Hundreds of Gulf Coast residents and climate activists are protesting Wednesday at the Superdome in New Orleans, in a historic call to end federal offshore fossil fuel lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico.
The action is scheduled to coincide with Wednesday's lease sale of 43 million acres in that very location—the first such auction since the Obama administration unveiled a five-year offshore drilling plan last week that protects the Atlantic but leaves the Gulf and Arctic open to oil and gas extraction projects. In a letter last week (pdf), groups called on President Barack Obama to cancel the auction, saying it illustrates "the dangerous disconnect between your administration's climate goals and the continued leasing of federal lands and waters for fossil fuel extraction."
According to organizers, which include climate and social justice groups 350.org, Center for Biological Diversity, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and Rainforest Action Network, busloads of concerned citizens came from around the region, hailing from Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and Louisiana.
"The oil industry has drilled and polluted and destroyed the Gulf Coast for the last 100 years," said Anne Rolfes, founding director of Louisiana Bucket Brigade.
"Those of us who live here have let them get away with it," she continued. "Today's action is historic precisely because of the past century of submission. We are telling Big Oil to take their rigs and go home. And we are telling our elected officials to get with it, to lead the transition from dirty energy to one that relies on wind and solar. Clean, safe jobs are the jobs we want; this is the future we want. If we don't grab it now, we risk being left behind in an oily puddle."
In an essay for The Advocate co-written with Louisiana journalist Cherri Foytlin, Rolfes continued:
"The location of Wednesday's lease auction is painfully ironic, given the Dome's role as the evacuation of last resort during Hurricane Katrina."
—Anne Rolfes, Louisiana Bucket Brigade & Cherri Foytlin, journalist
The problems with the oil industry in Louisiana are painfully obvious. The relentless digging of canals has led to destruction of our wetlands that once offered important protections from storms. The first official climate refugees in the United States are the Louisiana community of Isle de Jean Charles. The destruction of this Native community underscores the harsh reality that poor communities, African-Americans, Native Americans and the Vietnamese communities are the most vulnerable, not just to coastal loss but to the industry's relentless pollution.
The location of Wednesday's lease auction is painfully ironic, given the Dome's role as the evacuation of last resort during Hurricane Katrina. Who can forget what happened there? The oil industry had a hand in making us vulnerable to Katrina and to storms yet to come. And yet our government is using the Superdome as the venue to let the oil industry continue its harms.
Wednesday's demonstration—which is also demanding that the fossil fuel industry create at least 1,000 jobs to address its "aging infrastructure and toxic legacy," particularly in communities of color—builds on a national call to "keep it in the ground."
"The science is clear: in order to prevent climate catastrophe we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground," said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, in a statement. "That means an immediate end to all new oil and gas leases in the Gulf and a full transition to 100 percent renewable energy."
Last fall, more than 400 groups and environmental leaders asked the Obama administration to end all federal fossil-fuel leasing, saying to do so would keep up to 450 billion tons of carbon pollution out of the atmosphere.