Opponents of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) environmental lawsuit against the energy industry are having a fine time gloating over a federal judge's decision to toss the suit. They told us so, and now they get to do their end zone dance.
But what happens when the dance is over? Do we just forget about finding a way to pay for coastal restoration under the state's "Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast," or will we finally get to see the "plan" that Gov. Bobby Jindal said was in the works to pay for it?
I predict the former. Jindal is all about getting the hell out of Louisiana, and Big Oil was never serious about working with the state to address coastal land loss. If the energy industry were serious, it would have come forward long ago to help pay for the Master Plan. Instead, it simply followed Jindal's lead and talked vaguely about some unspecified "plan" that supposedly was in the works.
Make no mistake, the ruling by U.S. District Judge Nannette Brown that SLFPA-E had no right to sue Big Oil is a serious setback, but it is not a dagger to the heart. The case can and should be appealed. Even if the suit ultimately fails, the problem of coastal land loss remains — as does the question that underpins the suit: What will the energy industry do to help pay for the Master Plan?
That plan had an initial price tag of $50 billion over 20 to 30 years. Many believe it could cost twice that much and take more than 30 years. Given how most federal projects go — and this will be a federal project — is there really any doubt that the cost will at least double?
So, to those who oppose the suit, go ahead and gloat. Then, when your end zone dance is done, tell us how the energy industry will help Louisiana address coastal land loss.
If the energy industry were serious, it would have come forward long ago to help pay for the Master Plan.
Don't look to Jindal for an answer, though. He clearly was lying when he said he was working on a plan to bring industry to the table — why else would we still be waiting to see that plan, more than 18 months after the lawsuit was filed?
The folks who really ought to answer that question are the energy companies. They have said through their Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association that they're willing to help. Now would be a good time to show it.
John Barry, former SLFPA-E vice chair and chief architect of the lawsuit, wrote last week in an Advocate op-ed that the flood authority filed suit only after it became clear that the energy industry was not going to help pay for coastal restoration. Last week, Barry again asked the industry, "When are you going to collaborate?"
The solution is obvious, so much so that Barry and conservative columnist Quin Hillyer (a former Gambit writer and avowed critic of the lawsuit) co-authored another Advocate op-ed months ago calling for adoption of an oil processing fee as initially suggested by Republican Governor Dave Treen in 1982. Treen's proposed Coastal Wetlands Environmental Levy (CWEL) was designed to do exactly what needs to be done now: raise money for coastal restoration.
How did Big Oil respond back then? It pulled out all the stops to kill CWEL — and even got help from scandalized former Gov. Edwin Edwards.
So much for the energy industry's concern about coastal land loss.
Last week, even as he praised Brown's decision to toss the flood authority's lawsuit, Hillyer repeated his call for a CWEL-type processing fee as a means to fund the Master Plan. At the end of the day, lawsuit or no lawsuit, that's really the only viable option for raising the matching funds needed to fund the Master Plan.
Does anybody think Big Oil's response will be any different now than it was in 1982?