Saturday, November 09, 2013

Dealings with Devils

So by now we know what happens to the levee board Governor Jindal appoints when it antagonizes his friends in the energy industries.  But what happens if all these people get involved?
Even as Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration launched an all-out assault this year against a state agency’s lawsuit accusing energy companies of destroying coastal wetlands, officials in the Republican strongholds of Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes were quietly preparing their own cases aimed at forcing the oil and gas industry to repair the damage it allegedly has done in those areas.

In coming weeks, both parishes’ councils could file their own suits centered around allegations that the industries have taken an enormous toll that can be measured in terms of land that has simply washed away, multiple sources familiar with the cases told The New Orleans Advocate.
This is an interesting development in light of a couple of big headlines last week.  First, The Advocate became the latest publication to tout the expected industrial renaissance coming to Southeast Louisiana thanks to the nationwide boom in hydraulic fracking.
Louisiana is enjoying its biggest industrial boom since the oil bust in the 1980s, and much of the action — tens of billions of dollars of investment — is happening along the 70-mile corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The stretch, known mostly for sugarcane fields and plantation homes before the petrochemical industry began to arrive in the 1940s and 1950s, is riding a wave of capital spending powered by natural gas prices that have hit historic lows. Local and state economic development officials say the construction bonanza will likely create tens of thousands of high-paying jobs and generate billions of dollars in tax revenue over the coming decades.
After an entire generation of post-oil bust writing about the heavy price Louisiana paid in economic, environmental, and political terms from it famous Faustian bargain with the petrochemical industry are we really going to uncritically welcome the Devil back to town when he wants to renew the lease?  Apparently so.
Some of the highlights include: Nucor Corp.’s proposed $3.4 billion steel facility in St. James Parish, which could create upwards of 1,250 new jobs; CF Industries Inc.’s $2.1 billion investment at its Ascension Parish complex, which produces nitrogen-based products used by agricultural and industrial markets; and explosives maker Dyno Nobel International’s $850 million ammonia production facility in Jefferson Parish.

Other major projects have been unveiled but are still under review, such as Shell’s proposed $12.5 billion gas-to-liquids facility in Ascension — which would create 740 new jobs paying average salaries of $100,000. In St. Charles Parish, Valero plans to build a $700 million methanol unit at its Norco refinery, allowing it to compress natural gas into liquid to make chemicals and plastics.
This was one of the more disappointing articles we've seen from John Georges's Advocate. Mostly it collected some dubious.. or at least optimistic statistics and projections from the Governor's office, from  GNO Inc., and from LSU economics professor Loren Scott.  GNO Inc., for those who haven't been paying attention, is the Landrieu era vision of a "public-private" Chamber of Commerce. It basically takes all the marketing bullcrap coming out of the business community and backs it with the imprimatur of quasi public office.  Scott, over the years, has been a reliably-wrong-about-stuff media quote machine. He's calling for 44,000 new jobs in the Baton Rouge-New Orleans region over the next two years.  I'm tempted to discount that by at least two thirds on Scott's track record alone.

Also this week, we read that many of these folks had convened in Orlando to talk about ways to develop a better strategy for regional cooperation among government and business elites.
The frigidity that historically has characterized the relationship between New Orleans and Baton Rouge melted away Sunday as about 170 government, private-sector and nonprofit leaders from both metropolitan areas gathered in Orlando to explore opportunities for collaboration on economic development initiatives.

The 2013 Super Region Canvas, a partnership between the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Greater New Orleans Inc., is a three-day conference that includes travel between Orlando and Tampa for seminars on how those cities and others in central Florida work together to improve the region’s digital media and health care industries and attack issues such as crime and poor transportation.
Here's who went on the trip. 
The group includes New Orleans Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin, East Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden and Jefferson Parish President John Young. The private sector is represented by developer Roger Ogden, businessman John Georges, who owns The New Orleans Advocate and The Advocate in Baton Rouge, and entrepreneur Damon Burns, among others.

Not to suggest that Geroges's social and business associations have anything at all to do with the way that circle's interests are covered in his paper, but it's a happy coincidence that this piece of boosterism appeared at around the same time as this get-together.

Still, there's no reason to doubt that Louisiana's energy sector will be adding jobs over the next few years. How many jobs are created, what the overall impact this has on the whole economic picture, and just how long the anticipated boom even lasts is all highly disputable, though. 

And, of course, the negative externalities associated with this activity are all well in evidence.

Thanks to the chemical processing infrastructure already in place, this River Parishes corridor has been famous for nearly 30 years as Louisiana's "Cancer Alley." This year the towns of Geismar and Donaldsonville have been treated to spectacular explosions at plants along the chemical corridor.   Ever since last summer the region has been home to the Texas Brine chemical sinkhole which as of this week was still dangerously unstable.

The Advocate article does a terrible job of touching on any of this. Instead we are presented with one line from Anne Rolfes expressing concern that pollution may scare off the tourists. The health and safety of residents, as usual, doesn't seem to enter into anyone's thinking. 

And then there's the catastrophic damage that oil and gas exploration, extraction, processing, and shipping have done to the Louisiana coast over the years. But I suppose if you can deal with the Devil you can also sue him. 
(Plaquemines Council Chairman Byron) Marinovich described the parish’s relationship to the oil and gas industry as “a deal with the devil to get revenue and jobs.” However, he said, with the parish experiencing rapid land loss, and facing the threat of storms like Hurricane Isaac, which swamped Plaquemines without being buffered by wetlands, something must be done.

“If we don’t, we’re not going to be here anymore,” he said.

With the vast profits energy companies have made in the area, Marinovich said, it is their duty to repair the damage they caused.

“They made millions of dollars through the years, billions actually,” he said. “I think they have a civic obligation to come in and do this thing and make us whole again,” he added.
 Or at least you can until the Governor figures out a way to punish you for it.

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