Articles by This Author
Seafood Safety and Politics Don't Mix: Opening of Gulf Fisheries at Odds With Evidence of Harm
Huffington Post - August 11, 2010
By Riki Ott
Eight days after returning home from his Gulf oil-spill response job, Jason Brashears has flashbacks of a scene that he witnessed one day in Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana: Thousands of fish gasping at the surface in a sea of foamy oil and dispersant.
Brashears spent 65 days spotting oil in Lake Ponchartrain; Mobile Bay; and along the coast off Destin, Florida; Ocean Springs, Alabama; and Cat Island, Mississippi. His team reported oil sightings during the day. At night, planes sprayed dispersant to break up the oil.
The fish are not the only thing that haunts him from his Gulf work. His lungs feel "leaden," he has trouble concentrating on his graphic designs that used to give him so much pleasure, his moods swing unpredictably, he is dizzy, and the fragrance in ordinary household products makes his eyes water and sinuses stuffy.
"You would think," Brashears said over the phone, "that they [his subcontractor] would not send us out the next day if they knew the dispersants would make us sick. You would think they would warn us or give us a day off."
But Brashears received no such warning. Nor did other people across the Gulf as BP applied at least 1.8 million gallons of dispersants to the oil it spilled there. Even though the number of gallons reported by BP is widely questioned as conservative, this is still by far the longest and heaviest application of dispersant in world history. Yet neither workers nor the public were, or are, being adequately informed of the risk of exposure to oil and dispersants.
Read the whole article here...
Oilgate! And All the President's Men (Except One) Seek to Contain Truth of Leak in the Gulf
Huffington Post - August 2, 2010
By Riki Ott
Barataria, LA. -- Bonnie Schumaker slowed her souped-up Cessna 180 from 130 to 50 knots so I could hold open the window for documentary film producer Bo Bodart to shoot the grim scene below us. The oil-laced air rushed in and stung our throats and eyes.
Bay Jimmy on the northeast side of Barataria Bay was full of oil. So was Bay Baptiste, Lake Grande Ecaille, and Billet Bay. Sitting next to me was Mike Roberts, a shrimper with Louisiana Bayoukeepers, who has grown up in this area. His voice crackled over the headset as I strained to hold the window. "I've fished in all these waters - everywhere you can see. It's all oiled. This is the worst I've seen. This is a heart-break..."
Read the whole article here...
Citizens United: People Strike Back
By Riki Ott and David Cobb
April 16, 2010
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, which opened political campaigns to unlimited contributions from corporations, the American people are demanding everything from legislative fixes to constitutional amendments to defend the integrity of our democracy.
In Citizens United, the high court cited two earlier rulings—that money is speech, and that corporations are “persons” entitled to constitutional rights—to produce a third ruling that further usurps rule by the people.
The attempts to combat Citizens United vary from modest legislation to prohibit the worst interpretations of the decision from becoming law to calls to amend the United States Constitution. Some believe a constitutional amendment should abolish corporate rights to political free speech, while others are building a movement behind an amendment that would abolish all corporate constitutional rights.
On the legislative front, some states—including Iowa, Maryland, Ohio, and West Virginia—have introduced bills to compel public disclosure of all corporate and union political disbursements, require a majority vote of shareholders or union members for political campaign expenditures, or ban “pay to play” corruption (preventing state contractors from making campaign contributions on behalf of state political candidates or their campaigns). In other words, the legislative fixes are designed to make the impact of the decision a little less bad—without challenging the illegitimate premise that corporations are sovereign and entitled to human rights.
Similarly, federal legislation has been introduced in both houses of Congress to reduce the impact of Citizens United by creating hurdles to corporations “investing” in—or opposing—political candidates. These include proposals to prohibit political contributions or investments from foreign corporations, as well as to seek prior shareholder approval before corporations dip into their treasuries to spend money on campaigns.
But legislative fixes will not reverse the court's decision. They can only address elements the court left undefined.
Read the whole article here.
By Riki Ott
January 27, 2009
Wainwright, Alaska. Rebecca "Ricky" Ekak, a tenth grader at Alak High School in Wainwright, implored her teacher, "Please, can we learn more about this? What they said went into me." Ricky and her classmates are Inupiat ("In-OU-pe-at" or "Eskimo").
Wainwright is one of eight Inupiat villages at the top of the world or at least the top of America. The largest and most northern village -- and probably the only one on most U.S. maps -- is Barrow with 4,000 people. All of the villages are well above the Arctic Circle. Five sit on the wind-swept coast of the Arctic Ocean.
I am visiting the villages with Earl Kingik, an Elder from Point Hope, which lies 500 miles west of Barrow, and Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, the former mayor of Nuiqsut, which lies 130 miles southeast of Barrow and 12 miles inland.
Earl is a whaling captain, a revered position that translates into community leader. He opens our meetings in his first language, Inupiaq. Then he effortlessly switches to English to explain that we have come as volunteers on this 1,000-plus mile circuit to warn the communities of a threat to their way of life and culture.
Presidents Clinton and G.W. Bush opened the vast bulk of the North Slope -- 23 million acres onshore and 73 million acres offshore -- to oil and gas lease sales and development. What started as a paper shuffle in Washington, DC, is now arriving in the villages as promises of "environmentally-sound development," borne by oilmen and federal officials.
Rosemary and I live in communities that have experienced first-hand the impacts from broken promises. Rosemary's village of Nuiqsut ("new-WICK-sit") is 60 miles west of Prudhoe Bay, where oil and gas development has occurred for over 40 years. As the oilfields expanded, Nuiqsut felt the pressure like the slow relentless squeeze of an anaconda.
"The first oil well was over 60 miles from the village," she explains to our audiences. "That wasn't so bad. But then they wanted another well. They came to our village and told us one well would mean a 12-acre gravel pad, no road, 200 people to build the well, and 20 airplane and helicopter flights a month during our hunting season."
Her black eyes snap but her voice remains even as she says, "That's not what we got. We got 400 acres of gravel pads, miles of pipelines, 12 miles of roads, a large runway, two helicopter pads, 1,200 people, and 1,900 flights in six weeks during the caribou migration."
When she mimics the noise from the seismic testing -- BOOM! BOOM! -- the children all jump. The caribou changed their migratory route to avoid the commotion of development. Before the seismic tests and pipelines, 97 of 103 households in her village harvested caribou; after, only three.
Before the seismic tests in the ocean, village hunters -- the whalers -- harvested whales within 2 miles of the island; after, the whales moved 20 miles or more offshore. Twenty miles is too far from the village to safely harvest whales. When storms blew up, the whalers would have to stop hunting as small boats can easily swamp.
Rosemary's voice breaks only when she shares her personal story. The place where her oldest son, his father, and his grandfather harvested their first caribou is now a gravel mine. Her oldest son was nine when the caribou herds last migrated through the village. He is now twenty-four.
Subsistence -- harvesting, sharing, and celebrating wild foods -- is the primary means of survival in all of the villages. As Earl says, "The ocean is our garden." Everyone understands that loss of traditional foods and loss of the opportunity to harvest the food means loss of their way of life. Loss of resources fits the United Nations definition of cultural genocide.
There are also health problems in Nuiqsut associated with the oil development. Rosemary is a former community health aide practitioner. She was the first to sound the alarm about the skyrocketing cases of asthma as the oil wells marched ever closer to Nuiqsut. The closest wells with their flaring gases and air pollution are now within four miles of -- and almost surround -- the village.
The refrain we hear from the other villages is: "We don't want to happen here what happened in Nuiqsut!" But unless other Americans act to intervene, the Inupiat culture will almost surely be assimilated.
Millions of Americans are protesting the Bush administration's headlong rush to open coastal seas of California, Virginia, Florida, and other Lower 48 states to oil and gas development. These well-meaning citizens don't realize that a coastal moratorium in the Lower 48 only means more pressure to develop in Alaska.
Why don't we all learn more about Bush's U.S. Arctic Policy along with Inupiat children like Ricky? If the Alaska story "went into you," maybe you could help protect our coasts along with yours.
The U.S. Interior Department is accepting comments on the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas (Arctic Ocean) Oil & Gas Lease Sales until March 16, 2009. We are all in this together.