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

 

Weekly Diaspora: The High Cost of Cheap Labor

 

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

A new study about the effects of immigration on U.S. employment supports the long-standing arguments of immigration advocates: Rather than displacing American workers, immigrant labor actually makes our economy stronger. Kevin Drum has the details at Mother Jones.

Now, with reports that undocumented laborers are a mainstay of disaster relief efforts all over the country, Americans are beginning to get a sense of the unsavory work relegated to many immigrants, and the high price immigrants pay for the simple privilege of employment.

Undocumented workers driving wages up

Going back to Mother Jones, new research examining the relationship between immigration and U.S. employment found that—contrary to conventional anti-immigrant wisdom—immigration does not negatively affect American employment. Instead, immigration drives wages up by pushing low-wage American workers into higher-paying jobs.

Here’s how it works: As less-educated immigrants gravitate towards work that requires fewer English language skills (like manual labor), their less-educated American counterparts move on to higher-paying, communications-intensive work that capitalizes on their comparatively better English language skills. This naturally drives wages up, and makes for a more productive economy overall.

The irony, as Drum notes, is that those who complain about immigrants stealing American jobs are the same people who want immigrants to learn English and assimilate as quickly as possible. “If they did,” Drum argues, “then they’d just start competing for the higher paying jobs that natives now monopolize.”

Stiffed in New Orleans

The reality of being an undocumented worker in the U.S. is starker than most Americans realize. Not only are immigrants doing work that most would rather not, they are also often cleaning up the messes that Americans leave behind.

Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, undocumented laborers remain a key component of reconstruction efforts. Initially drawn to the city by the prospect of work and the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to suspend employment immigration enforcement, many undocumented laborers relocated to New Orleans to assist with rebuilding. But, as Elise Foley reports at the Washington Independent, their immigration status renders them especially vulnerable to rampant wage theft, threats of deportation and workplace violence.

The situation is so dire for many workers that numerous nonprofit groups have initiated projects in the city and are calling for legislation to combat the problem. However, a key concern is that rising anti-immigrant sentiment in other parts of the U.S. could exacerbate difficulties in New Orleans. If such sentiment results in even greater labor abuses or renewed immigration enforcement, whole communities of people who have been dedicated to rebuilding the city could find themselves without livelihood, or even be displaced.

Exploited undocumented workers clean up oil spills

Given the reality that undocumented workers are  charged with some of the dirtiest and most unsafe work American employers have to offer, it shouldn’t be surprising that U.S. companies rely on immigrant labor to clean up their worst messes. Not only do undocumented workers have fewer employment options, their immigration status renders them far less likely to report unsafe working conditions, exposure to hazardous materials, and underpayment—making them especially attractive to employers looking to save money or hide bad behavior.

So, naturally, undocumented workers were called in to deal with the catastrophic BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (though their compliance only earned them the undue attention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and, more recently, an oil spill in Michigan.

As Todd A. Heywood at the Michigan Messenger reports, one company in particular has come under fire for hiring and then exploiting undocumented laborers. Hallmark Industrial, a Texas contractor hired to clean up the oil spill, allegedly paid its workers only $800 for up to 100 hours of work per week. Additionally, the company subjected them to unsafe and hazardous working conditions, and even failed to provide workers with on-site toilets—forcing workers to relieve themselves in the areas they were charged with cleaning.

Just 24 hours after the Michigan Messenger broke the story, Hallmark Industrial was fired from the oil spill clean up, its contract terminated by the company which hired it, Garner Environmental Services, Inc. Whether that’s a victory is questionable. Following the termination of the contract, 40 undocumented workers were arrested in Texas, on a bus chartered by Hallmark—presumably just returned from Michigan. While the termination of the contract ensures that its workers won’t be subjected to further workplace abuses, it also ensures that those same individuals must begin the difficult task of finding similar work elsewhere.

Unemployed in California labor camps

Clearly, despite an inexorable willingness to perform low-wage manual labor, undocumented workers are not impervious to the unemployment epidemic. In U.S. labor camps—where migrant agricultural workers can find seasonal or even long term lodging near ranches—farm work is increasingly harder to come by.

As David Bacon highlights at New America Media, both undocumented immigrants and legal “guest workers” are adversely affected by the recession. While the latter possess work visas and may therefore stay in the country legally, both groups live together in the same labor camps, where they remain, ironically, unemployed. Given the present economic climate, there isn’t enough work for even the lowest-wage workers. And in spite of their legal status, even guest workers are barred from applying for unemployment benefits.

The recession has cast both undocumented and legally sanctioned agricultural workers into circumstances even more dismal than those advertised by UFW when it launched its “Take Our Jobs” campaign earlier this summer. Outlining the long hours, low pay, and back-breaking labor associated with farm work, UFW satirically invited American citizens to replace the scores of overworked and undocumented laborers that keep our agricultural industry afloat.

Though meant to be a tongue-in-cheek response to the misconception that immigrants steal American jobs, the campaign exposes a real, if unfortunate, truth about undocumented workers: Even as their presence drives Americans into higher paying jobs, Americans employers are all too happy to subject the undocumented to the worst indignities.

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

 

Lie to Us…Please

Back in the day, con men were wizards of the lie. If they weren’t they’d find themselves in a jail cell with a guy who robbed a 7-11 for a pack of filter-tipped Camels and a bathtub-sized Slurpee. Good con-men know the secret to a lie is a shade of truthiness. Con men these days aren’t so sharp – perhaps because they can no longer tell lies from truth or even believe their own grifty stories, which is the kiss of death to a professional liar.

Take politicians. They used to switch positions by citing subtle nuances in language or deftly changing the topic in such a way as to show the discrepancy was really the sign of a world-class leader who earnestly believes both sides are equally correct.

Then, Busheney – the antithesis of good liars – came along.

‘I Was For It While I Was Against It’
“I’m totally against Position A,” they’d say at one speech. A week later they’re saying, “I’m totally for Position A.” When asked about the discrepancy – usually including videotape showing there was no ambiguity in either statement – they simply answered, “Yeah, what’s your point?”

This isn’t just a public sector problem either. Most big corporations have finally realized the world really does belong entirely to them. Look at BP.

From Day 1, BP has misappropriated the phrase, “We’ll be here until we’ve made things right.” First, BP showed their commitment to the slogan by having their CEO, then an Executive VP, and now an “operations coordinator” tell us how swell they are and how we’re lucky this whole oil leak didn’t involve another oil company.

I mean who knows what might have happened if it was an Exxon well. I know I’m counting my blessings.

Every day they issue a statement or agree to a rule or some other vitally important matter only to reverse course the next day when someone catches them looping the camera feed or preventing reporters from being on “their” beach.

If there were no lame attempts, there’d be no attempts at hiding the lie at all. Oh yeah, they do that too.

Surprisingly, I used to feel more comfortable when they made the effort to cover their tracks. I am a man who admires craftsmanship and telling a good lie is about as crafty as it gets. When they deftly lied, it made me feel I was important in my own small way. If I, the little cog in the big machine, was vital enough to be lied to, I must be important somehow.

If you Must Lie, Lie Big

It’s something like buying a used car and waiting for the Big Shoe Lie to drop. If it doesn’t, you’re more leery than if they had lied. You almost feel cheated. “I’m gonna get this car home and the tranny’s going to fall out into my driveway, isn’t it?”

I implore all you professional liars out there to take pride in your work. Politicians, tell us a whopper. CEO’s, tell us you’d give the big bonuses back if only the company would accept them. PR flaks, call oil spills, “marginally demonetized drilling operations with opportunities for enhanced change and profitability.”

Lie to me. Go ahead. I can’t take the unvarnished truth anymore.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

New Pete Seeger song about BP

Pete Seeger became famous as one of Woody Guthrie's best friends, a black-listed folk singer fighting for workers' and civil rights and against war and nuclear weapons. He's spent his more recent decades as an environmentalist, devoting his energies to cleaning up the Hudson River and teaching children about music. Although he's now 91 years old and losing his voice, here's a new song from Pete Seeger about the BP oil spill. The best part about the song is that it's not negative, either - it's a very upbeat, inspirational message focused on moving forward and getting the job done.

"When drill, baby, drill / Turns to spill, baby spill / God's counting on me / God's counting on you!"

Seeger is one of my heroes, and seeing him sing with Bruce Springsteen at the 2009 inaugural concert will remain one of the highlights of my life. A big, big h/t to Andrew Revkin for this video.

BP lets CEO Hayward off the hook

Despite intense media speculation that he would resign as CEO of BP today, it looks like Tony Hayward will stick around until at least October. And even then, BP won’t force him out the door, they’re just transferring him to another prestigious project. From the AP:

Tony Hayward, who became the face of BP's flailing efforts to contain the massive Gulf oil spill, will step down as chief executive in October and be offered a job with the company's joint venture in Russia, a person familiar with the matter said Monday.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because an official announcement had not been made by the British company's board, which was meeting Monday in London to decide Hayward's fate. The decision is the board's to make, and it was unclear if it had formally done so.

It's not yet clear what Hayward's role will be with TNK-BP… BP owns half of the oil firm, which is Russia's third-largest.

So Hayward will continue to draw a salary of several million pounds – even more in dollars – and no longer have to contend with the Gulf Coast oil spill. I’m not sure if he still gets his $10 million pound parachute since he’s not leaving BP, but it remains safe to say that the man who famously said “I want my life back” is about to get his wish.

For the record, when Catholic Charities asked BP for $10 million to help with their Gulf Coast assistance programs, BP gave them only $1 million. Combine that with the $0 in their much-ballyhooed escrow fund for processing their victims’ claims and you get a total much, much lower than either Hayward’s salary or parachute.

Diaries

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