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First things... something YOU can do to help that doesn't involve travel or cleaning oiled wildlife. After the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling released its final recommendations for regulatory and policy changes, ostensibly to attempt to make drilling safer, the Gulf Restoration Network is requesting help in impressing on Congress and the White House the importance of implementing the changes to do their part to help restore and protect the Gulf, and prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.  (h/t Yasuragi)

Please personalize your own message, or use the sample letter.

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The National Oil Spill Commission's report on the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent crude gusher has not been terribly kind to Louisiana officials, including Governor Bobby Jindal and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser. Jindal's top advisor, Garrett Graves, said Wednesday the Washington had shown contempt for what he deemed the "Cajun ingenuity that was the real saving grace in this disaster", and called the report contemptible and factually incorrect.

According to the commission's narrative, the festering animosity in Louisiana's relationship with Washington was nurtured by a news media that thrives on conflict.

"Local resentment became a media theme and then a self-fulfilling prophecy," the report concludes. "Even those who thought the federal government was doing the best it could under the circumstance did not say so publicly."

Instead, according to the report, "journalists encouraged state and local officials and residents to display their anger at the federal response, and offered coverage when they did. (CNN reporter) Anderson Cooper reportedly asked a Parish President to bring an angry, unemployed offshore oil worker on his show. When the President could not promise the worker would be 'angry,' both were disinvited."

Graves maintained that the berms constructed in an unsuccessful attempt to halt that advance of the oil into fragile zones of the coastal marshes were well supported by both the Army Corps of Engineers and the US Coast Guard, and that reports of some of Governor Jindal's actions were "flat out wrong".

Graves said: "Coast Guard responders watched Governor Jindal -- and the TV cameras following him -- return to what appeared to be the same spot of oiled marsh day after day to complain about the inadequacy of the federal response, even though only a small amount of marsh was then oiled. When the Coast Guard sought to clean up that piece of affected marsh, Governor Jindal refused to confirm its location."

Graves said that story is false and ridiculous on several counts. The governor, he said, had "over 600 miles of oiled shoreline" to choose from, and visited multiple locations and not one secret "honey hole." And, he said, "If that Coast Guard official (detailed to accompany the governor) wanted to know where he was, he could have asked us."

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser did not come through unscathed.

The report describes a counterproductive tug of war over the boom, between states and parishes, with Nungesser at one point threatening "to blow out the tires of trucks carrying away boom." ("Though he claimed he was joking," the report writes, "the FBI called to reprimand him.")

The net result, according to the commission report: "Responders knew that in deploying boom they were often responding to the politics of the spill rather than the spill itself."

And on the berms, Chapter 5 notes that BP, which agreed to pay for the project, "estimates the cost to be $360 million, double the entire amount it had spent as of early June in helping the region respond to the oil spill."

But we here at Gulf Watchers know there is good booming and bad booming. Good booming works. Bad booming makes things worse. Most of this was really bad booming...

The Obama administration was not spared criticism when the Commission's two co-chairs -- former Florida governor and U.S. senator Bob Graham, a Democrat, and former EPA Administrator William Reilly, a Republican -- restated their view that the Obama administration's moratorium on deepwater drilling after the disaster was a mistake, though that finding was not a part of the commission's report.

But on Tuesday, Reilly said that he had concluded that "after a slow start" the administration "had responded quite effectively to this spill."

"So make no mistake about it," he said. "Despite some allegations, this was not Obama's Katrina."

 

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Gulf Coast residents find a sympathetic ear for their health complaints, but action is probably not forthcoming. The National Oil Spill Commission mentioned health concerns in their report, but the commissioners had to admit that their recommendation that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency establish stricter monitoring of the health effects of major spills is unlikely to help those who say their work in oiled waters and marshes has raised the level of carcinogenic benzene in their bodies and caused the onset of respiratory and intestinal illnesses.

"I'm sick today and nobody wants to take care of me," said James "Catfish" Miller, a fisherman from Biloxi, Miss., who worked for 60 days in BP's Vessel of Opportunity program, using his boat to help clean the Gulf.

Speaking to two of the seven Oil Spill Commission members at a final public hearing in downtown New Orleans, Miller said he was near dispersants sprayed to break up the oil, breathed in the crude's benzene component and has been in and out of the hospital ever since. He bristled at the commission's conclusion that BP's use of dispersants was a "trade-off" between the possible exposure to chemical toxins and the certain need to prevent oil from coming ashore and doing greater ecological damage.

'My life's not a trade-off'

"You people need to understand: My life's not a trade-off," Miller said angrily.

Kindra Arnesen, the wife and daughter of commercial fishermen in Venice, Louisiana, was less strident - she was a coastal community representative allowed to observe some internal spill-response meetings. Arnesen said the health issue is indeed a concern, but she praised the commission for recognizing its significance.

"I have to say, I expected the worst thing to come out of you guys; I really did," she told Donald Boesch and Frances Beinecke, the two members of the commission who weren't snowed in on the East Coast and thus managed to make it to New Orleans to face the public. "I am totally impressed."

Beinecke said health concerns are "clearly a dominant issue down here," and she promised to share the "really, really powerful" stories of despair with Obama and his Cabinet. But Boesch warned that the commission was limited in its assessment of the spill's health impacts by a lack of empirical evidence.

"We were charged with being evidence-driven, and the fact is we've asked for and sought out evidence that the oil spill is the proximate cause of these health problems, and we just haven't found it," he said.

The commission's final report tries to focus attention on the health issue, as after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But it could be difficult to establish a framework for addressing what the commission could only establish as a perception -- and not proof -- of a direct correlation between the spill and health problems.

"Whether allegations that the spill created health problems for responders and Gulf Coast residents are warranted does not change the perception among some that government has not been responsive to health concerns," the report says.

"The EPA has to do health monitoring from the get-go," Beinecke said. "We have to have baseline data and across-the-board protocols in place. But unfortunately, that doesn't help the people with health issues that they're experiencing now."

People in Miller's situation can't file workers' compensation claims for illnesses they believe were caused by oil or dispersant exposure. They are left instead to file personal-injury claims with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, the organization run by claims czar Kenneth Feinberg using a $20 billion fund set aside by BP. So far, Feinberg's organization has paid 59 people about $1,800 per claim for personal injury or death due to the rig explosion or spill.

 

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And life just keeps getting tougher for the aforementioned claims czar, Kenneth Feinberg. After a contentious meeting with residents in Grand Isle, Lousiana, on Monday, he took his show to the Jean Lafitte Civic Center in Lafitte for an hour-long roasting...

A seasoned arbitrator, Feinberg responded at times with dry humor -- "Don't hold back now" -- at times with surprising directness -- "Now, that's a valid claim" -- and often with the catch-all phrase, "I'll check into it."

One of about a dozen questioners, a frustrated Diane Poche of Lafitte, approached within a foot of Feinberg's podium, holding paperwork in one hand and waving the other as she asked Feinberg why she'd received "zero payments" so far and her husband had only garnered $13,000.

Jefferson Parish President John Young, Jefferson Parish councilmen, Coast Guard officials and former U.S. Rep. Joseph Cao, R-New Orleans, sat behind Feinberg.

Feinberg introduced Cao, the first Vietnamese-American to serve in Congress, to the crowd as a consultant for the Gulf Coast Claims Facility who will be helping Vietnamese-Americans through the claims process.

Some residents were not able to contain their desperation after being denied claims, or forced to continue in limbo while being told their claims are being processed.

When Elmer Rogers' turn came in front of Feinberg, he asked if Feinberg remembered him. Rogers said he'd met with Feinberg in September and that Feinberg had assured him he'd get paid within 48 hours. Having later been denied payment, Rogers told Feinberg on Tuesday that he and his children barely ate anything for Thanksgiving and woke up with no water and power on Christmas. Rogers then dropped to his knees and pleaded with the claims czar.

Feinberg stated in turn that he knew about Rogers' claim, which has been written about previously in New Orleans Times-Picayune, and that he would speak to him personally within a day.

When asked by a Times-Picayune reporter about Rogers' case in December, Feinberg would not discuss it directly, but had said "there's a very, very good reason" if someone's been waiting as long as Rogers, and that something is missing.

As you might expect, claimants are being put between the legal equivalent of a rock and a very hard place - take a settlement now with the promise never to sue BP, or get on a rotation of filing claim after claim.

Feinberg explained to the audience that people can either file an interim claim every 90 days through August 2013, or, if they are willing to forgo a suit against BP, they can either opt for a final settlement offer or take a one-time quick payment of $5,000 for individuals and $25,000 for businesses to be paid within two weeks.

Of the 470,509 businesses and individuals who have submitted claims under the $20 billion BP fund, about $3 billion has been released to 168,000 claimants, according to Gulf Coast Claims Facility statistics.

All but about 200 of those paid claims were for lost earnings or profits. The remaining 200 paid claims fell under one of four other possible categories: removal and cleanup costs, real or personal property, loss of subsistence use of natural resources, or physical injury or death, according to the facility's statistics.  

In Louisiana, of the about 191,174 claimants who filed, 59,746 have received payments. Louisiana businesses and individuals have received about $1 billion of the $3 billion already released, according to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility numbers.

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Drilling chief wants higher fines for offenses.  The Obama administration is considering ways to increase civil penalties for companies that violate rules for offshore drilling, a senior regulator said Thursday.

Michael Bromwich, director of the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said current fines of up to $35,000 per incident per day are "patently inadequate to deter violations."

In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Bromwich said legislation likely would be required to make meaningful changes.

Bromwich praised a report this week by a presidential panel investigating the BP oil spill, and said his agency has already begun many of the reforms the report urges.

"The Deepwater Horizon tragedy has shaken government - and I hope industry - out of a complacency and overconfidence that had developed over the past several decades," Bromwich said. Increased dangers of ultra-deep water drilling "were not matched by increased vigilance and concern for the safety of those operations."

Bromwich said he understands the frustration of the oil and gas industry and its supporters, who accuse the Obama administration of moving too slowly to allow new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. But he said new rules were needed to keep pace with technological advances and industry ambitions to drill in ever deeper waters.

"A retreat on drilling safety is simply not an option," he said.

Yeah, but with this Congress, how the hell are we going to get effective legislation, pray tell?

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And slightly off-topic, and on the other side of the pond, but definitely in line with a ban on mountaintop-removal methods of coal mining here in the States - George Monbiot weighs in on what needs to happen in England... Both Scotland and Wales have strict rules on how close "opencast" (pit) coal mines can be to residential areas. But England, despite vocal campaigns, still has no restrictions on how close a open-pit mine can be to homes and schools. In response to public complaints, the governments of Wales and Scotland changed their planning policies. They now have buffer zones for opencast coal mines. What this means is that coal can't be quarried within 500 metres of people's homes.

There are good reasons for this rule. Before it was introduced in Wales, I saw how the lives of people in Merthyr Tydfil were being ruined by the mine on their doorsteps. The green hillside they had looked out on, where they walked their dogs and where their children played, is being turned into a hole – the Ffos-y-Fran pit – 200 metres deep and three kilometres wide. The edge of the pit is just 36 metres from the nearest homes. Their peace is shattered by the sound of blasting and digging and the daily journeys of hundreds of monster trucks; their homes are harder to sell; their view has been ruptured. Why should anyone have to put up with this? One year, your village or suburb might back on to a peaceful green landscape; the next year, it might overlook a great black pit – and there's little you can do to stop it.

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And don't forget the Gulf Watchers Block Party this evening. Yasuragi will host. Please join us!

PLEASE visit Pam LaPier's diary to find out how you can help the Gulf now and in the future. We don't have to be idle! And thanks to Crashing Vor and Pam LaPier for working on this!

Previous Gulf Watcher diaries:

1-12-11 07:13:34Gulf Watchers Wed. - Media Ignores Deepwater Horizon Commission Report - BP Catastrophe AUV #455peraspera
1-10-11 16:27:46Gulf Watchers Monday - New leak shuts down BP's Alaska Pipeline - BP Catastrophe AUV #454shanesnana
1-09-11 07:22:56Gulf Watchers Sunday - U.K. Recommends Stronger Measures Than U.S. - BP Catastrophe AUV #453Yasuragi
1-07-11 08:05:59Gulf Watchers Friday - Drill More, Tax Less - BP Catastrophe AUV #452Lorinda Pike

The last Mothership has links to reference material.

Previous motherships and ROV's from this extensive live blog effort may be found here.

Again, to keep bandwidth down, please do not post images or videos.

Originally posted to Lorinda Pike on Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 05:07 AM PST.

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