Gen. Honoré lambasts La.’s relationship with oil and gas industry
3rd March 2014 · 0 Comments
By Susan Buchanan
“Earlier generations had World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam but the biggest challenges for this generation are water and air,” retired Lt. General Russel Honoré said Monday evening at First Unitarian Universalist Church in New Orleans. “The world’s population is growing, and we have less clean drinking water today than we did yesterday,” he warned. Honore, a Louisiana native, founded the nonprofit Green Army last fall. Monday’s lecture, called “Leadership In The New Normal,” was based on his book by the same name.
He was hosted at the church, located on South Claiborne and Jefferson Avenues, by the Louisiana Landmarks Society.The world has more than seven billion inhabitants now and will be home to nine billion in another 20 years, he said. China and India have the largest populations. “Three billion people are living on less than $4 a day,” Honoré said. “But incomes are rising, and now everyone in China wants a refrigerator, a car and a flat screen TV.” Population growth and industrialization are taking their tolls on water and air. China’s river pollution is getting worse.
Louisiana’s oil, natural gas and chemicals supply consumers around the world. “Black gold is our gift,” he said. But a hundred plants and refineries lining the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans threaten local water and air quality. “In Louisiana, these companies have the best government money can buy,” he said. “They are self-reporting and self-regulating. ‘Do what you like’ is state law.”
He faulted the state’s Dept. of Natural Resources and the Dept. of Environmental Quality for being lenient on and even cozy with oil, gas and chemical producers. “Companies get to negotiate the penalties against them“ for breaking regulations, he said.
The state caters to industry under the guise of job growth. “If a terrorist group wanted to locate here and promised to create jobs, would we let them in?” he asked.
The oil and gas industry has left abandoned wells in its wake and damaged vulnerable land near the coast. “If you broke it, fix it,” he said. “Clean up after yourself.” He said in response to a lawsuit filed last summer by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, or New Orleans levee board, against 97 oil and gas companies for their role in wetlands loss, a bill has been filed to give Louisiana governors more power in appointments to the levee board. Republican state Senator Robert Adley of District 36 in northeast Louisiana filed the bill for this year’s legislative session.
A good deal of oil field waste is considered nonhazardous under Louisiana law, Honoré said. “Hello!,“ he exclaimed. “Who is this governor working for?” Waste water from fracking and other oil and gas extraction can be stored underground and in abandoned wells, he said. What’s more, other states, including Alabama, get rid of similar waste by shipping it to Louisiana for storage.
Underground activity at Bayou Corne in Assumption Parish wasn’t properly monitored, Honoré said. A big sinkhole formed and now residents have lost their homes, he said. Separately, spokesman Sonny Cranch at salt mine operators Texas Brine said last week that 68 property owners near the sinkhole have reached settlement agreements with the company and no homes have been swallowed by the hole.
In recent years, the Dept. of Natural Resources has hosted training seminars in the summer for the oil and gas industry at the Roosevelt Hotel in downtown New Orleans, Honoré said. These how-to, annual events discuss permits for drilling, injection wells and coastal use; mineral leasing procedures; and royalty and severance tax reporting and payments, according to DNR. They’ve been held seven years in a row at hotels in New Orleans.
Meanwhile, oil and gas producers don’t fully pay the severance taxes they owe the state, Honoré said.
He said Louisiana residents have become too accustomed to odors wafting from plants and oil spills. When relatives from elsewhere visit his home, “they’ll step outside and ask what’s that bad smell?,” he said. He recommends that Louisiana’s plants adopt reverse 911 phone numbers to immediately alert neighbors about chemical releases.
Honoré praised two audience members—Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and Darryl Malek-Wiley, environmental justice organizer with the Sierra Club—for their efforts to improve local water and air quality. “People call Anne in the middle of the night to report toxic releases from refineries,” he said. “DEQ shows up the next day.”
“If you smell toxins, call the fire department, phone the police,” Honoré urged. “Contact members of the legislature about your water and air concerns. Email them, pen them a letter.”
The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico must be addressed, he also said. “Too much protein, starting in the Midwest, is being flushed into the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf,” threatening aquatic life, he said.
Improving Louisiana’s water and air quality will take leadership and citizen involvement, Honoré said. During the Revolutionary War, the nation’s residents were farmers and fishermen who took on the British Army against huge odds, he said. But a common purpose motivated them. “We beat the British because they fought for the king and our people fought for freedom,” he said.
A Water Fest will be held March 8 at the Louisiana State Capitol building in Baton Rouge. “We want to get 10,000 Louisiana citizens together to save our water,” he said. “I want all the grand mamas in this room to show up.” He also wants anyone who does nothing between breakfast and noon besides consider what to have for lunch to get involved.
When asked if he would run for governor, Honoré said no. He thinks about it, takes a nap and the urge passes. “My wife won’t let me and the pay’s too low, “ he said. “My platform wouldn’t hold water anyway. I’d like to get rid of half of government. Too much small government isn’t doing the job of regulating.”
As for education, “I’d focus on pre-K to 12th grade, and every kid would have a computer,” he said. “You can go to college on your own.” He said many of today’s college students are preoccupied with their debts when the environment should be their biggest worry.
Honoré retired from the U.S. Army in January 2008 after serving as the 33rd commanding general of the U.S. First Army at Fort Gillem, Ga. and as 2nd Infantry Division Commander when he was stationed in Korea. He is particularly respected in Louisiana for his role as commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, coordinating relief to the hurricane-devastated Gulf Coast.
To learn more about the Green Army, its vision and events, visit www.facebook.com/gogreenarmy.
This article originally published in the March 3, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.