A grant-making organization founded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has started an aggressive fund-raising effort to make sure that grass-roots environmental groups and community organizations along the Gulf Coast have the money they need to respond to the oil spill.
So far, the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health, a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, has raised $180,000, and has awarded $154,500 in emergency grants to 28 grass-roots environmental groups in the region. The fund dipped into its reserves to make the first round of awards.
Among the organizations’ efforts: providing independent monitoring of the effects of the disaster, advocating for more safety equipment for clean-up workers, and mapping where oil is coming ashore.
Two weeks ago, the fund led a three-day trip that gave two dozen foundation officials and individual donors a chance to meet with leaders of the groups the fund supports and see firsthand how the spill was affecting coastal communities.
So far, tour participants have made commitments of at least $60,000 to those organizations, apart from the money raised and awarded by the Gulf Coast fund.
It was agonizing to see “the horrible, horrible impact that this oil spill will have on the very fabric of the communities of the gulf,” says Mike Herz, a donor and longtime environmentalist who lives in Damariscotta, Maine. The trip, he says, really drove home the devaestating human consequences of the ecological disaster.
“I went down there as an environmentalist,” says Mr. Herz, “and I came back as a social activist.”
Monitoring Oil Plumes
The Gulf Restoration Network, which received a $7,000 emergency grant from the fund, has been an active participant in the effort to hold BP accountable for the damage caused by the spill.
On Friday, the New Orleans organization was one of three environmental groups that filed suit against BP in federal court to try to force the company to mount a more effective response to the disaster and to be more open about its actions.
n addition, several times a week since the disaster started, the Gulf Restoration Network has sent employees out either by boat or plane to document the extent and location of oil plumes.
What BP says it is doing to protect wetlands has not always matched what the group’s monitors see out on the water, says Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network.
“At one point, we were told that there were over 1,000 people working on cleanup at the site of the spill before it hit land,” says Ms. Sarthou. “Our overflights saw one or two boats skimming, but nobody else on the water, so we’re not quite sure where the 1,000 people were.”
The company says that it has more than 275 vessels, including skimmers, tugs, barges, and recovery vessels, at work trying to contain and disperse oil that has reached the surface of the water.
While the Gulf Restoration Network’s focus is on the environment, the group is also concerned about the impact on people along the coast, so the organizationgroup has decided to give 25 percent of the money it raises in the next few months to the Gulf Coast Fund, says Ms. Sarthou.
“We needed to make sure that part of the money went to groups who were in need and may not have the wherewithal or ability to raise money like we do,” she says.
The Gulf Coast Fund is reaching out and encouraging other national and regional environmental groups to do the same.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, in New York, has donated $20,000 and is making its scientists and lawyers available to assist the fund’s grantees, and Earth Justice, in Oakland, Calif., will contribute a quarter of the money raised by an appeal it recently sent to its donors.
“It is absolutely understandable and completely appropriate for national groups to use this time to move their message about clean energy and moving off of oil,” says Annie Ducmanis, a project manager at the Gulf Coast Fund. “But we want to make sure that while they are using this incredible messaging opportunity, they do not forget the communities on the ground that are being decimated by it.”