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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. It's 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, said in a phone interview 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.

Update: ThinkProgress reports that Sandra Bullock has backed out of the greenwashing campaign.

 

Follow Brendan DeMelle on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bdemelle