Magazine exposes how Big Oil lobbyists run Louisiana


The new November issue of Harper’s magazine — available on newsstands now — features a must-read article on the issues that launched this blog in the first place: Big Oil’s domination of Louisiana politics and its fight to protect polluters over landowners whose property has been dumped on.

The piece entitled “Dirty South: The foul legacy of Louisiana oil,” by journalist Ken Silverstein, drops no massive bombshells for those of us who’ve been involved in the environmental trench warfare in Louisiana for the last 20 years, but it will serve as a remarkable introduction for many readers outside the country who will be shocked at unchecked dumping of radioactive brine, the wholesale destruction of wetlands and other environmental crimes and misdemeanors. It offers,  for example, the tale of one elderly woman whose well was so polluted by an oil company that her neighbors used the free well water to power their lawnmowers.

The article does feature a revealing encounter with a well-known oil industry lobbyist, Ginger Sawyer, who is currently working on petroleum issues for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. Possibly thinking, mistakenly, that Silverstein was a pro-industry journalist with the same name, Baker spoke candidly about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s close ties to the oil companies at the time of his election and how Big Oil is already working on a legislative backup plan in case its latest attempt to block lawsuits by pollution victims is struck down in the courts:

Although she was happy about the victory, Sawyer was worried about a recent Louisiana Supreme Court decision that might require oil companies to restore polluted land to higher standards than the legislature had called for. “That undoes a lot of good we’ve won,” she said. “There’s a legislator who’s holding a bill for us in case we need one this session. We’re hoping the Supreme Court will rehear the case, but if it doesn’t, or if the rehearing goes the wrong way, that bill might be introduced.”

Well, it’s certainly not breaking news to anyone who follows Louisiana politics that lobbyists are actually writing the bills that our elected (so-called) representatives introduce as their own — but it’s nice to see them confess out in the open. As I’ve written here in the past, the efforts in Baton Rouge to curb what they call “legacy lawsuits” is about the most un-American thing you can imagine, trying to block landowners from defending the value of their own property against those who have trashed it.

Otherwise, the piece is a fantastic overview to more than a century of mostly unbroken oil company malfeasance. Here’s another excerpt:

Save for brief interruptions like Huey Long’s governorship (1928-32), oil companies have usually received whatever they have asked for. Louisiana currently provides corporations with at least $1.79 billion per year in subsidies, incentives and tax breaks, much of which benefits the resource industry. Meanwhile, the state ranks near the bottom in poverty, life expectancy, and infant mortality. Its coastal wetlands are disappearing at a rate of twenty-five to thirty-five square miles per year, and the aggressiveness of resource extraction has caused land in some places to cave in and vanish.

Consequently, a major flyway for migratory birds has disappeared and the coast has become more vulnerable to storm surges. The energy industry claims this is all due to natural causes like “wave erosion” and to the construction of dams and other manmade structures. But a 2003 U.S. Geological Survey study estimated that oil and gas operations are responsible for at least a third of Louisiana’s coastal erosion, and others have placed the figure at closer to half.

It’s a long piece, but it’s an excellent primer for anyone anxious to learn what a century of Big Oil has done to a state that still bills itself, perhaps optimistically, as the Sportsman’s Paradise. The full article is behind the magazine’s paywall, but you can read an extract here and see some of the highlights posted here.

For the excerpt of Ken Silverstein’s article in Harper’s magazine, check out:

You can read a blog post from Silverstein based upon his piece here:

© Smith Stag, LLC 2013 – All Rights Reserved

1 comment

  • another, entirely distinct fault is they are their core technical work is being accomplished using inappropriate, antiquated, and unethical top level engineering practices. As was found of the US Army Corps of Engineers on their pre-Katrina flood protection works, they were deemed to be a “system in name only”.

    Like deep water drilling, the oil industry did not recognize that it would be imperative to treat wells, their environs and near by populations as a single integrated system. Such an approach would have employed emergining resilient systems engineering principles to successfully nidentify and mitigate system-wide risks.

    If anyone on this blog might be interested, I have a collection of reference material as well as my own research results that expand the failed resilient, engineered systems perspective. I also have recommendations for the sorts of technical and cultural changes that would be needed to change industry safety behavior.

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

Follow Us

© Stuart H Smith, LLC
Share This