The Gulf of Mexico Foundation's website says it was "founded in 1990 by citizens concerned with the health and productivity of the Gulf of Mexico." Its site shows it has sponsored conservation and educational programs and partnered with the likes of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The site also says the group represents a "wide range of interests," including "agriculture, business, fisheries, industry, tourism, and the environment."
But as it turns out, industry appears to be the most represented of those interests.
At least half of the 19 members of the group's board of directors have direct ties to the offshore drilling industry. One of them is currently an executive at Transocean, the company that owns the Deepwater Horizon rig.
The Gulf of Mexico Foundation's slogan is:
America's Sea ... Keep It Shining
From the Gulf of Mexico Foundation's quarterly newsletter
April 2010 – GMF Executive Director Dr. Quenton Dokken was invited to attend the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors in Washington, D.C., on April 16. President Obama was there to welcome the invitees, and conference leaders included Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Council on Environmental Quality Chairman Nancy Sutley. The conference was about innovative approaches and partnerships for conservation that reconnect Americans – and especially children – to the nation's parks, historic sites, wild lands, working lands and waters. This is part of the White House initiative on America’s Great Outdoors. Dokken said the event was inspiring, informative, and offered many positive challenges.
According to a Press Release May 5 from The Center for Biological Diversity:
Ken Salazar's first pledge as secretary of the interior was to reform the scandal plagued Mineral Management Service (MMS), which had been found by the U.S. inspector general to have traded sex, drugs, and financial favors with oil-company executives. In a January 29, 2009 press release on the scandal, Salazar stated:
"President Obama's and my goal is to restore the public's trust, to enact meaningful reform...to uphold the law, and to ensure that all of us -- career public servants and political appointees -- do our jobs with the highest level of integrity."
Yet just three months later, Secretary Salazar allowed the MMS to approve - with no environmental review - the BP drilling operation that exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and pouring millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The disaster will soon be, if it is not already, the worst oil spill in American history.
BP submitted its drilling plan to the MMS on March 10, 2009. Rather than subject the plan to a detailed environmental review before approving it as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, the agency declared the plan to be "categorically excluded" from environmental analysis because it posed virtually no chance of harming the environment.
As BP itself pointed out in its April 9, 2010, letter to the Council on Environmental Quality, categorical exclusions are only to be used when a project will have "minimal or nonexistent" environmental impacts.
In 2006, while Salazar was in the Colorado Senate, he fought to get increased oil and gas leases in the Gulf Coast region, by sponsoring the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006.
Marian Wang writing at ProPublica May 4th noted that The New York Times in an article May 4 had cited several experts on the subject of the oil leak, and that "one of those was from a nonprofit group called the Gulf of Mexico Foundation":
"The sky is not falling," said Quenton R. Dokken, a marine biologist and the executive director of the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, a conservation group in Corpus Christi, Tex. "We’ve certainly stepped in a hole and we’re going to have to work ourselves out of it, but it isn’t the end of the Gulf of Mexico."
We have reached out to the Gulf of Mexico Foundation to ask about its ties to industry, but have yet to receive a response. We’ve also called Transocean for comment and are reaching out to the New York Times reporters who wrote the original piece citing the Foundation.
Update I: Quenton Dokken, executive director of the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, just got back to us. Dokken acknowledged his group’s ties to the oil and gas industry, saying that the industry has "never tried to dictate the direction of the Foundation or change the mission of the Foundation."
"We’ve always tried to work with every industry," Dokken told me. "Oil and gas is an industry that always steps up when we need money for educational products or habitat restoration projects. It steps up to plate and says, ‘How can we help?’"
According to Dokken, the Foundation has a budget of about $2 million. A quarter of its funding comes from private sector sources, including oil and gas companies. The other three quarters, he estimates, comes from federal and state government grants.
We were aware of GMF’s industry partnerships—and for what it’s worth, I believe they also have members from the agriculture and fishing industries, among others. As you’ll note from Dr. Dokken’s bio, the group also includes marine scientists.
You could certainly mount the argument that such co-mingling might influence his assessment of the oil slick and how bad it might get, but as I understand it, the bulk of GMF’s operating budget comes from federal and state grants, so that wasn’t my sense.
Of course, it’s probably always better to err on the side of full disclosure (ditto for Oceana, another group quoted in the article), but we operate within space constraints as well—and I believe we did link out to the various Web sites, so enterprising readers could peruse their boards and sponsors.
Update III: The NYTPicker, an anonymous group blog that watches coverage by The New York Times, had a post up this morning that pointed out the Gulf of Mexico Foundation’s ties to the oil industry. Their post also raised questions about other sources in the story. And a UC Davis professor, blogging at the Huffington Post, noted the ties at 2am this morning.
Update IV: The New York Times has now issued an editor’s note, saying the story "should have included more information about the organization." Read the full note here.
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