Wetlands Front Group Funded By Big Oil Wants To Ensure Taxpayers Foot The Bill For BP's Gulf Destruction

Wetlands Front Group Funded By Big Oil Wants To Ensure Taxpayers Foot The Bill For BP's Gulf Destruction
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UPDATE: Sandra Bullock has issued a statement through her publicist saying that,

“Ms. Bullock was originally contacted through her attorney to be a part of the PSA in order to promote awareness of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. At no time was she made aware that any organization, oil company or otherwise had influence over Women of the Storm or its message. We have immediately asked for her participation in the PSA be removed until the facts can be determined. Her commitment to the Gulf region has been apparent for many years and she will continue to pursue opportunities that will bring awareness and support to the plight of the Gulf region.”

A group of oil companies including BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, Citgo, Chevron and other polluters are using a front group called “America’s WETLAND Foundation” and a Louisiana women’s group called Women of the Storm to spread the message that U.S. taxpayers should pay for the damage caused by BP to Gulf Coast wetlands, and that the reckless offshore oil industry should continue drilling for the “wholesale sustainability” of the region.

Using the age-old PR trick of featuring celebrity messengers to attract public attention, America’s Wetland Foundation is spreading a petition accompanied by a video starring Sandra Bullock, Dave Matthews, Lenny Kravitz, Emeril Lagassi, John Goodman, Harry Shearer, Peyton and Eli Manning, Drew Brees and others.

The video urges petition signers to “Be The One” to demand the government devise and fully fund a plan to restore the Gulf. There is no mention that BP, Halliburton, Transocean, Cameron, or any other oil industry player “be the one” to pay for the damage done to the Gulf. Why call on the government to once again foot the bill for this dirty industry’s reckless behavior?

Perhaps the celebrities featured in the group’s videos are unaware of AWF’s true intent, and signed up thinking that they were helping the Gulf Coast cause in the wake of the BP gusher. But under the surface it sure looks like they are being used as pawns to lure the public into the oil industry’s corner, ensuring that taxpayers pick up the tab for much of the damage caused by BP et al to the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Coast communities, economies, and the environment.

The celebrity video announcement leads viewers to RestoreTheGulf.com where a curious reader would learn that a group called Women of the Storm is behind the effort. But a click through to the “sponsors” page reveals that this effort is actually led by America’s Wetland Foundation, which is funded chiefly by the same oil companies who have ruined the Gulf and endangered the planet with their global warming emissions.

The America’s WETLAND Foundation (AWF) was launched in 2002 with primary support from Shell Oil and a host of other oil companies. AWF is run by the PR shop Marmillion+Company, whose founder previously served as a PR manager at ARCO and staffer to various GOPers. According to the Washington Post:

“Shell Oil, worried about its offshore drilling platforms, put up several million dollars for a PR campaign to rebrand Louisiana’s marshes as ‘America’s Wetland.’”

A quick look at the sponsors of America’s WETLAND Foundation reveals the oily underpinnings of this greenwashing campaign, with Shell serving as “World Sponsor,” and a long list of oil companies, the American Petroleum Institute and other polluting interests who back the group financially as well.

Founded in January 2006 in response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, Women of the Storm might seem like a truly grassroots organization to the casual observer. Is it possible that they never figured out that the oil companies behind America’s Wetland Foundation had an ulterior motive in ‘partnering’ with their group – to greenwash the oil industry’s efforts to stick taxpayers with the bill for damage caused by drilling activities in the Gulf? Perhaps Women of the Storm were willing to take any help they could get, given the horrible response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita by the Bush Administration.

Anne Milling, founder of Women of the Storm, says that the organization has never received a penny directly from BP or any other major oil company, although she did acknowledge Women of the Storm received advisory assistance from some of these entities when originally launching the project after Hurricane Katrina. Mrs. Milling was unapologetic when asked about the prominent placement of the America’s Wetland Foundation banner on the group’s website and its various partnerships with the oil-backed group. She sees nothing wrong with AWF’s cozy relationship with the same oil and gas giants that are partly responsible for the coastal wetlands degradation that is the focus of her group’s concern.

Why? Perhaps because she is married to R. King Milling, the chairman of America’s Wetland Foundation, Mrs. Milling sees nothing wrong with the oil connections.

America’s Wetland Foundation and Women of the Storm are partners in another affiliated campaign called “America’s Energy Coast” whose tag line is “Shore Up, Fuel The Nation.”

Last fall, America’s Energy Coast released a white paper called Region at Risk: Preventing the Loss of Vital National Assets [PDF], which called on Congress and the Obama administration

“to resolve the maze of bureaucratic roadblocks that threaten the long-term sustainability of region.”

The AWF’s “America’s Energy Coast” white paper lays out what the oil-funded campaign is primarily concerned with protecting:

“At
 risk
 is
 an engine 
that
 fuels,
 feeds
 and
 supports
 the
 American
 economy.
 This
 is
 the
 nation’s
 energy
 corridor
 that
 provides
 90%
 of 
the
 domestic 
offshore 
oil
 and
 gas
 supply
 and 
is 
tied 
to 
50% 
of 
the 
nation’s 
refining 
capacity.”

Never mind the pelicans and dolphins, this is all about oil production. In language that demonstrates fully the bastardization of the word “sustainability” by polluting interests, the paper suggests:

…our
 nation
 does 
not
 fully
 appreciate 
the
 benefits 
derived 
from
 these 
working 
wetlands. … 
The 
ongoing
 debate 
at 
the 
national 
level 
on 
the 
best 
use 
of 
the
 region’s
 natural
 resources
 has
 failed 
to
 recognize 
the
 urgent
 need
 for
 comprehensive
 solutions 
to
 the
 challenge
 of
 wholesale 
sustainability.
”

“Wholesale sustainability?” And by that the AWF apparently means:

…
no 
greater 
threat 
to 
sustainability
 exists 
than the
 threat 
of
 inaction 
or
 the
 maze
 of
 governmental
 processes that
 prevent
 efficient
 solutions.

 … 
the 
long-term
 survival
 and
 success
 of 
this
 region 
is
 ultimately
 tied
 to 
large-scale
 Federal
 recognition 
and 
support.
”“Among 
the
 most
 challenging
 obstacles
 to
 achieving
 sustainability 
along
 America’s
 Energy
 Coast 
are 
inconsistent
 laws, 
policies 
and
 regulations
 at
 all
 levels 
of
 government.
”

And why is the oil-backed group such a big fan of restoring wetlands and achieving “A New Sustainability”? Could it possibly have anything to do with protecting oil rigs and refineries?

These
 coastal
 landscapes
 provide
 protection 
to millions
 of
 people
 and
 hundreds
 of
 billions
 of
 dollars worth
 of
 property
 and 
infrastructure because 
they
 serve
 as 
buffers
 against 
hurricanes
 and
 storm 
surges.”

The AWF paper even has the gall to blame global warming for threatening oil and gas infrastructure, oblivious to the irony of such an argument:

“energy
 production
 and
 navigation
 activities
 are 
essential
 to
 America’s
 economic
 interests,
 but
 environmental
 threats,
 such
 as 
increasingly
 intense
 storms,
 rising
 sea
 levels,
 and
 ongoing
 coastal
 erosion
 and
 subsidence
 pose
 a 
significant
 risk 
to
 the
 physical
 infrastructure that
 supports
 these
 activities.”

This week, AWF ran ads in several DC and Gulf Coast media outlets touting a letter the group sent to Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy. The top priority item requested in the letter:

“Accelerate [Outer Continental Shelf drilling] revenue sharing to Gulf producing states for coastal restoration.”

That would of course mean more risky offshore drilling, one of the primary threats to the Gulf’s health, as the BP disaster has made clear.

So next time you sign a petition ostensibly about ‘saving’ the Gulf ecosystem, make sure you know who is behind it first. America’s Wetland Foundation seems more interested in saving face for the oil and gas industry and tapping taxpayer coffers to protect oil and gas infrastructure than truly protecting the Gulf Coast.

BP and the rest of the offshore drilling industry should “Be The One” to clean up their mess, not the U.S. taxpayer.


Co-authored by Brendan DeMelle and Jerry Cope.

Wetlands Front Group Funded By Big Oil Wants To Ensure Taxpayers Foot The Bill For BP's Gulf Destruction
Brendan is Executive Director of DeSmog. He is also a freelance writer and researcher specializing in media, politics, climate change and energy. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, The Huffington Post, Grist, The Washington Times and other outlets.

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