Friday, August 16, 2013

Trying to wash us away

Posted By on Fri, Aug 16, 2013 at 2:55 PM

It’s more than a tad ironic that Gov. Bobby Jindal penned a syrupy paean to New Orleans last week — hailing us as “America’s Comeback City” — when he’s doing everything he can to make sure that New Orleans will be surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico by the end of this century.

Jindal is moving heaven and earth, politically, to derail the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East’s (SLFPA-E) lawsuit against energy companies for their role in accelerating coastal land loss. If he succeeds, New Orleans will more aptly be dubbed “America’s Washed Away City.”

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.

It’s no stretch to compare Jindal’s moves against the commissioners to the brazen tactics of Huey Long and Edwin Edwards. Yet, there’s been nary a peep out of the large daily newspapers that regularly railed against the Kingfish and the Silver Zipper. Such is the power of Big Oil and some daily newspapers’ slavish devotion to Jindal.

Speaking of slavish devotion to Jindal, where’s the local business community on this issue? Has it not occurred to area real estate, banking, hospitality, shipping and other commercial interests that if the energy industry isn’t made to pay its fair share of the costs (and consequences) of coastal land loss that they are going to pick up the tab in the form of higher property taxes, higher flood insurance premiums and higher casualty losses during hurricanes and floods?

Surely, business people understand zero-sum theory. The cost of coastal land loss will be paid. If Big Oil doesn’t pay its share, the rest of us will.

And what of other political subdivisions affected by coastal land loss — the City of New Orleans, the Sewerage and Water Board, other coastal parishes, and other levee boards? What are they waiting for?

While the business community, the big newspapers and others sit on their hands, Jindal and Graves are turning the screws. SLFPA-E commissioners met with Graves behind closed doors for several hours last week, ostensibly to discuss the pending litigation. Such meetings are a legitimate exception to the state’s open meetings law. The problem with last week’s executive session was that the board’s litigation attorneys were excluded. So what legal strategies did the commissioners and Graves, who is not an attorney, discuss?

More likely, the executive session was a pretext to give Graves another opportunity — outside the public eye and beyond the counsel of the board’s litigation attorneys — to turn up the heat. (Another irony: Jindal accuses the board of being “hijacked by a group of trial lawyers.” Who’s ’jacking the board now?) Whatever Graves’ (and Jindal’s) objective, it didn’t work. Commissioners later voted 8-0 to continue pursuing the lawsuit.

In an apparent olive branch to Jindal, the commissioners also voted 8-0 to suspend litigation for 45 days — if the governor would appoint a task force (one that includes the energy companies) to try to resolve the suit amicably.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if the business community and others wake up and realize that Jindal, Graves and Big Oil are trying to wash us away.

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