Saving the wetlands: The empire strikes back


In the last week, there’s been a lot of discussion about the 4th anniversary of the BP oil spill — and how Louisiana’s critical wetlands had been pummeled and degraded by an onslaught of crude. These marshes aren’t only places of great natural beauty and biological diversity, but they’re also a critical buffer — the buffer, actually — between a major hurricane and the destruction of the greater New Orleans area. One key subtext to that conversation was that these vital wetlands were already under assault long before the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe — and a main culprit was Big Oil. For the better part of a century, the oil giants have cut channels and otherwise destroyed or altered Louisiana’s marshes, with a contractual promise to restore them to their natural condition. If you’ve been paying attention, you won’t be surprised to learn that they’ve done no such thing.

The main reason that Big Oil has been able to get away with it is that the politicians let them. However, a major reversal of fortune occurred last year when a new levee board — created in the wake of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina — voted to file a landmark lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies, seeking to force them to begin the billions of dollars of work that will be needed to bring the wetlands back to par. What’s happening now is more predictable — Big Oil is frantically calling on its close allies in Baton Rouge (and there are a lot of them) to make the lawsuit go away.

New Orleans’ Gambit has a pretty good overview of the situation, called “Will Goliath win this time?” Here’s an excerpt:

The SLFPA-E lawsuit was the first stone in David’s sling. Judging by the intensity of the industry’s response — and the rush by some politicians to rally behind Big Oil — that stone clearly hit the mark.

No one has licked Goliath’s boots more eagerly than Gov. Bobby Jindal, but he’s hardly alone. Lawmakers are considering a half-dozen bills to scuttle the lawsuit. The measures range from gutting the independence of the SLFPA-E itself to retroactively de-authorizing the suit.

What’s been pleasantly surprising is the number of lawmakers — Democrat and Republican — who see those bills for what they are: a profoundly un-American attempt to prevent citizens and their leaders from petitioning the government for redress of grievances. Lest Jindal and Big Oil forget, that is a fundamental right guaranteed by the First Amendment. In fact, the bills under consideration this week violate several constitutional provisions, but that’s no big deal to Big Oil and its allies.

More than 80 percent of the voters across coastal Louisiana do not want their legislators to snuff out the SLFPA-E lawsuit. Regrettably, some coastal lawmakers are buying (and parroting) Big Oil’s big lies. Those lawmakers have forgotten the folks they are supposed to represent. I believe the voters will not forget that next election season — but by then it may be too late.

Here’s a gist of the offending bills — followed by the switchboard numbers in the House and Senate. If you care about saving Louisiana’s coast, the time to call is now.

The article lists a series of odious, pro-Big Oil legislation that’s currently under consideration in Baton Rouge — six measures — aimed at effectively shutting down the levee board and killing the lawsuit. But in addition to that issue, I’ll remind readers that there are other backwards-looking measures before Louisiana lawmakers. One is the pro-industry bill that would severely strip the rights of property owners to sue oil companies who’ve polluted their land, while another would take away citizens’ ability to win punitive damages from hazardous-waste polluters. (Read my earlier posts, here and here.)

The bottom line, though, is that Jindal and the lawmakers are racing to enact these measures not out of strength, but out of weakness. Every day, we see growing signs that the twin tragedies of Katrina and Deepwater Horizon have awakened Louisiana voters from a long sleep, that as critical elections in 2015 draw closer the electorate is prepared to end the domination of Big Oil. The current cabal in Baton Rouge is scurrying like cockroaches to get these things done in 2014 because they may not get another chance. Don’t let them. Follow the author’s advice and contact the key members of the legislature (even if you don’t live in the state and simply worry about the Gulf Coast environment). The tide is turning here in Louisiana, and this is no time to go back.

Read the entire Gambit article, “Will Goliath win this time?” here:

Read my April 9 blog post, “Why Big Oil’s Assault on Baton Rouge Must Be Stopped”:

Also check out my April 1 post, “Stop The Polluters From Taking Back Louisiana”:

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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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