Louisiana’s Failure to Enforce: Roughly 1 Out of Every 100 Oil Spills Faces Any Fine


Just how dismal is Louisiana’s enforcement of oil spill regulations? Well, a New Orleans newspaper is out with an investigative piece that looks at years of state “enforcement” – and finds exceedingly little focus or success. The report details how overlapping state and federal jurisdictions are used to delay and dodge responsibility. In fact, only about 1 of every 100 oil spills faces any sort of enforcement action, such as fines.

Incredibly, one of the reasons (or excuses) given for the lax enforcement is that companies don’t “intentionally” spill the oil. Look, nobody is saying that companies, like BP, intentionally spill oil. We’re simply making the argument that when you put profits ahead of safety – and production levels ahead of the environment – bad things are going to happen.

The Gambit quotes Paul Templet, a top official at the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) during the Buddy Roemer era, explaining that “…lax enforcement leads to lax behavior…you let the little things go, and you set yourself up for something big to happen.”

I applaud Dr. Templet for his candor. He understands the “enforcement culture” very well.

In my experience prosecuting Big Oil in the state of Louisiana, the last hint of enforcement (or, really, anybody even giving a damn at all) came during the Roemer Administration. But the Louisiana civic landscape is littered with the broken careers of people who took environmental protection seriously – only to have their courageous work rolled back in subsequent administrations.

The statistical evidence is just jaw-dropping. According to the Gambit, Louisiana is recording more than 4,000 spills a year and roughly 1 in a 100 faces any enforcement action. The excuse Rodney Mallett, a Louisiana DEQ spokesperson, offers for the lack of prosecutions is that few companies willingly spill crude oil. What a joke.

“Oil is a valuable product,” says Mr. Mallett in the Gambit story. We can only hope the Louisiana state police assume a similar policy: Only those who meant to exceed the speed limit should get fined.

Do you know what’s not a “valuable product”? Produced water – radioactive waste created in the drilling process. The Gambit tells the story of another former DEQ enforcement agent who confronts somebody dumping produced water, only to be told that the few thousand dollars worth of state fines will be much less than the millions required to legally dispose of the toxic material. And that’s if there’s any fine at all.

The Gambit staff is looking behind the curtain for Louisiana environmental enforcement – and nobody is going to like what they’ve found.

Read the entire “Built To Spill” story here: http://www.bestofneworleans.com/gambit/built-to-spill/Content?oid=1608991

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – 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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