For time to time, I’ve kept readers here up to date on Gen. Russel Honore — the retired military leader who provided strong, much-needed leadership in Louisiana’s dark days after Hurricane Katrina — and his environmental group, the Green Army. At one time, there was a lot of speculation that Honore’s “army” would prove to be his foot soldiers in the state’s 2015 gubernatorial election. In the end, Honore decided not to take on that particular mission, but the good news is that the Green Army not only didn’t disband after the election but is back pushing for reforms with a new Democratic governor in Baton Rouge.
God knows there’s a long to-do list in the state capital this spring. That’s what happens when large petrochemical interests have been allowed to lord over Louisiana as if it were a far-away “banana republic” — resulting in the massive Cancer Alley that lines the banks of the Mississippi from Baton Rouge all the way to the other side of New Orleans. As noted in a recent profile of the Green Army on the Huffington Post, Louisiana — one of the poorest states in the nation — is also ranked 47th for environmental quality. Offhand, I’m hard-pressed to even guess the three states that are in worse shape.
How bad are things in Louisiana? In the legislature, Honore’s Green Army is pushing for the most basic protections, preventing things that are hard to believe are even still legal in the 21st Century. For example, building a school on top of a hazardous waste site:
In 1942, New Orleans opened Booker T. Washington, a downtown high school for poor black residents, unfortunately it was placed atop the old Silver City Landfill, loaded with hazardous metals and pesticides. Across town in the 9th Ward, in 1985, Robert Moton Elementary School was built on a garbage pile stuffed with toxic Hurricane Betsy debris. “Students came down with rashes, nausea, and other health problems,” reported Grist.
How is such horror even possible?
“Cash-strapped communities that don’t have funds to buy a piece of property look at a list of municipally owned land and see the town dump,” said New Orleans attorney Andrew Jacoby. “Then convince themselves they can just use that land to build a school.”
The Huffington Post notes that the Green Army is pushing for legislation to make sure this never happens again:
Two New Orleans schools have actually been built on hazardous waste dumps. In fact, building schools on waste dumps is common in Louisiana. A similar bill passed the Louisiana house last year but was shot down in the senate. One problem Representative Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) pointed out: Because of Katrina, much of New Orleans can be considered a waste dump. But Monique Harden, co-director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights said it seemed to her like “the committee just wasn’t interested in supporting this bill.” A new bill is being supported by Representative Joseph Bouie (D-New Orleans), but has gone nowhere. Meanwhile, New Orleans plans to open a new school on the Booker T. Washington site. Harden and others vow to fight it.
That’s not the only environmental outrage that the Green Army and its legislative allies are hoping to address in 2016. Some of the others:
— A measure to ban the open-pit burning of hazardous military equipment, a dangerous and ill-advised process that is taking place currently in the central Louisiana town of Colfax — spewing arsenic, lead, cadmium, strontium and other toxins into the environment.
— A bill that would require greatly increased monitoring of pollution from the petro-chemical plants and other industrial sites that comprise Cancer Alley, including so-called “fence-line monitoring’ for any toxins that are escaping from these facilities.
— A proposal to limit that amount of water that large industrial users can suck from Louisiana’s main aquifers, a process that leads to saltwater intrusion, which is now threatening these main sources of tap water.
You might think that all of these pieces of proposed legislation are “no-brainers.” But when it comes to our some of our state lawmakers in Baton Rouge, “no-brainer” can be a relative term. Louisiana is blessed by some things, though: Its God-given natural beauty, and the leadership of Gen. Honore and his most dedicated band of followers. Let’s hope that in 2016, the only strong winds that whip through Louisiana’s Cancer Alley are the winds of political change.
To learn more about the Green Army’s legislative agenda from the Huffington Post, please read: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/justin-nobel/louisiana-legislators-are_b_9866494.html
Learn more about the long battle for environmental justice in Louisiana and the Deep South in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice
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