Respected general declares war — on the abuses of Big Oil


There’s been more environmental news than usual in recent weeks, and so it’s been a while since I’ve given readers an update on the giant sinkhole in Bayou Corne, the slow-motion ecological crisis that’s been assaulting the Louisiana bayou for more than 14 months now. That doesn’t mean that the situation is better. To the contrary, some experts say the sinkhole may grow bigger — a lot bigger!                     

BAYOU CORNE, La. – A massive sinkhole in Assumption Parish will likely double in size.

People monitoring the sinkhole near Bayou Corne expect the area to grow to 50 acres. It has taken a year for the site to grow to its current size of about 26 acres.

Ongoing activity at the site leads work crews to believe the sinkhole is not done growing.

The good news for homeowners in the area is that the sinkhole’s growth is moving in a southwest pattern. That pattern is in the opposite direction of homes in the community.

Yes, dear readers, this is what passes for good environmental news in Louisiana in 2013 — there’s an out-of-control sinkhole gobbling up your town, but at least it’s moving the other direction from your house. The latest reports from Assumption Parish come in the wake of other dire stories — fatal chemical plant explosions, carcinogens spewing from our refineries, oil spills both on and offshore — that have rocked our Sportsman’s Paradise.

Oil has been king for 100 years in Louisiana, — and it seems that some people have finally had enough of the old ways. The much-talked-about Harper’s expose of Big Oil’s toxic legacy — “Dirty South,” by Ken Silverstein — brought to the surface what many locals have already been saying about the energy companies and their oversized influence in Baton Rogue. Earlier in 2013, we saw the unprecedented lawsuit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against more than 100 oil and gas companies, asking millions to restore critical wetlands that have been destroyed by the industry. It’s a pretty safe bet to say that BP’s reckless oil spill in 2010, unleashing 5 million barrels of crude into the ever-sensitive Gulf, has sparked this newer, confrontational approach to the energy giants.

But even so, the words this week from retired Gen. Russel Honore, the man who did so much to restore order and faith in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, come as something of a shock:

After the various presentations, Lt. General Russel Honore (U.S. Army, retired) — the man who led the military into New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina — brought the room together with a frank talk titled “Fighting for Our Survival: Our Common Cause.”

I’d expected a variation of the speech Honore gave at the Rising Tide media conference in September. There he delivered a rousing indictment of Louisiana’s extraction and petrochemical industries for their failure to own the damage they cause and clean up the mess they make.

Despite the folksy, common-sense tenor of Honore’s remarks, his message was radical: Big Oil’s deep pockets control our state government and warp our democracy; it’s time to fight back against prolonged environmental injustice by polluters. Honore went so far as to endorse acts of civil disobedience to get our oil-smitten political leaders to take heed.

Now, Honore is talking tactics:

[H]is speech at the luncheon was more about the nuts and bolts of building a successful political movement. He sustained core themes through both speeches —  fairness, accountability— but focused in the second on how to fuse disparate groups (and individuals) into a collaboration with a single goal. Like a general plotting battlefront logistics, he pinpointed the enemy’s points of vulnerability and used military metaphors to illustrate strategies that could lead to victory…

Gen. Honore has said he is organizing a group to rally support to fully fund Louisiana’s coastal restoration plan — a most welcome development, especially with some of the more dire predictions about climate change and rising waters in the Gulf. But what’s even more exciting than his targeting is his strategy — empowering everyday people to roll back the unchecked power of corporations. If that is really in the works, then 2013 may have turned out to be a very good year for Louisiana and the environment, after all.

For the latest on the sinkhole in Bayou Corne, please read:

Find out more about Gen. Honore’s talk this week in New Orleans here:

Read my Oct. 29 blog post about Big Oil’s influence and the Harper’s expose:

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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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