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Federal Offshore Drilling Plan: From Injury to Insult

Energy

Six years since the BP Oil drilling disaster and the federal government has gone from being a part of injuring the people of the Gulf Coast to insulting us. In 2010, the BP/Deepwater Horizon explosion showed how extreme energy extraction injures Gulf Coast workers, communities and ecosystems. Six years later, we continue to witness the agony of fisher folks, business owners and workers in the region as claims from the disaster are prolonged and denied.

Gulf South Rising event commemorating the 5th anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

In New Orleans, the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM) hosted a public hearing earlier this week on the proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022. The U.S. Department of Interior is offering up hundreds of millions of acres in the Gulf of Mexico to allow for deeper oil and gas drilling in the region. On a contradictory note, later this week the U.S. is slated to sign the Paris accord acknowledging the need for national action as part of a global imperative to combat the impending impacts of climate change.

We already feel the powerful impacts of climate change here in Louisiana. More than 10 years after Hurricane Katrina, we are still haunted by the fact that climate change worsens chronic justice issues and poses a particular threat to the way of life for residents of the Gulf Coast. While BOEM holds its hearing to do more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Native American tribes in south Louisiana like the United Houma Nation are relocating from their historical homelands due to sea level rise and historic African American communities in New Orleans like Residents of Gordon Plaza are fighting multi-generational court battles to relocate due to the poisoning of their land and toxic exposure during extreme weather.

The extraction, refinement and burning of fossil fuels accelerates climate change—we know this. We also know that offshore oil and gas operations negatively impact the local environment by contributing to land subsidence, coastal erosion, air and water pollution, and ecosystem disruptions. The tension comes in balancing the economic impacts of oil and gas on local and national economies versus the human and ecological impact in a region too often used as this nation’s sacrifice zone. Communities of the Gulf Coast continue to fight oppressive government policies that have built the world’s most powerful companies while living in the nation’s poorest socioeconomic conditions—a combination of which has left us vulnerable to climate change.

The Gulf South has sacrificed its land and people for long enough. The negative financial, social, environmental and climate impacts of a solely extractive energy economy must no longer be ignored or denied. The Gulf South Rising delegation to Paris reported that we have an opportunity to create a renewable energy future and restore democracy in our Gulf, for our nation and for our planet.

Gulf South Rising event commemorating the 5th anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

The proposal for new offshore oil and gas leasing in the Gulf and in the Arctic must be rejected. Sign this petition today to call on the federal government to stop new drilling on all of our coasts. Our business and government leaders must find the courage to invest in a renewable energy economy with bold plans to decrease our dependence on fossil fuel extraction.

The first step in achieving energy democracy is to listen to Louisiana’s most unique and cherished communities as they call for a just transition away from what is harming our coast and toward what builds healthy and sustainable communities.

Colette Pichon Battle, Esq. is the executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, a non-profit law firm and justice center advocating for ecological equity for Gulf South communities of color on the frontline of climate change.

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The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."

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