biking to Houston. There are others that give us advice on biking on the freeways, telling us to be careful. The most memorable being “There are three kinds of drivers: Those that don’t know how to drive, those that don’t care how they drive, and those that don’t care that they don’t know how to drive.” The brief connection with these people as we tell them our purpose and the formation of a rapport as they give us their sincere opinion make up the special moments of this trip. One individual who stopped by made me feel truly lucky. As the team’s media coordinator, I’ve found the prospect of outreach quite daunting. When Othello Carter, an independent photographer of New Orleans walked up to us, with a camera slung over his shoulder, he shooed away those doubts I had, that perhaps our story wasn’t that great or significant, by asking about what we were doing and wanting to capture us with his camera.
Othello Carter is a talented photographer, you can check out his amazing work at http://www.othellocarter.com

All these things culminated into a great arrival in Baton Rouge.  I am looking forward to our stay in the capital.

-Daphne Chang

Bridge The Gulf: Ada Mcmahon

Before Ride for the Future began, participants were assigned readings in preparation to provide context for what we’ll be doing this summer, which is visiting Gulf Coast communities to collect individuals’ stories told of their struggles imposed by oil extraction, refining, production and climate change. Two articles that had been taken from Bridge the Gulf Project had an immediate distinction amongst the scientific studies we had to read. I noticed an authentic and unique voice from people from the Gulf Coast community speaking about everyday ground struggles in an area vulnerable to sea-level rise and still suffering from the repercussions of the BP Oil Spill in 2005. This gave me a vague idea of what the Bridge the Gulf Project was about. Ada Mcmahon, an editor at Bridge the Gulf, visited the team and enlightened us on the commendable intentions of the project, which aims to create a platform for individuals in the Gulf Coast community to able to express and tell their stories. They create citizen journalists and train them to utilize media in order to amplify their voice, allowing their stories to reach a wider audience across the internet. The power of it lies in the many sparks across the communities carried in the passion and indignation of those suffering in the community, and as they become aware of their own influence and others’, they began to build a movement.

Because we are still only beginning our journey our objective is not fully fleshed out, however Ada’s explanation of Bridge the Gulf’s mission resonated with us deeply. I shared the perspective that the many authentic voices weaving stories of struggle creates a larger and impactful picture of the prioritization of fulfilling our energy demand through fossil fuels over human lives. This, I believe could be instrumental in the environmental justice movement, although as someone who has only scratched the surface of what makes a successful movement capable of drastic change (which the current climate crisis demands), I’m still full of uncertainties when considering the complex intricacies of the dynamics between localized grassroots organizers, who are capable of voicing a diverse group of people and NGOS working on a national scale, who may removed from the many concerns of people “on the ground”. Where is the compromise? Ada’s response seems to suggest that every movement is different and there is no clear cut formula or established rule to follow. Collaboration seems to be the most difficult when coordinating successful actions that strive to impact as many as possible, due to the plethora of voices, which all come from unique perspectives. However, one thing that Ada said struck me as something I could hold onto amidst all these potentially conflicting factors we must consider as young activists with the intentions of creating change entering the larger movement, full of passionate organizers with years more of experience, against fossil fuels. “You are who you are, show up as yourself,” which was a response to Kaela Bamberger’s question on how to deal with skeptics or those who may shoot us down.

I know that we, the Riders for the Future, have the passion and drive to fight for our futures. However, our awareness for the injustices against humanity also makes us self conscious of our naivete and our positions as outsiders when approaching Gulf Coast communities. Ada’s words gives me hope, that if we express ourselves and our desire to collaborate to these communities by actively listening to their stories and what they think would help themselves, they will accept us. In the end, I believe our power lies in the fact that we are people that care about other people, and despite our many differences, we will come together to fight for the future of humanity.

Find out more about this amazing project at http://bridgethegulfproject.org

-Daphne Chang

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade

IMG_2574My encounter with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade led to my rude awakening to how regulators and institutions, which the public is supposed to trust, can blatantly lie to cover the horrible truth in an attempt to avoid responsibility for the repercussions of their actions. The specific incident Kellen, who paid us Riders for the Future a visit to inform us about the Bucket Brigade, enlightened us on occurred last summer of 2012. A report of a 10 pound release of benzene (a known human carcinogen) from the Baton Rouge ExxonMobil facility was filed. Further investigations by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade uncovered the actual amount released: 28,000 pounds. I was in shock. Not only because 10 pounds of benzene was already a dangerous amount for humans to be exposed to but because if the Louisiana Bucket Brigade hadn’t pushed the EPA to investigate further, the truth may never have been uncovered. The impacts of the release would’ve only been felt and haunted daily by the individuals inhabiting fenceline communities (communities within 2 miles of a refinery).

Kellan also told us about The Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s iWitness Pollution Map, which provides a channel for anybody in Louisiania to report pollution from chemical accidents, oil spills etc. A report generally consists of health effects, description of smell, location and wind direction. Individuals can access all previous reports submitted and the scale of pollution in a region can be measured. Another service by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade is the Rapid Response Team, which have partnered with the coast guard. If a huge impact occurs from a refinery accident, the team conducts informal health surveys throughout the community. Then they can provide a claim number for individuals affected to call and request reimbursement for medical expenses. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade appears to me, to service the communities by providing a forum for individuals to make accurate reports of pollution impacts, which are kept on record. Then the Brigade endeavors to figure out the source of these impacts, bringing attention to them and hold them accountable.

Eventually Kellan had to leave us. I am feel more comforted knowing of the Bucket Brigade’s existence, and I felt sharply, the importance of the duty I must fulfill this summer. Thank you Kellan, for pulling back the curtain and revealing the uncomfortable truth: the fenceline communities that suffer greatly rarely have the power or opportunity to change their situation. This truth motivates me to venture out and collect the individual accounts of the actual impacts of oil, gas and coal extraction on surrounding communities, and with these stories of truth that we carry from then on, to contribute to the movement against fossil fuel industries that fight for the environmental injustices. Hopefully our actions may lead to the alleviation of these individuals struggles and pain.

Find out more at http://www.labucketbrigade.org

-Daphne Chang

Louisiana is Sinking

wetlands

The oil and gas industry is involved in the disappearance of the Louisiana wetlands primarily in that its incessant exploration for resources in the area puts huge sections of the land underwater. The Ride for the Future team met with Aaron Viles, Deputy Director of the Gulf Restoration Network, and he reported that from 30 to 60 percent of the land lost could be traced back to the oil industry. The pipeline canals prevent sheet flow, a continuous cycling of water and sediment, which creates the foundation for the land.

“Used and neglected” are the words Viles used to describe the treatment of the Orleans parish by an industry looking to exploit its subsea resources. This issue of corporate accountability is what spurned the birth of the Gulf Restoration Network and the healthy gulf project (healthygulf.org). “No one likes to go after the polluters,” Viles said. That was until the BP oil spill in 2010. Now the main campaign of the Gulf Restoration Network is to guide the reparation money toward meaningful restoration projects instead of beachfront development in Alabama.

Here is a link to a protest the Gulf Restoration Network was involved in to make sure that BP pays for its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

– Kaela Bamberger

Uncollected Debt to the Public -Sarah Sims

Uncollected Debt to the Public

In 1995, President Clinton signed the Deep Water Royalty Relief Act (DWRRA), effectively eliminating royalties on leases for drilling in most of the Gulf of Mexico water deeper than 656 ft1. In 2000, the Mineral Management Service continued royalty relief with a similar program.8 The Bush administration extended and added to the reliefs in 2005 and the federal government has never collected the royalties that would have been due on these offshore leases. The act financially incentivizes drilling in areas where the oil companies themselves would not otherwise risk drilling. As a result, oil companies involved with deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico have largely been on a royalty-free ride for the last 17 years.

The U.S. Public Trust Doctrine holds that federal lands and resources are to be entrusted to the federal government for the benefit of the American public.2 DWRRA worked as a sort of “sale” to oil companies, incentivizing an influx in deep water drilling for a set time-period, with the intent of following with a sunset clause and eventually reaping the benefit of collecting royalties from a more developed deep water drilling industry. However, the senate passed the energy legislation without the proposed bill of provisions such as a price threshold.3 As a result, despite how high the price of gasoline has reached, oil and gas companies with record profits continue drilling with the benefit of royalty relief in the Gulf of Mexico and without due return for the sale of resources extracted from public land. When compared to individual mineral rights owners, rarely is there no cost to those leasing the land or no benefits for whomever owns the land.

The Minerals Management Service (MMS) has estimated that from 1996 to 2000, royalty relief in deep water Gulf of Mexico may have cost the government as much as $80 billion in public revenue.3 However, due to the complexity of the royalty relief act and lack of transparency by the government and the oil companies, the exact figures are unknown3. Still, the fact remains that despite oil companies’ record profits, they are permitted to continue extracting from public land at little benefit to the American people. This royalty relief act appears to be in direct violation of the intent of the U.S. Public Trust Doctrine as there is certainly no benefit to the American public in the case of Gulf of Mexico deep water offshore drilling; in fact, the public actually bears a cost,

Additionally, the DWRRA holds that the more risky drilling in an area is, the more royalty relief is given to the oil companies. Surprisingly, while incentivizing riskier drilling in deep waters, the act also limits liability for damage to $75 million per incident.5 As a result, oil companies drilling in the Gulf of Mexico can effectively get public resources at no cost them and, if they cause damage, they are not liable to pay for it if it exceeds the capped amount. As the highly publicized and damaging BP oil spill in recent history has demonstrated, damages often exceed $75 million. There are many such spills the public never hears of.

The top two most profitable companies in 2011, Exxon Mobile and Chevron, profited $41.6 billion and 26.9 billion respectively.6 It is unconscionable that an industry with record profits continues to receive royalty relief from the federal government while education programs are being cut to balance the national budget. The integrity of the process is questionable when on one side of the fiscal scale, health benefits for elders are being cut and on the other side the public pays oil and gas companies to drill in risky places. In April 2005 President Bush urged action in regards to energy. He said, “With oil at more than $50 a barrel, by the way, companies do not need taxpayers’-funded incentives to explore for oil and gas.”7 Oil is now more than $80 a barrel. We agree with President Bush. It is time to end the royalty relief subsidy set exclusively for the oil and gas industry and for the American public to have their national resources managed in a more fiscally responsible way.

1 Outer Continental Shelf Deep Water Royalty Relief Act: report. 43 U.S.C. §§ 1331-1356. Washington, D.C.?: U.S. G.P.O., 1994. Print.
2 The Public trust doctrine. Albany, N.Y.: Government Law Center of Albany Law School, 1991. Print.
3 “U.S. GAO – Oil and Gas Royalties.” U.S. Government Accountability Office. N.p., 5 June 2008. Web. 17 June 2012. .
4 Humphries, Marc. Royalty Relief for U.S. Deepwater Oil and Gas Leases. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, 2008. Print.
5 Alexander, Lynn. Recovering 600 Billion by Collecting the Rent on Our Public Lands. Resource Renewal Institute, January 2011
6 Keating, Caitlin. “20 Most Profitable Companies 2012.” CNNMoney: Fortune 500. Cable News Network, 7 May 2012. Web. 26 June 2012. .
http://dpc.senate.gov/dpcdoc.cfm?doc_name=sr-110-2-103
7 Will Senate Republicans Stand With the American Taxpayer or Allow Oil Companies to Reap a $60 Billion Giveaway from Offshore Drilling Leases?.” Democratic Policy Committee. N.p., 18 June 2008. Web. 20 June 2012. .
8 Hallwood, Paul. “Rent Sharing and Offshore Oil Production.” “A Note on US Royalty Relief, Rent Sharing and Offshore Oil Production” by Paul Hallwood. UC Department of Economics, 1 Apr. 2007. Web. 20 June 2012. .

-Sarah Sims