By now, we all know that the federal government is pretty much impotent in the face of the seafloor gusher that’s been spewing unknowable amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for a month, reliant instead on BP to clean up the mess it’s made. But why the oil giant has also been empowered to dictate where along the Gulf journalists can travel is another thing altogether.
Mother Jones reporter Mac McClelland spent two days recently trying to get out to the Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge, “stymied at every turn” by law enforcement officials who claim they’re getting their marching orders from BP.
In an excellent piece published Monday, McClelland describes the hurdles that she and John Hazlett, a former professor of hers at the University of New Orleans, encountered before they finally made it out to Elmer’s.
The blockade to Elmer’s is now four cop cars strong. As we pull up, deputies start bawling us out; all media need to go to the Grand Isle community center, where a “BP Information Center” sign now hangs out front. Inside, a couple of Times-Picayune *reporters circle BP representative Barbara Martin, who tells them that if they want passage to Elmer they have to get it from another BP flack, Irvin Lipp; Grand Isle beach is closed too, she adds. When we inform the *Times-Pic reporters otherwise, she asks Dr. Hazlett if he’s a reporter; he says, ”No.” She says, “Good.” She doesn’t ask me. We tell her that deputies were just yelling at us, and she seems truly upset. For one, she’s married to a Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputy. For another, “We don’t need more of a black eye than we already have.”
“But it wasn’t BP that was yelling at us, it was the sheriff’s office,” we say.
“Yeah, I know, but we have…a very strong relationship.”
“What do you mean? You have a lot of sway over the sheriff’s office?”
Martin goes on to tell McClelland that BP is dictating who can visit Elmer’s because “it’s BP’s oil.”
“But it’s not BP’s land.”
“But BP’s liable if anything happens.”
“So you’re saying it’s a safety precaution.”
“Yeah! You don’t want that oil gettin’ into your pores.”
“But there are tourists and residents walking around in it across the street.”
“The mayor decides which beaches are closed.” So I call the Grand Isle police requesting a press liason, only to get routed to voicemail for “Melanie” with BP. I call the police back and ask why they gave me a number for BP; they blame the fire chief.
I reach the fire chief. “Why did the police give me a number for BP?” I ask.
“That’s the number they gave us.”
McClelland’s piece goes into much greater depth, so read the whole thing, and then get her updates here.
Meanwhile, at least there are no questions about who’s really running the show.