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Wednesday April 16th 2014

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Rants & Raves 10.21

BP LESSONS BP has another deepwater rig named Atlantis which, believe it or not, is in even deeper water than Deepwater Horizon and has a similar record. Just short of six months after the BP oil disaster, the moratorium on deepwater drilling has been lifted, which means Atlantis and all 30 deepwater drilling rigs are free to carry on with business as usual.

But is this a good idea? Does this mean that all deepwater rigs are now in compliance with current regulations? Will we avoid a similar catastrophe which sent shockwaves of ecological and economic destruction throughout the Gulf Coast? We can only wait and see, and hope.

One thing is for certain: if such an event were to happen again, tomorrow, we would have the same disastrous “top-down” response with local communities and local knowledge being left out of the planning room. Millions of local citizens willing and able to help would be sent home and fisherfolk would be forced to work for the very company which would ruin their livelihood.

Countless hours and dollars would be wasted putting out boom to keep floating oil off a coastline, while at the same time millions of gallons of toxic dispersants would be used to sink and dissolve the oil, making the booms ineffective and pointless.

The purported reasoning behind using dispersants is to keep oil from impacting shorelines and shore animals. The use is supposedly an “ecological trade-off”—sacrificing the deepwater Gulf environment for our coastlines and coastal species. Unfortunately, the process of using dispersants is no trade-off at all, but rather an addition of insult to injury. Over the long-term, dispersed oil will negatively impact any species which depends on the Gulf for food, including humans. Dispersants make it much easier for all aquatic species, not just oil-eating microbes, to absorb the cancer-causing components of the hundreds of millions of gallons of oil left in our Gulf.

BP should have never been allowed to leave dispersed oil in our Gulf and we must insist on a change in the laws to avoid that and a haphazard response/“cleanup” in the future.

If anything good did come from this disaster, it is the increased awareness of just how much our economic health is dependent on our environmental health. Merely the perception of oil-blanketed beaches was enough to cause economic destruction statewide, even though we were much luckier than our neighboring Gulf states.

Some folks have been preaching this very idea for years. Regrettably, the sermon typically fell on deaf ears and we were considered “job-hating environmental wackos” by those who have perpetuated a long, drawn out war of economic development versus environmental health.

Will we allow that battle fought on a field of misconceptions to continue? Will we allow this terrible disaster to go by without holding industry and government accountable? Are we so eager to carry on like business as usual that we are unwilling to make the tough choice to reexamine our dependence on fossil fuels and insist on proof of safety rather than assuming safety until we have proof of catastrophe?

We have an immense opportunity to not only avoid a similar disaster, but also to create jobs and stimulate economic development by finally paying proper attention to our air and water.

Creating our current electric grid and transportation infrastructure were by far the greatest historical opportunities for growth in our country. Imagine the possibilities available which wait for us to move out of our comfort zone.

We must not let the lessons learned from the BP oil gusher be ignored. A full recovery of the Gulf Coast must include an investment in a clean, renewable energy future.

—Chasidy Fisher Hobbs, Coastkeeper, Emerald Coastkeeper, Inc.

RETREAT ON AIDS In recent weeks, some of President Obama’s strongest supporters have expressed frustration with his HIV/AIDS policies. Unless the United States switches course and dramatically increases its funding for the global fight against AIDS, we could lose millions of lives and a generation of progress.

Many AIDS advocates and I have a sinking feeling the HIV/AIDS strategy in the Obama White House is not getting significant senior-level attention. By contrast, I know that the AIDS crisis merited direct presidential involvement during the Clinton and Bush administrations.

In 2008, then-Sen. Obama voted in favor of spending $48 billion over 5 years on the global fight against HIV/AIDS. On the presidential campaign trail that same year, Obama made his position clear: if elected, he would “provide at least $50 billion by 2013 for the global fight against HIV/AIDS.”

There is little to explain the shift in President Obama’s priorities. But the shift is clear. The White House has fallen short in following through on its funding promises.

Take the White House’s own program, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Created in 2003, PEPFAR has provided $33 billion in funding thus far, making it the largest effort in history by a single nation to combat a single disease.

PEPFAR is one of the indisputable successes of the past decade, and President Obama pledged to increase funding for the program by $1 billion annually if elected. Last year, though, the White House recommended virtually no increase in funding. As it now stands, PEPFAR likely will receive only a nominal increase next year.

While campaigning for the presidency, Obama also pledged to dramatically increase America’s support for The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. However, since Obama came into office, U.S. donations to The Global Fund have flat-lined.

If funding remains at these levels, we could lose much of the progress we’ve made in the battle against HIV/AIDS. Marginal increases in funding and symbolic gestures just aren’t enough.

Africa is ground zero in the AIDS crisis. The continent is home to about 90 percent of all HIV-positive patients. But the tide is turning. Over the past 10 years, the number of AIDS cases in 21 out of 25 of the most affected African countries has decreased.

Much of this progress is due to the work of PEPFAR and The Global Fund.

Congressional leaders have taken notice of how much ground we’ve gained. After attending the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria, this summer, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), along with 100 of her colleagues, sent a letter to President Obama urging him to make a 3-year, $6 billion commitment to The Global Fund. A pledge of that size will allow the international community to build on the successes of the past and provide even more patients with the AIDS medications they desperately need.

Early next month, The Global Fund will meet at the U.N. headquarters in New York at which donor nations will make their financial pledges. President Obama will have an important opportunity to prove to his allies, detractors and the world community that AIDS funding is still a priority in America. He needs to take the opportunity to revise the White House’s position, and increase our country’s commitment to the fight against one of the world’s most devastating diseases.

—Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance