Don’t let Jindal do to America what he’s done for Louisiana and its environment


You might have missed it — there are, in all seriousness, close to 20 announced or expected Republican candidates for president in 2016 — but the outgoing governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, threw his hat into the ring earlier today. The Ivy League technocrat who once promised to reform government in a state with a rich history of corruption is a dim memory after seven years in Baton Rouge; this 2015 Jindal who has his eye on the White House is an unreconstructed religious fundamentalist with a surprisingly tough stance on the immigration issue for a son of immigrant parents.

Jindal didn’t talk at all about the environment in his announcement speech. Maybe that’s not what his pollsters and his focus groups told him that Republican primary voters want to hear going into this election. After all, we learned in the last couple of campaigns that most GOP candidates and their audiences generally don’t have much to say about the fate of the planet beyond chanting “Drill, baby, drill.”

But in the case of this Louisiana governor, he may not want voters to focus too much on his environmental record. There’s arguably no state on the Union with such a fragile ecology. Louisiana was struggling to recover from the floods in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when Jindal was first elected in 2007, and the governor was still in his first term when the massive BP oil spill killed fish and other wildlife, sickened cleanup workers, and destroyed the critical wetlands that could protect New Orleans and the surrounding communities from the next Katrina. Those twin catastrophes came on top of daily environmental degradation that tarnishes a state so blessed with natural resources. Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana remains home to the place that the local residents call “Cancer Alley,”  one of the highest concentrations of petrochemical plants in the world.

For more than seven years, Jindal has had a clear choice: He could side with the everyday citizens of his state, the folks who have one of the highest rates of cancer in the nation and who continue to struggle more than five years later with the fallout from the worst oil spill in American history. Or Jindal could choose to do the bidding of Big Oil and Gas, whose executives have donated well over $1 million to the Republican’s campaign coffers and who employ some of the best-connected lobbyists in Baton Rouge.

If you have to wonder what side Jindal took, then you haven’t been following politics — or Louisiana — very long.

Like many of his predecessors in the state capitol, Jindal stacked his key regulatory agencies — the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) — largely with pro-industry lackeys who downplayed or ignored major chemical spills from plants like ExxonMobil’s mammoth facility in a poor neighborhood near Baton Rouge or other leaky chemical facilities; these same public servants missed the warning signs of what would become the massive sinkhole that destroyed the small town of Bayou Corne.

If the Jindal administration was bad on the small stuff, the governor with one eye on the White House was also bad on the big stuff, including climate change. Jindal admits that human activity is warming the planet and yet he doesn’t think anything should be done about that. Indeed, he’s blasted President Obama’s lukewarm approach on environmental matters, calling the White House policies “reckless and based on a radical leftist ideology that will kill American jobs and increase energy prices.” He wants more drilling, including in federal wildlife areas, and fewer regulations.

But the presidential wannabe showed his true colors on the environment last year when the one of the two levee boards that were tasked with protecting Louisiana’s environment after the post-Katrina flooding had the audacity to actually try and protect the environment. The board’s plan to sue 97 oil and gas company that had broken their legal promises to restore the damaged wetlands where they’d drilled and produced energy would have gone a long way toward restoring Louisiana’s fragile marshlands. Instead, Jindal and his Republican allies in Baton Rouge enacted radical legislation aimed at quashing their lawsuit — with little pretense that they were acting not on behalf of the public’s welfare but on behalf of Big Business and its well-heeled lobbyists. Jindal’s craven move in support of his wealthy donors left New Orleans vulnerable for the inevitable next major hurricane to strike.

Of course, by that time Jindal will be long gone from the governor’s mansion. It’s also hard to imagine that Jindal — who was once a darling of the political pundit class — will be the 45th president of the United States, either. His current standing in the public opinion polls — both in the Republican presidential primaries and his approval ratings at home — is beyond dismal. Here in Louisiana, voters are paying more attention to possible gubernatorial candidates like retired Gen. Russel Honore who want to save our natural beauty, not destroy it. Our failed environment is one of the main reasons that Jindal trashed his brand even before his campaign for the Oval Office began.

Read a summary of Jindal’s record on the environment and on other key issues here:

Check out my June 10, 2014, blog post about Jindal’s folly in quashing the oil-and-gas lawsuit:

I chronicle my own fight for a cleaner environment in Louisiana 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:

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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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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