By Anne Rolfes, Founding Director
The language is harsh.
“The governor’s actions today declared war on the oil and gas industry."
So said Don Briggs, President of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA), in response to Governor John Bel Edwards’ call for the oil industry to pay for destruction of the Louisiana coast. The word “war” is peppered throughout the organization’s website, always in reference to Governor Edwards’ statements about the industry’s responsibility to pay for its damages. I leave LOGA’s web site thinking not of the oil industry but of the children of Aleppo, Syria, 100,000 of whom have been bombed in the last two weeks. That is war. But the industry’s extreme language about defending itself provides insight into its distorted worldview, one in which the industry is the victim. This aggrieved stance prevents Big Oil from honestly addressing the problems it has caused our state.
The harsh language and distortion extend to denying the impacts of climate change. LOGA’s response to the connections between the August floods, climate change and fossil fuel development was that such concerns “severely lacked scientific evidence.” Severely. What are we to make, then, of a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that linked the floods to climate change? The fact is that burning oil and other fossil fuels warms our planet and contributed to the Baton Rouge floods.
Despite Big Oil’s attempt to cast itself as the injured party, the people of South Louisiana are the ones who endured the catastrophic loss. The destruction of our coast and the concurrent sea level rise mean more of the same in our future, threatening places like Baton Rouge and Lafayette that we once thought of as high ground. Meanwhile, coastal communities and the city of New Orleans face an existential threat. That’s why the elected officials in parish governments, including Republicans who live in the geographic heart of the oil industry like District Attorney Keith Stutes of Vermillion Parish, are suing the industry to repair our coast.
Governor Edwards prefers not to sue. Time and again he has stated that he would prefer that oil companies meet him at the table and negotiate a settlement, without lawsuits. This is a reasonable path, but instead the industry cries war. In the oil industry’s version, the Governor is the villain who has set greedy lawyers upon the industry. Any mention of why our coastline is destroyed conveniently omits causation. “Save the coast,” is the vacuous cry that the oil industry has heartily promoted.
Refusing to honestly address the problems it has caused is a recurring theme. Ask the industry to reduce pollution, and it will roll out an opinion piece – as the Louisiana Mid Continent Oil and Gas Association has done - of an industry burdened by laws. But the opposite is true. The laws that regulate pollution are not enforced. When the Inspector General of the Environmental Protection Agency, the regulator of on shore facilities, reviewed enforcement of environmental laws throughout the country, he found the enforcement in Louisiana to be the worst in the country. One of the reasons is cited on page 16: “a culture in which the state agency is expected to protect industry.”
The EPA Inspector General was referring to the Department of Environmental Quality, but he might well have been writing about the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). On the issue of coastal destruction, the oil industry is fervently trying to get the issue out of the courts and back into the DNR, the agency that first issued the permits. LOGA argues that DNR should begin an administrative review of the permits. In those permits, the oil industry agreed to fill in the canals it dug for pipelines and navigation. The DNR looked the other way as the industry failed to fill in those permits for half a century. Of course the oil industry wants to let DNR continue to handle it. We can all see where that has gotten us.
No wonder, then, that the oil industry engages the hyperbole of war when called to account. It is simply used to having its way with Louisiana. Thank goodness for a Governor who is finally standing up to this industry, if only in the realm of its coastal destruction.
Governor Edwards made his gubernatorial campaign about character, and he is exhibiting that character in defying an industry that has plenty of money to threaten him come election time. The TV ads have already started. But money can’t buy character, and oil industry leaders simply will not confront the hard truths about industry operations.
If their failure to face the truth hurt only themselves, it wouldn’t matter, but they are taking the state down with them, waging their own kind of long term battle. At long last, the state of Louisiana is fighting back. If it’s war they want, it is good to have a Governor who was once an Army Ranger on our side.