One of the unique features of life in South Louisiana is the relaxed pace. We tend to pause more than people in the rest of the country to celebrate and reflect upon the bounty around us—friends, family, nature, and tradition. As summer takes hold, days are ideally spent at crawfish boils, on the beach, fishing, or relaxing indoors, taking life at a slower pace in the company of loved ones.
By contrast, our state officials and the titans of the oil and gas industry like to urge us to rush headlong into actions that could forever alter the way of life we enjoy. Citing, over and over again, an immediate need for jobs and industry profits, they ask that we trust them with the natural resources of our state and downplay well-documented risks to our families, offshore workers’ safety, and the environment. Considering the consequences of that approach, we should all take a moment this summer to pause and reflect before allowing our state to lurch into more risky behavior.
The frantic race for oil and gas, and campaign contributions, has led to the sinking, slicing, and dicing of coastal land, literally eroding the homes and livelihoods of many Louisianans and threatening millions more with fearsome storm surges each hurricane season. Rather than allowing our local authorities to address this problem head on, Governor Jindal recently thwarted those efforts by signing a bill that, because of sloppy drafting, may also hinder coastal officials’ efforts to get compensation from BP for the Spill. Meanwhile, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor issued an alarming report this May describing how the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources is not effectively managing the thousands of abandoned oil wells that dot the state.
In another example, the state last fall pushed ahead to allow a new coal export terminal in Plaquemines Parish, in spite of the fact that the terminal may disrupt a sediment diversion project deemed necessary by the state to rebuild vanishing wetlands in the Barataria Bay. Citizens, the media, and environmental groups have documented how similar facilities, with massive, uncovered piles of coal sitting precariously on both banks of the Mississippi, have resulted in significant air and water pollution. We’ve seen the same hurry to embrace dirty industry in the name of profits at work in Mossville and Bayou Corne, where entire communities have been uprooted to make room for large-scale pollution and environmental collapse caused by industry. Are our fellow citizens’ homes really less important than guaranteeing quick corporate profits?
It’s time that we, as Louisianans, pause to question the “drill now, ask questions later” thinking emanating from places like state offices in Baton Rouge, board rooms in Houston, and the halls of power in Washington, D.C. In St. Tammany Parish, citizens and local government worried about the impacts of a proposal to “frack” for oil rightfully are standing up to urge state regulators and the oil industry to slow down before putting at risk a pristine aquifer and harming local air quality and public health. After all, in St. Tammany and elsewhere, the natural resources that industry covets are not going anywhere. But once we’ve damaged the health and well-being of our communities, it may not be possible to reverse course and clean up the mess left behind.
– Michael Brown, Esq.