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Wanna know what’s happened to the Gulf Coast since the BP spill? Read this blog, now

an oil-spattered Gulf Coast
Danny E Hooks
The oil-spattered Gulf Coast in 2010. How's it faring now?

On the fourth anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, the big question is whether the oil spill recovery is finally over. According to BP, yes it is. Or at least BP is wrapping up “active cleanup” and headed home to get its life back, only further available if the Coast Guard calls it.

But to many of the people living along the Gulf Coast, who still have to endure the aftereffects of BP’s blunder, hell naw it ain’t over. Given the tarballs and the oil that’s still drawing a ring of eyeliner along the coast, not to mention all the devastated dolphins and oysters, it’s an insult to even suggest it.

“Today should not have to be about reminding the nation that thousands of Gulf Coast residents continue to be impacted by the environmental and economic damage created by the BP oil disaster,” said Colette Pichon Battle, executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy. “The request by coastal residents four years later is the same as in 2010. Clean up the oil. Pay for the damage. And ensure that this never happens again.”

There are hundreds of unresolved issues on the Gulf Coast, many of them predating the oil spill. With stories spilling in from all over the place, it’s going to be tough sussing out the true grit from the bullshit. Fortunately the good folks over at the Bridge the Gulf blog got you covered.

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It's not all bad

Three Gulf Coast victories scored since the BP spill

"Save our Gulf" rally
Infrogmation of New Orleans

You will hear a lot of gloomy reports about the state of the Gulf Coast as we approach the fourth-year commemoration of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster on April 20. And that’s fair. BP deserves little cheer in the face of widespread health problems across the Gulf, for both humans and marine animals, and the disappearance of entire fishing communities. Despite what BP is telling us, it ain’t all good. But it ain’t all bad, either.

Gulf Coast communities from the Florida Panhandle to Texas’s right shoulder had been through a few disaster rodeos before the BP spill. They’ve survived hurricanes named for just about every letter of the alphabet. And they’ve endured careless and reckless decisions from every level of government, way more than one time too many. Given those past experiences, residents and activists along the Gulf corralled together after the BP disaster to make sure their most immediate concerns would be heard this time around. Region-wide networks like the Gulf Future Coalition and the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health were formed immediately after the spill to harness the expertise of Gulf citizens who often historically were excluded from recovery processes. Through guiding documents like the Unified Action Plan for a Healthy Gulf and media projects like Bridge the Gulf, community members were able to voice their concerns and demands, free of bureaucratic or political filters.

These projects gave Gulf residents the opportunity not only to frame the Gulf recovery narrative, but also to influence government-led recovery plans. The result has been three demonstrable victories:

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Obama delays Keystone decision — again

pipeline delayed
Public Citizen

Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before: The Obama administration is delaying a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

But this is different from all those past delays. This is a brand new delay -- and it might push the final determination past the midterm elections. As Politico notes, "A delay past November would spare Obama a politically difficult choice on whether to approve the pipeline, angering his green base and environmentally minded campaign donors — or reject it, endangering pro-pipeline Democrats such as [Sen. Mary] Landrieu, who represents oil-rich Louisiana."

The Washington Post explains the reasoning behind this latest delay:

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Making the road safe for biking’s nervous Nellies

little-boy-bicyclist.jpg
Shutterstock

I used to bike like everyone was trying to kill me. I was fresh out of college and had moved to San Francisco to seek my fortune, only to discover that the city’s public transit system was more of a simulacrum of a system than something that actually got me reliably on time to my job -- or, let's be honest, jobs. Living in the city required a lot of jobs, and sometimes the bus came and sometimes it didn’t. So I started biking.

Even if drivers didn’t bear any malice towards me -- and almost none of them did -- I learned to regard them with caution. They were bored. They were tired. They were steering 3,000+ pounds of metal powered by a combustion engine, but they spent so much time there that they behaved like it was their living room. (I looked over, once, and saw a woman in huge Audrey Hepburn sunglasses, eating corn on the cob and driving with her elbows.)

It is because of this experience that I view the recent news that California’s Department of Transportation has signed on to the National Association of City Transportation Officials guidelines for street design with unmitigated delight. NACTO is the kind of agency that rarely makes the news -- probably because it’s dead boring. But to those interested in the future of our cities, NACTO is also an illustration of how local governments can have much more power than they initially seem to.

Read more: Cities, Living, Politics

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A bright idea

Obama makes a push for solar power

Obama and solar panels
Nellis Air Force Base

The White House threw a solar party on Thursday, and the streamers and ticker tape came in the form of millions of dollars of new support for solar projects. The Hill reports:

The Obama administration on Thursday announced a $15 million program to help state, local and tribal governments build solar panels and other infrastructure to fight climate change.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and White House counselor John Podesta announced the program at what the White House billed as a "solar summit" designed to push governments and private and nonprofit businesses to up their use of solar power.

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Chris Christie is still trying to force a pipeline through the New Jersey Pinelands

Chris Christie
Gage Skidmore

In January, on the heels of the embarrassing revelation that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) staffers created a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge to punish an obscure political rival, Christie and his allies were handed a defeat. The New Jersey Pinelands Commission rejected a proposed 22-mile natural-gas pipeline that would go through a national reserve of forests and wetlands. Though Christie went so far as to bully a commissioner who was skeptical of the pipeline into recusing himself from the decision, that wasn't enough to secure approval.

But now the pipeline is back. The state’s leading power brokers want the commission to reconsider and are pressuring commissioners to change their votes, working both behind the scenes and through public statements and symbolic votes in county and town legislative bodies. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported, “A growing number of elected officials from Gov. Christie to lawmakers including Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) have joined county freeholders and township officials in support of the project. They are considering ways of returning the issue to the Pinelands Commission, possibly as a ‘compelling public need’ for energy security and scores of jobs.”

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No more mystery food

Vermont poised to mandate GMO labels on food

Vermont store
Stacy Brunner

Vermont is on the verge of becoming the third American state to require the labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients.

State senators approved a GMO-labeling bill on Tuesday with a 28-2 vote, sending it back to the House, which approved an earlier version with a 99-42 vote last year. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has said he's likely to sign it.

The bill would require the words “partially produced with genetic engineering” to be stamped on packages of GMO-containing food sold in Vermont. The lists of ingredients would also need to specify which items contain GMOs. It would be illegal to market such foods as  “natural,” “naturally made,” or “naturally grown."

Connecticut and Maine have both recently passed similar laws -- but those laws will only take effect if enough other states do likewise. The two states don't want to face the inevitable lawsuits from Big Food on their own.

Vermont is the first state willing to go it alone. Its bill would take effect in July 2016. State lawmakers say they crafted the language of the bill carefully, hoping it could survive court challenges.

Read more: Food, Politics

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Fruit of the Gloom

Mark Ruffalo, you are our chosen green celeb! (We hope you like fruit)

markruffalo_withbanana
Shutterstock

The people have spoken, and one lucky man in Hollywood will be the happy recipient of a fruit basket.  The entire Grist staff just breathed a collective sigh of relief, because this guy can get pretty riled up when things don’t go his way.

That’s right, folks -- Mark Ruffalo beat out five fellow actors and one supermodel to be crowned as Grist’s greenest celebrity. What about this rugged hunk won the hearts of our green-minded audience? Was it his outspokenness against the natural gas and oil industry? Was it his valiant efforts to protect water resources through his own nonprofit? Was it the ease with which he makes Henry David Thoreau sound incredibly sexy? Let’s just go ahead and circle “all of the above.”

And Adrian Grenier, if you’re reading this: We’re sorry we don’t have more Entourage fans among our readers. But hey -- you know what you can do to change that!

So, Mark, keep an eye out for a delightful collection of seasonal fruit on your doorstep. And since we hope you actually enjoy eating it, we promise it won’t be from Edible Arrangements.

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Power plants lose legal bid to douse you with mercury

coal power pollution
Shutterstock

When it proposed strict pollution rules in late 2011, the EPA paid no heed to the $9.6 billion worth of costs that coal-burning power plants would have to swallow. Its only concern in drafting the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards was keeping mercury and other poisons out of the environment  and away from Americans  by demanding that power plants use scrubbers and other clean-air technology.

And on Tuesday, over the legal whimpers of the coal industry, federal judges said that's just fine.

Coal power plants are responsible for half of the country's mercury pollution and two-thirds of its arsenic emissions. By cracking down on this health-harming, brain-damaging, ecosystem-ruining pollution, the EPA has estimated that the standards will prevent 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks -- every single year. Thousands of lives will be saved.

The power plant owners felt it was unfair that the government cared about public health but didn't care about their bottom lines. More mercury in your air means more money in their pockets. So they sued. And they were joined in their battle by the governments of conservative-led states like Alaska, Kansas, and Michigan.

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Mary, Mary, quite contrary

Why it matters that Democrat Mary Landrieu is bashing Obama over energy

Mary Landrieu
John Orrell

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is running against President Obama instead of her likely Republican opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy. Her first reelection ad of the year compiles clips of her standing up for her state’s oil and gas interests, attacking Obama for policies like the brief moratorium on offshore oil drilling imposed in 2010 after the disastrous BP oil rig explosion. "It's 300,000 people that go to work every day in this industry," Landrieu intones. "You can't just beat up on them." Implicitly working-class men -- they have beards and engineer hats, but they're too old to be hipsters -- look on in solemn assent.

Landrieu also recently brought together 10 other Democrats from red or swing states to push Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline by the end of May. "It has already taken much longer than anyone can reasonably justify," they argue in a letter sent to the president last week.

This is surely a good strategy in Louisiana, a state where Obama lost to Mitt Romney by more than 17 points -- and where the oil industry directly employs around 62,000 workers and pays $1.4 billion a year in state taxes.

And Obama knows it's in his interest to have Democrats hold onto the Senate. That’s why Paul Waldman of The American Prospect argues that there’s no harm done by Landrieu’s pro-fossil-fuel pandering in her new ad: