Honore: Oil and chemical companies “hijacking our democracy”

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Talk about a contrast: This weekend, I told you about a speech in New Orleans before America’s top environment journalists that was delivered by Geoff Morrell, the former Pentagon flack turned public relations “expert” for BP in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon fiasco. I mentioned that Morrell stunned the reporters in the audience by blaming the aura of bad publicity surrounding the British oil giant on them, and not the massive amounts of BP oil that polluted the Gulf.

But that same gathering journalists also heard a blast of fresh air when it came to environmental issues here on the Gulf Coast, and maybe even got a whiff of some of the political changes that I believe are coming down the road as voters here in Louisiana are waking up to decades of environmental abuse by Big Oil. The inspiring words came, of course, from retired Gen. Russel Honore, who gained fame for his work in rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, nine years ago, and who has now focused like a laser beam on Louisiana’s environmental woes. Last week, Honore told the journalists that Big Oil, along with the chemical plants that line what is known as “Cancer Alley,” are “hijacking our democracy.”

Here is another excerpt of what he told the environmental journalists:

Lieutenant General Honore dismissed that as industry-soft spin and encouraged people to speak up for Gulf of Mexico dolphins, as well as nature in general.

They need to look out for the health and safety of poor people living near any one of 100 chemical plants between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Lieutenant General Honore said.

“You don’t have to go far for a story,” he told the packed ballroom. 

He added:

Lieutenant General Honore was critical of an estimated 6,000 abandoned oil wells in the Gulf.

“Who do you think put them there?” he asked. “I didn’t. Where’s the accountability?”

He implored the media to make a stronger commitment to covering environmental news.

“The democracy doesn’t work unless you shed light on it,” Lieutenant General Honore said. “There’s never been a bigger time in our history when the world needs you writing environmental stories.”

As has been mentioned previously on this blog and elsewhere, Honore hasn’t ruled out running for Louisiana governor when the position comes open in the 2105 election. That’s exciting news for voters here who haven’t had too much of a choice in recent years. And Honore is paying close attention to what policy makers in the state are up to.

In fact, he spoke out again this week as state regulators moved closer to the ill-advised stance of allowing fracking in a sensitive area of St. Tammany Parish. The pro-industry Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, gave Helis Oil and Gas a preliminary permit to drill, and they announced it late on the Friday of Labor Day weekend.

Here is what Gen. Honore said, and I could not agree more:

“Releasing the news on Friday is typical of Louisiana’s government. It is another demonstration of how DNR is an advocate for the oil industry, not the people,” retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, founder of the Green Army, told DeSmogBlog. “They know the majority of the parish do not want fracking and that they are doing something the people don’t want. Releasing the news like that is disrespectful.”

Now imagine that level of candor coming from the governor’s office in Baton Rouge. I honestly don’t know if the general plans to run next year, although I’m certainly hoping that he will. But either way, he has changed the political conversation in Louisiana…for good.

Check out my Sept. 6 blog post on BP’s spokesman Geoff Morrell: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/its-time-for-arrogant-bp-to-pay-up-now-not-later/

Read more about Gen. Russel Honore’s talk to environmental journalists in New Orleans: http://toledoblade.typepad.com/ripple-effect/2014/09/polluters-are-hijacking-our-democracy-according-to-retired-military-general-who-took-control-of-hurr.html

Here’s the latest on the plan for fracking in St. Tammany Parish: http://www.desmogblog.com/2014/09/07/louisianas-st-tammany-parish-comes-one-step-closer-fracking

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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