Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Gret Stet of Texaco

John Barry speaking Monday to the Baton Rouge Press Club:
Barry summed up opposition to the lawsuit against the oil and gas industry with one word: Politics.

“People used to say the flag of Texaco flies over the State Capitol. People have to ask themselves if that’s still true,” he said during a lunchtime gathering.
Barry did not comment on whether the State of Texaco could ever have been "bigger than Texas." But the implication that the state government is wholly owned by oil and gas could not be more appropriate given the lengths the Governor and his allies in the Legislature have gone to to shut down the Flood Protection Authority's lawsuit.  In a Gambit column this week, Clancy Dubos doesn't pull any punches on this point.
No one should be surprised by Jindal’s duplicity. He has never let irony, or truth, or even a fundamental sense of right and wrong stand in the way of his ambition. And right now his ambition tells him to do whatever he can to ingratiate himself to the energy companies that he hopes will help bankroll his future political moves.

In late July, SLFPA-E sued 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies that have carved up Louisiana’s coast for the past eight decades, seeking to make them pay their fair share of the costs of repairing the marshes and protecting southeast Louisiana against the increased risks of flooding. Ever since, Jindal and his wetlands czar Garret Graves have been trying to put the kibosh on the lawsuit.

They tried to intimidate commissioners, who voted unanimously to file the lawsuit, into changing their minds. That didn’t work. Jindal now hopes to replace commissioners whose terms have expired, particularly historian John Barry, who has been outspoken in favor of the litigation. Barry, who wrote Rising Tide, is one of the nation’s leading authorities on flood control policy.
To be certain, the lawsuit is a long shot.  But it's a necessary long shot given the desperate Hail Mary situation South Louisiana finds itself in with regard to the  safety of its residents and the future of its coast.  The Lens' Bob Marshall explained shortly after the suit was filed.
Decades of drilling and dredging by the oil and gas industry have contributed to the dramatic loss of wetlands in southeast Louisiana, which help reduce storm surges pushing against the region’s flood protection levees. About 2,000 square miles of land have disappeared in Louisiana; various studies say the oil and gas industry is responsible for anywhere from 16 to 50 percent of that.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East claims that the loss of wetlands in its jurisdiction means levees and floodwalls must be built higher, resulting in a dramatic increase in their costs for building and maintaining levees and floodwalls.

The agency wants 97 companies named in the lawsuit to repair the damage, and if that’s not possible, to help defray the cost of flood protection now and in the future.
Back in February, Marshall reported on the dramatic costs the SLFPA-E was facing down as it assumed responsibility for maintaining the new and complicated flood control system from the Army Corps of Engineers.
The costs include $14 million for annual operation and maintenance of the system – a figure that does not include future levee raising — as well as $20 million a year for the next 30 years as part of the state’s cost-share for the whole project.

If the flood protection authority can’t find a fix, officials said, the only alternative would be bond issues at rates that could be ruinous to some communities.

“We’ll soon be facing a $600 million question,” the authority’s vice president, John Barry, said with reference to the 30-year cost sharing burden. “Who is going to pay?”
The lawsuit proposes that instead of placing the burden of financing the ever-increasing expense of protection on the public debt of residents, why not seek recompense from the parties responsible for putting them in this position in the first place?  It's a simple and desperate call for justice.

But no one is living under the illusion that's really within reach. 

Last week's legislative hearing demonstrated the oil industry's muscle pretty plainly.
After the meeting, Adley told reporters there wasn’t anything the Legislature could do about the suit until the next session, which begins March 10.

He and Rep. Jones both said, however, that they strongly expect multiple lawmakers to file bills seeking to either limit the authority of the levee boards or block this specific suit.
Meanwhile, Louisiana's Master Plan for coastal restoration is largely dependent upon a favorable result of the current Clean Water Act litigation against BP stemming from the 2010 Macondo disaster.  In May, The Lens hosted a forum dramatically but aptly titled "Last Call For Louisiana's Coast." There Barry said bluntly, "Were it not for the BP spill, we would not have any dollars coming" in time to even get started with the necessary work of saving what's left of the wetlands.

Now even that assertion seems hopeful. Anyone who has been following BP's increasingly defiant stance recently can't expect the state will reap an award anything near sufficient to its needs from those proceedings... certainly not in time to do what desperately needs to be done with it anyway.

Simply put, "Last Call" means it's time to start trying whatever desperate move might be left available before it becomes time to pack up and float away.  And taking 97 oil companies to court is about as desperate a move as one can make.  But even then, Barry has made it clear that the suit is an opportunity for negotiation.
I ask the governor this: Why not solve the problem? Our suit addresses only New Orleans. The entire Louisiana coast needs help. The governor has been good for the coast. I ask the governor to be great for the coast. I ask the governor to negotiate a solution acceptable to everyone. I would support this. I hope the governor and the Legislature would, too.
Of course, any good faith negotiation would have to start with taking the Texaco flag down off the Capitol building and running the Pelican back up in its place.  But even that may be too much to hope for.

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