An Interview with Oceana’s Nancy Pyne: a Force in Climate and Energy

Oceana’s Nancy Pyne has been a core member of our powerful partner organization’s climate and energy campaign since 2013, and serves as its acting director, while continuing to manage the Grassroots Team. As the conversation from Delaware to Florida heats up about offshore drilling and seismic testing in the Atlantic, and as elected officials, business leaders, environmental organizations and concerned citizens rally to protect their coastal economies, it’s a perfect time to get inspired by Nancy’s mobilizing work to protect our ocean. Read The Moore Charitable’s interview with her here.

Oceana's Nancy Pyne. Photo (c) Patrick MustainOceana’s Nancy Pyne. Photo (c) Patrick MustainWhat are your responsibilities at Oceana?
As Acting Director for Oceana’s climate & energy campaign, I direct our team of marine scientists, lawyers, lobbyists, campaign organizers, communications professionals and research associates in our efforts to stop the expansion of dirty and dangerous offshore drilling, while promoting clean energy solutions like offshore wind. At Oceana, we use a multi-disciplinary approach to win policy change, and the campaign director develops the strategy behind each prong of our work, as well as works with each department to achieve our goals.

As Grassroots Manager, I oversee Oceana’s four campaign organizers and one associate; as a field team we cover coastal states from Florida to New York, and are in the process of expanding our team to include the West Coast. We work with allies and activists on the ground to engage them in Oceana’s U.S. campaigns, including fighting the expansion of offshore drilling, stopping Atlantic seismic airgun blasting, promoting ocean-based clean energy alternatives like offshore wind, protecting sharks from the shark fin trade, reducing by-catch by promoting responsible fishing practices, and defending our core marine conservation laws. We’ve cultivated and led an ever-growing opposition movement against Atlantic offshore drilling and seismic airgun blasting, which consists of more than 125 municipalities, over 1,200 elected officials, an alliance representing 41,000 businesses, and numerous fishing groups including all three East Coast Fishery Management Councils. Our goal is to grow and deepen this movement on the East Coast, and replicate the model along the West Coast.

What is fulfilling about your job?
There are two things that I find most rewarding about my work at Oceana: my team, and the relationships we’ve forged with activists and allies on the ground. I feel very lucky to work with such a top notch group of committed, passionate and smart people. Like all teams, we go through our ups and downs, but we never waiver in our commitment to winning this fight together. We all bring a different perspective to the table, which helps drive our strategy and success. Plus, at the end of the day— we really care about each other as colleagues and friends.

I always say that I have the best job at Oceana—I get to work in HQ, with all of Oceana’s resources at my fingertips, but I get to manage the organizers who work with real people on the ground, achieving milestones and victories every week. I am immensely proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish on the East Coast, but the part I find most rewarding is how many lives we’ve changed by showing citizens that they can engage in democracy, and make a difference.

What is challenging?
There are many challenging parts of the work that we do—after all, we’re up against some of the best-funded and most powerful industries in the world. I gain strength from that knowledge, however, and strive to harness it in my work. The most challenging aspect is just keeping up—there is always more work to be done, and with this Administration every day brings more challenges. Keeping a positive attitude and trying to stay even-keeled is essential, though not always easy.

Seismic airgun testing currently being proposed in the Atlantic could injure 138,000 whales and dolphins and disturb millions more, according to government estimates. Photo © Tim Calver

Seismic airgun testing currently being proposed in the Atlantic could injure 138,000 whales and dolphins and disturb millions more, according to government estimates. Photo © Tim Calver

Seismic airgun testing currently being proposed in the Atlantic could injure 138,000 whales and dolphins and disturb millions more, according to government estimates. Photo © Tim CalverWhich Oceana campaigns you are working on?
The majority of my time is devoted to stopping the expansion of offshore drilling to new areas, and preventing seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic. Right now I am also spending a lot of time networking and reaching out to new partners on the West Coast in order to lay the ground work for our soon-to-be-hired campaign organizers. As I mentioned, the field team also works on Oceana’s other U.S. campaigns like shark conservation, responsible fishing, and defending our core marine conservation laws, so I work on those issues as well.

What are the specific goals for the offshore drill campaign right now?
Our goals are big. We aim to stop the expansion of offshore drilling to the Atlantic, Eastern Gulf, Pacific and Arctic oceans, as well as prevent seismic airgun blasting from moving forward in the Atlantic. In order to achieve those goals, we engage elected officials, allies in the business and fishing industries, scientists, conservation groups, and volunteers at the local, state and national level, to oppose offshore oil and gas activities.

What are your proud of with regards to your campaign?
I’m running the risk of sounding like a broken record, but: the team I’ve built and managed, and the partnerships we’ve established along the East Coast. Our campaign organizers in particular had to work very hard to establish themselves in their respective communities. After many years of building one-on-one relationships, the results speak for themselves. We lead a robust coalition of allies and volunteers all committed to winning this fight AGAIN.

What is the next best thing that could happen in your campaign?
With regards to offshore exploration, while it might be hard to stop seismic companies from gaining the permits needed to conduct seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic, we are advocating for mitigation measures to drastically reduce the expected impacts. We are also exploring legal options—we need to stay nimble, and take every possible opportunity that pops up in this fight.

For offshore drilling, I am excited to engage even more people on the East Coast, and form a whole new “army” on the West Coast. We’ve shown that folks come together across the aisle when their coast is threatened by offshore drilling—even if we lose this fight, which I don’t think we will, the impacts of engaging so many folks in the decision-making process has the potential to shape the very core of our democracy.

A bit about you: Where are you from?
I’m from the Bronx, New York—my parents are still in the same apartment I grew up in. I went to college at Cornell in upstate New York, spent the year after college organizing in Hartford Connecticut, and now I’m going on seven years in Washington, DC.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a path that has lead you into ocean conservation/protection work?
My initial interest in conservation work probably traces back to my childhood trips to the Bronx Zoo. Every year of my life, my father’s Aunt Betty would take me, my sister, and a rotating cast of cousins to the zoo—looking back, I credit these trips for instilling in me a deep appreciation for wildlife and the need to conserve our natural environment.

My first foray into policy and activism came during my senior year of college. At Cornell, I studied biology with a focus on ecology and evolution, but I was able to take several courses in the policy/sociology/management spheres. In 2008, I enrolled in a course where you chose a subject in the field of “natural resources policy and process,” and traveled down to Washington, DC for 10 days to research your subject, learn about environmental policy, and interview issue experts. Incredibly, the issue I chose was offshore drilling, and several of the folks I talked to were from Oceana.

That experience studying in DC, opened my mind up to a whole new set of career options. I had previously wanted to go to graduate school to get an advanced degree in Ecology, but that course—plus a few other key ingredients—convinced me to put grad school on hold and jump right into advocacy work. It was also 2009 and Barack Obama had become president… What can I say? I caught the bug.

So after graduating, I took a position as a Field Organizer with Environment America, and I’ve been hooked on advocacy and fighting to achieve social/policy change ever since.

Did you have an AHA! moment or experience that got you to where you are?
In addition to all of the experiences I highlighted above, I think my biggest “aha moments” occurred to me in college. I LOVED learning about ecology and evolutionary biology, but it was so frustrating to study all of these incredible organisms and ecosystems and then get to the end of the semester and have the professor tell you, “and now all that’s threatened by climate change.” It was heartbreaking, but I didn’t want to be crippled by this knowledge. I wanted to get out there and do something about it. I’d say ‘08-09, was my “aha” year—everything came together and I was able to capitalize on my relationships and experiences, and jump into the field.

I’ll tell you, it was an incredible feeling when we won our fight for the Atlantic—for many, many reasons. But to look back on the eight years of my career and know that we won on the issue that inspired me to get into this field in the first place… that was a really big moment for me.

Did you have role models or heroes who were formative to where you are today?
Well, I’ve already mentioned Aunt Betty and President Obama, but there are countless other folks that I learned from along the way—too many to count, and I hate to play favorites. However, one of the experts I met in the policy course in D.C. gave me a piece of advice that’s been the mantra for my career, and to a large extent- my life. He was part of a panel of NGO reps addressing the class, and my professor asked him to offer some words of wisdom to us as we embarked on our final semester at college. His advice was “maximize serendipity.”

Who inspires you now? Why?
Again—hate to play favorites. BUT, I look to all the strong women in my life as a source of inspiration: at work, in my family, in politics.

What continues to motivate you to keep fighting for ocean protections?
At my core, I am an environmentalist and an activist. I wouldn’t know what do with myself if I wasn’t doing this work! Plus, if we don’t do it, who will? The issues that we work on are far too important to sit on the sidelines.

What is your “superhero power” when it comes to the work you do?
Even though I haven’t met many of the allies or volunteers we have on the East Coast, I have a vast rolodex in my brain. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve “weirded” people out when we meet in person and I say, “oh! You’re so-and-so! I’ve heard so much about you!” Building relationships is the key to advocacy. At the end of the day we’re all human beings—if we recognize that humanity and get to know each other, many more doors will open.

What’s your favorite body of water? Marine animal?
Is it cheating to say the Atlantic? But I will admit a big fondness for Delaware’s beaches. For marine animal, I’m going sting ray. They are SO COOL.

If you could advise readers on 3 things to do to help the ocean, what would they be?
Diet, Exercise and Democracy! Eat less meat, know where your fish are coming from and make smart choices about the seafood you’re consuming, walk and bike more (and drive less), and hold ALL your elected officials accountable: call and write them constantly, and if they don’t vote the way you want them to, vote ‘em out!

Why the ocean is everybody’s business

The ocean sustains life on earth. It provides half the oxygen we breathe, has absorbed a quarter of our carbon emissions, supports the livelihoods of over three billion people and puts food on our plates.

But the ocean is in trouble. There’s more plastic in the ocean than ever before – by 2050 it’s predicted there will be more plastic than fish! Pollution is causing ‘dead zones’, climate change is warming the ocean making it increasingly acidic, overfishing is putting species dangerously at risk and ecosystems are being pushed beyond their limit.

Despite covering 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface, only three per cent of the ocean is currently under some form of protection, and much of the remaining 97 per cent suffers from poor management. There is also so much we still don’t know – the ocean is probably the least understood and most biologically diverse of all of Earth’s ecosystems with millions of species yet to be discovered.

But it’s not too late. We can change the tide. The ocean is incredibly resilient and it could recover, but only if we all play our part. Studies have shown that creating marine protected areas have multiple positive effects – they result in higher fish populations, larger fish, and greater biodiversity both within the reserve and beyond, due to the “spill-over” effect.

Today is an historic moment for the oceans. Running from June 5th to 9th, the United Nations is hosting the first ever conference entirely dedicated to the ocean – focussing on Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water.

To coincide with this, Virgin Unite’s initiative, Ocean Unite, is launching a campaign called The Ocean is Everybody’s Business – all about how business can help protect the ocean for the future. For advice on how businesses can play their part, visit the dedicated Ocean is Everybody’s Business website which outlines 8 keys ways to make ocean business your business.

For individuals looking to do their bit to save the ocean, there are lots of things we can all do. Here’s a few ideas:

Helping Indigenous Communities in Panama Use Technology to Save the Rainforest

Panama does not officially have a share of the Amazon, but a share of rainforest if definitely has. The Darien jungle remains one of the most remote and inaccessible places on the planet: Panama’s “Darién Gap” is the only missing link in the Pan-American Highway, due to wild swampland and forest too costly – both financial and environmentally – through which to officially build.

Yet illegal logging and development threatens this land, and indigenous communities such as the Embera–Wounaa in Darien Province are fighting back. Supported by partners such as The Rainforest Foundation, these groups are using modern tools to protect the forest and its inhabitants.

With help from The Rainforest Foundation, drones are changing how indigenous communities in Panama take control of their lands and forests.

With help from The Rainforest Foundation, drones are changing how indigenous communities in Panama take control of their lands and forests. Photo: Rainforest Foundation site.

Guns? No – drones. In an initiative kicked off in 2015, with a second phases launched last summer, Rainforest Foundation and a national federation of indigenous peoples have been training local mapping teams how to fly fixed-wing and helicopter drones and manipulate sophisticated software that creates highly accurate maps to document incursions into their territories. This action not only gives a comprehensive, bird’s eye view of the illegal activities, cleared land, and other deforestation attempts: it allows indigenous communities to identify areas at risk, and areas already under attack, and alert/work with authorities without direct and dangerous confrontation – an act that has proven to be fatal one too many times.

This high-tech mapping initiative is great example of the Rainforest Foundation’s mission at work: helping indigenous people – those intimately connected to their ancestral lands – secure and exercise their legal right to protect the forests that we all depend on. Its a great investment and documented return: rainforests protected by Indigenous communities have the lower rates of deforestation than any other forests in the world including national parks, nature preserves, government land, and private sanctuaries. Louis Bacon‘s Moore Charitable Foundation is proud to be part of this bold and successful conservation effort. In the words of the Rainforest Foundation: “Indigenous communities right to their ancestral lands isn’t just the right thing to do, it is the most effective way to protect our rainforests.”

Read more about The Rainforest Foundation’s work to help combat illegal deforestation in an excellent and recent article by VICE magazine.

Industrial Hog Operation Murphy-Brown Refuses to Clean up Its Pollution in Three Eastern North Carolina River Basins

First published on Waterkeeper Alliance.

Conservation groups today filed a motion in federal court seeking to require an industrial hog operation, Murphy-Brown, to comply with a 2006 agreement to clean up its groundwater contamination at several hog facilities in eastern North Carolina. Under the agreement, an independent groundwater expert identified 11 facilities in the Neuse, Lumber, and Cape Fear River basins with demonstrated threats to groundwater or confirmed groundwater pollution.

Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, Inc, the largest pork factory operation in the world, faced four different legal challenges relating to Clean Water Act violations from its massive industrial hog facilities before a 2006 agreement with Waterkeeper Alliance and the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation (now Sound Rivers, Inc.) was reached. But the motion filed today by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Waterkeeper Alliance and Sound Rivers alleges that Murphy-Brown has failed to comply with a central component of the agreement — remedying demonstrated groundwater hazards at its hog facilities in eastern North Carolina.

“Based on the company’s own records, an independent expert has determined that 11 of Murphy Brown’s facilities are endangering our groundwater in three of North Carolina’s river basins,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We’re asking the court to require the corporation to make good on its promises and to clean up its facilities.”

Under the terms of the agreement, an independent groundwater expert chosen by the parties evaluated Murphy-Brown owned and operated swine facilities in eastern North Carolina for potential contamination of groundwater by swine waste. That review identified the 11 facilities with demonstrated groundwater contamination or waste lagoon problems in Bladen, Columbus, Duplin, Pitt, Sampson and Scotland counties. As part of the review, the expert identified additional groundwater sampling needed to ensure that groundwater contamination at each site is cleaned up.

“We hope the court promptly orders the necessary information collection,” said Will Hendrick, Chapel Hill-based staff attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. “The parties selected a neutral expert and we should rely on his expertise regarding the nature and extent of investigation needed to fully evaluate, and respond to, the problems with lagoons and groundwater pollution identified at these facilities.”

Murphy-Brown refuses to allow the consultant to take necessary groundwater samples. The motion follows failed attempts to resolve Murphy Brown’s objections through settlement. In today’s motion, SELC asks the court to require the company to adhere to the requirements of the agreement between the parties and allow the consultant to gather necessary data to develop corrective action plans for each of the 11 identified sites that pose a threat to groundwater.

“We are disappointed that Murphy Brown is not willing to move forward with the next phase of the settlement agreement, which would establish what needs to be done to clean up groundwater pollution at these facilities,” said Harrison Marks, executive director of Sound Rivers. “We will continue to seek enforcement of this agreement.”

Important Work from West to East: Critical Community Initiatives in Costilla County and Blue Economy Advocacy at The World Ocean Summit

Costilla County, one of five counties in the San Luis Valley was the first area of the state of Colorado to be colonized with recorded history dating back to 1540, the year Coronado explored the Southwest. Home to the oldest town in Colorado, San Luis, it is mainly a farming and agriculture county, but also welcomes thousands of visitors year round from far and wide. Here, The Trinchera Blanca Foundation, an affiliate of Louis Bacon’s Moore Charitable Foundation, is proud to provide support to local organizations protecting and improving the land, habitat and quality of life for the people of region.

Costilla County Prevention Partners

Costilla County Prevention Partners

The Costilla County Economic Development Coalition

The Costilla County Economic Development Coalition

This week the MCF team visited two important partners to renew our support of their work: The Costilla County Economic Development Coalition, whose projects to create a tourism and community center will be a tremendous asset for the community and their economy; and Costilla County Prevention Partners, which has seen after school participation grow with students becoming more engaged in programming. A  big hats off to both organizations for their critical efforts in an area we consider to be our home.

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At the World Ocean Summit in Bali, partners have announced important initiatives including this one to restore critical mangrove habitats.

Moving far, far East: since February 22 through today we have been tuning into Bali, Indonesia, host to the fourth World Ocean Summit. The topic: how the transition from a conventional economy in the ocean to one that is sustainable (“blue”) is a major investment opportunity – one to be harnessed immediately if we collectively wish to safeguard marine resources and provide a future for the millions of people dependent upon it (and dare we say, the world at large). Readers can see my feed for important announcements or follow the #OceanSummit hashtag on Twitter and Instagram. We are indebted to the work of, among so many others, Conservation International, Nature Conservancy, the Walton Family Foundation and other ocean partners and champions for major initiatives – from saving coral and mangroves to building sustainable fisheries.