Damage to our wetlands
6th August 2013 · 0 Comments
I was happy to hear about the coastal-damage lawsuit brought against the major oil companies by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East. This effort out of New Orleans is long overdue.
For years the people of Louisiana have seen how offshore oil exploration and production has damaged our wetlands. The BP spill, as bad as it was, will be viewed as a minor event when placed in the context of years of coastal erosion.
Yet, since the destruction of our wetlands has become known and fully understood, no statewide politician except Gov. Dave Treen has tried to hold the oil industry accountable.
Here’s what National Geographic said in October 2004:
“Since the 1950s engineers have also cut more than 8,000 miles of canals through the marsh for petroleum exploration and ship traffic. These new ditches sliced the wetlands into a giant jigsaw puzzle, increasing erosion and allowing lethal doses of salt water to infiltrate brackish and freshwater marshes.”
Add the role of land subsidence, in which oil and gas removal has caused the earth to literally sink into open water, and you have an industry that could be held liable for half of Louisiana’s land loss.
As Louisiana citizens have learned these facts, from our own state newspapers, national publications and respected academic sources, our elected officials have sung the same tired song: blame the government. Be they governors, senators, congressmen or legislators, they all say “Let Washington fix our coast.”
Certainly the government’s construction of levees to control the Mississippi River robbed the Louisiana Delta of its land-building sediment. But the people of Kansas, Montana, Vermont and the other states did not cut the oilfield canals through our marsh or drill the oil wells in our wetlands.
Why do our political leaders give a pass to the oil companies and put the entire burden of coastal restoration on American taxpayers? Could it be that they depend on generous contributions from oil companies to get re-elected?
I served in the Legislature for 27 years and have been a member of the state Public Service Commission since 2003. In that time Governor Treen has been virtually the only Louisiana politician to argue that the oil companies should pay for the wetlands damage they caused.
When Treen introduced his Coastal Wetlands Environmental Levy in the early 1980s, the oil companies that helped elect him in 1979 went from friend to enemy in a matter of days.
That same political pressure is now bearing down on the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. Instead of being praised for its courage, this board of New Orleans-area levee districts is accused of trying to “shut down” the oil and gas industry, of “overstepping its mission,” and of being “hijacked” by trial lawyers.
That last comment was by Gov. Bobby Jindal. He’s the same fellow who argued against suing the tobacco companies in the 1990s when he was secretary of Health and Hospitals. Fortunately the state didn’t listen, and we got $4 billion from Big Tobacco to help pay for treating people in state hospitals with lung cancer, emphysema and other illnesses related to smoking.
Give Jindal credit: he is consistent. He represents special interests over the people. First it was the big tobacco companies, now it’s the major oil companies.
As for the suggestion that this lawsuit will “shut down” the oil industry, consider that Louisiana and Texas between them have 40 percent of the nation’s refining capacity and these plants are running wide open. Louisiana has the Mississippi River to transport petroleum products, we have 50,000 miles of pipelines, and we have an educated and trained workforce.
Not to mention some of the world’s most productive oil and gas fields right off our coast.
Given these facts, can anyone seriously say the industry is leaving?
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East has drawn a line in the dirt. Its lawsuit against major oil companies over their role in coastal erosion challenges the politicians of Louisiana to defend our state like they would defend their own property. Ask yourself: If Bobby Jindal, Mary Landrieu, David Vitter or any Louisiana politician were to suffer damage to their own property like we have seen in the wetlands, would they look the other way?
– Foster Campbell
Public Service Commissioner
This article originally published in the August 5, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.