Weekly Mulch: One Year After the BP Oil Spill, None the Wiser

 

By Megan Hagist, Media Consortium blogger

One year after the worst oil spill in U.S. history began, key questions about its environmental impact remain unanswered. The 4.9 million barrels of BP oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico continue to threaten marine wildlife and other vile surprises have surfaced along the way.

Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard lists 10 reasonswhy we should not let the BP spill fade into the background. Perhaps the most important is the spill’s effect on locals’ health, about which Sheppard reports:

Of the 954 residents in seven coastal communities, almost half said they had experienced health problems like coughing, skin and eye irritation, or headaches that are consistent with common symptoms of chemical exposure. While the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is conducting health monitoring for spill cleanup workers, residents in the areas closest to the spill are concerned that their own health problems have gone unattended.

Unfortunately, protests from these communities are unheard. Low-income and minority communities are typically targeted for oil production due to inadequate political power, but indigenous women in the United States and Canada are ready to change that.

Acting Against Big Oil

Organizations like Resisting Environmental Destruction On Indigenous Lands (REDOIL),  Indigenous Environmental Network, and Women’s Earth Alliance are working together to apply continuous pressure on oil companies in order to stop some of their more environmentally disastrous projects. Ms. Magazine’s Catherine Traywick shares insight from activist Faith Gemmill:

“We are trying to build the capacity of community leaders who are on the frontlines of these issues so that they can address these issues themselves,” Gemmill says. Her organization trains community members who are confronted with massive industrial projects and provides them with legal assistance and political support. Women’s Earth Alliance similarly links indigenous women leaders with legal and policy advocates who can, pro-bono, help them fight extractive industry, waste dumping and fossil-fuel production on sacred sites.

Meanwhile, Congress continues to neglect the National Oil Spill Commission’s advice to endorse safety regulations, while demands for domestic offshore drilling become more vocal under presumptions of lower gas prices and increased employment. But are these reasons worth the economic and environmental risks associated with drilling offshore?

According to Care2’s Jill Conners and Matthew McDermott, the answer is no. They break down the facts, noting:

Political posturing notwithstanding, offshore drilling will not eliminate US demand for foreign oil or really even make significant strides into reducing that dependency. At current consumption, the US uses about 8 billion barrels of oil per year; conventionally recoverable oil from offshore drilling is thought to be 18 billion barrels total, not per year.  What’s more, offshore oil drilling will not guarantee lower fuel prices — oil is a global  commodity, and US production is not big enough to influence global prices.

What about Wind Power?

On Wednesday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement approved the Cape Wind Project, a plan to build an offshore wind farm five miles off the southern coast of Cape Cod. First proposed 10 years ago, the farm will consist of 130 wind turbines, each 440 feet tall and capable of producing 3.6-megawatts of energy.

The controversial project has been opposed by some environmentalists, who expressed fears that the installation of the turbines could have destructive impacts related to aviation traffic, fishing use, migratory birds, and oil within the turbine generators, among other issues.

Moral issues are raised too, as local tribes have fought against the Cape Wind project. Earth Island Institute’s Sacred Film Land Project has reported on the Wampanoag Indian tribes’ petitions, which ask for protection of sacred rituals and a tribal burial grounds located directly in Cape Wind’s path of installation.

Green-Ed

A somewhat worrisome study published Monday by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communicationsheds light on Americans’ climate change knowledge. Results show teenagers understand climate change better than adults, regardless of having less education overall, with a larger percentage believing climate change is caused by humans.

Some of the study’s questions were summarized by Grist’s Christopher Mims, who recounts that only “54 percent of teens and 63 percent of adults say that global warming is happening,” while only “46 percent of teens and 49 percent of adults understand that emissions from cars and trucks substantially contribute to global warming.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets

 

Workplace Safety- Lets make this a PRIORITY for the Democratic Party NOW

The New York Times had an op-ed yesterday,

"The Working Wounded"
- reminding me of an issue that I have always thought the Democrats SHOULD stand for, but which seems strangely to have disappeared in this election year.

Workplace Safety. Legislating improved safety rules for the millions of working people in this country, so they can work without fear of death or serious injury while they are doing their jobs.

The article has a number of startling facts in it which should make us realize that in the current global climate, compared to many other developed countries (some of which have been making real progress) we in the US are basically going backwards by ignoring changes in global attitudes and expectations on issues like worker safety. The level to which we ignore safety violations is absolutely appalling. It is a national disgrace.

Not only have important and necessary changes been postponed, and some rules even rolled back, but during the Bush Administration, the agencies enforcing safety have also had their budgets slashed, sending a message to the worst kinds of employers that they 'could get away with murder', literally.

For example, read this segment of the op-ed piece (summarized digitally from the NYT article)


"Mr. Elias wanted his workers to clean out a 25,000-gallon
tank that contained cyanide waste.  He refused to test the
air or the waste inside the tank.  He ignored the pleas of
his workers for safety equipment.  When the workers
complained of sore throats and difficulty breathing, Mr.
Elias told them to finish the job or find work somewhere
else.

Mr. Dominguez, a 20-year-old high school graduate, wanted to
keep his job.  Wearing just jeans and a T-shirt, he used a
ladder to descend into the tank.  Two hours later, covered
in sludge and barely breathing, he was removed from the
tank, a victim of cyanide poisoning at the hands of a
ruthless employer who would blame his "stupid and lazy"
employees for the incident.

The Justice Department opened a criminal investigation of
Evergreen Resources.  I was one of the lead prosecutors on
the case.  We quickly discovered that we had a major
problem.

My colleagues and I were shocked to learn that an employer
who breaks the nation's worker-safety laws can be charged
with a crime only if a worker dies.  Even then, the crime is
a lowly Class B misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of six
months in prison.  (About 6,000 workers are killed on the
job each year, many in cases where the deaths could have
been prevented if their employers followed the law.)
Employers who maim their workers face, at worst, a maximum
civil penalty of $70,000 for each violation.

We ended up prosecuting Mr. Elias for environmental crimes,
and he was sentenced to 17 years in prison.  I later became
chief of the Justice Department's environmental crimes
section, and we started an initiative -- based on this case
and others like it -- to seek justice when workers were
seriously injured or killed during environmental crimes.  We
prosecuted some of the largest companies in America.  But in
cases where 'no environmental crimes were committed', we often
could not prosecute.

Employers rarely face criminal prosecution under the
worker-safety laws.  In the 38 years since Congress enacted
the Occupational Safety and Health Act, only 68 criminal
cases have been prosecuted, or less than two per year, with
defendants serving a total of just 42 months in jail.
During that same time, approximately 341,000 people have
died at work
, according to data compiled from the National
Safety Council and the Bureau of Labor Statistics by the
A.F.L.-C.I.O.

It is long past time for Congress to change the law.  First,
Congress should amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act
to make it a crime for an employer to commit violations that
cause serious injury to workers or that knowingly place
workers at risk of death or serious injury.  Whether good
fortune intervenes and prevents harm to workers should not
determine whether an employer commits a crime.

Congress should make it a felony to commit a criminal
violation of the worker-safety laws, and the penalties for
lawbreakers should be stiffened.  The maximum sentence ought
to be measured in years, not months.

Congress also should change the worker-safety laws so that
ignorance of the law is no longer a defense.  Employers have
a duty to know their responsibilities under the Occupational
Safety and Health Act.

Finally, Congress should make clear who can be prosecuted.
Some courts have held that prosecution is limited to
companies and their owners.  Supervisors who order workers
to break the law, as well as responsible corporate officers
who fail to stop violations that they know are occurring,
should also be held criminally responsible, just as they are
under most other federal laws.

Most companies care about protecting their workers.  But
without a serious threat of criminal enforcement, more
workers will be put at risk by companies that put profits
before safety."

There's more...

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