When Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, was denied last month from meeting with officials from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), he said the agency was acting "like the CIA and the Gestapo." He later defended his choice of words, and today, Landry, along with U.S. Sen. David Vitter, got that meeting — an almost two-hour long discussion at the agency's office in Elmwood.
Following the morning meeting with BOEMRE officials (including director Michael Bromwich), Landry and Vitter set up a press announcement outside the building, with a podium and placards dramatically illustrating the economic impact of denied oil drilling permits. Landry and Vitter both agree that getting those permits (and the hundreds of jobs they'll create) is pivotal for creating more jobs and alleviating a federal deficit.
"The purpose of this meeting is to make sure the information given to us in Washington is the same going on here as well," Landry said. "And how we as legislators can help to address the lack of permitting going on in the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon incident. We hope it’s a step in the right direction to getting the Gulf back up and running and people back to work."
Vitter, a regular Landry supporter and political partner, said the meeting was an attempt to "bridge a huge gap in terms of the reality we live in and feel every day along the Gulf coast in terms of our energy industry, and what our administration led by first the president of course and Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, and Michael Bromwich, who was in the meeting today, keep talking about." Vitter pointed to a chart that referenced the election of President Barack Obama and hiring of Salazar — a red arrow dropped from nearly $20 billion in federal revenue in 2008 to zero by 2011. Another chart showed oil lease sale revenue collapse from nearly $10 billion in 2008 to zero by 2011. A map showed oil leases fleeing the Gulf to a dozen other countries. "These are great American jobs we need to preserve and build here," Vitter said. "As these two charts illustrate, it’s major revenue for the federal government to help with lessening deficit and debt. (It's the) second biggest source of revenue (for) the federal government after only federal income tax."
But the meeting wasn't that productive. Vitter said Bromwich wasn't ready to respond to a list of questions about permitting, and the pair did not address securing environmental protection and fishing jobs in the Gulf. (Landry later told Gambit, when asked how to ensure both a speedy permitting process and environmental health, "The first thing I want to ensure is everybody has a job.")
On Landry's "gestapo" comments, he explained he "simply had the opportunity to explain to them why I felt that there was some sort of top-secret experiment going on here."
Vitter added that they don't, as elected officials, have "direct access to the folks in the building behind us, folks that work in the gulf region, (to) ask them basic questions about the process and get direct basic answers," he said.
"And I asked Director Bromwich directly if that was going to change, and he wasn’t able to give me an answer. He said he’s going to follow up," he added. "He wasn’t able to offer us that clear communication and dialogue with people in the agency, on the ground. ... We should be able to call in, we should be able to talk to people at a certain level. It doesn’t have to be the lowest level… but we should be able to gave access to information (and) discussion with folks who know what’s going on the day to day with folks on the Gulf without spending two weeks jumping through hoops with a government relations office in Washington. Unfortunately Director Bromwich is not prepared to agree."
"They don’t have problems dropping inspectors on oil and gas platforms unannounced to do their inspections," Landry said. "If we show up unannounced and simply want to ask questions, then I feel we should be able to employ the same types of protocols."
Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, asked whether the pair discussed how drilling could impact the Gulf environment, they diverted the topic back to jobs. Vitter said he has consistently addressed environmental health, but "right now we’re in the age of complete overreach, killing jobs unnecessarily," he said.