Monday, April 17, 2006

Stealth Meeting, Gulf Drilling

"Ivan fatigue. Don't underestimate this. Most of the groups I work with have seen the attendance at meetings drop way down."
-- Enid Siskin, Gulf Coast Environmental Defense

Speaking of screwing up the Gulf environment, as we were earlier today, the "stealth hearing" on the Bush administration's latest Gulf Oil and Gas drilling strategy was brought off without a hitch by Mineral Management Services last week in Tallahassee.

By "stealth hearing" we mean the nearly invisible, last-minute opportunity for public comment about George W. Bush's proposal to allow drilling 100 miles off of -- and underwater gas lines headed landward running right by -- Pensacola Beach.

By "without a hitch" we mean to say that MMS cleverly advanced the administration's agenda of pressing ahead with plans to start drilling off shore of Pensacola Beach, the public be damned. Even if it means the ridiculous paper transfer of Florida coastal waters to the State of Louisiana.

Of the few local drilling opponents to show up at MMS's inconveniently-scheduled meeting, Tallahassee Democrat reporters Aaron Deslatte and Larry Wheeler quote only Enid Siskin of Gulf Breeze. Enid has long headed Gulf Coast Environmental Defense (GCED). In 1999, largely through GCED's efforts, she turned out thousands of locals to jam a similar hearing in downtown Pensacola.

But that was then, when we had a president who wasn't above the law. This is now, when we do.

Enid, bless her, was undaunted. She made the long trek to Tallahassee carpooling with others "in a hybrid-electric car" to tell MMS:
"In Pensacola, even people who don't live right by the water realize the importance of the waters to our economy. Continuing to drill just fuels our addiction."
Enid had a lot more to say about the low turnout in an email she sent us:
[T]here were probably about 100 people there, just 50 spoke. The reasons for the low turnout-
  • No publicity. The PNJ didn't cover it until after the fact. We (GCED) just went with email notices. MMS didn't try to get people there.
  • Timing. The fact it was scheduled in the middle of the day, in Tallahassee, during the week, during legislative session says to me and lots of other people that their (MMS) intention was to have only the industry folks show up. And they did.
  • The issue. 100 miles away in the newly configured Central Gulf doesn't draw the same crowds as 25 miles from Pensacola Beach. In spite of the probability of "creeping" leases, the fact that pollution can't read the maps, probability of spills, etc., this one didn't get people as excited.
  • Ivan fatigue. Don't underestimate this. Most of the groups I work with have seen the attendance at meetings drop way down. GCED is lucky to get 10 people, the League of Women Voters used to get 100 people routinely and now considers 30 a big turnout.
As for the hearing itself, Enid says --
[Drilling proponents] got there early and signed up first, so the first 20 or so were all for drilling, of those probably 12 were representing some trade group, the others were with a petroleum geologist (all sitting together) and airline pilot all parroting the same line -- we need [drilling] to drive the prices down and it's safe and there hasn't been a spill in 30 years.

In spite of the fact that none of that's true, it didn't stop them. Even after it was pointed out repeatedly, they had their talking points and they stuck to them.

This was advertised to us as a scoping session to decide on what should be in the EIS for the 5 year plan, not a public hearing on whether or not they should drill. In fact, up to the day of the session we were told that what was going to happen was that they'd go around the room and ask people round robin what they should include.

That's not what happened, of course, and the industry folks all had their speeches written.
Then, Enid adds in a postscript, "So did we."

Apparently, no one trusts MMS to tell them the truth.

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