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Is Louisiana causing Oil Spill Problems?

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Thursday, July 1st, 2010

New Orleans, Louisiana



When the deep water Horizon well first began spurring thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf, sympathy from around the nation poured into Louisiana.  The country and the world watched in horror as the Bayou State once again wrestled with the elements of nature and the manmade disaster that followed.  “First Katrina, now the oil. How many hits can the state take?” was a common expression of concern.  But as more states become directly affected by the polluted waters, and the Louisiana political and business leadership continues to call for more drilling, national sympathies are beginning to wane. Is Louisiana pushing the envelope, and trying to have it both ways?

With a few exceptions, Louisianans are in lock step, demanding that the BP well be capped, that a monumental cleanup effort be undertaken and paid for by BP and the Feds, and that deep drilling in the Gulf be allowed to continue.  It’s hard for many onlookers throughout the rest of the country to comprehend why a state undulated in an oil spill hat could well destroy marshlands and the fishing industry for decades, still is demanding the right to continue drilling.

Even as the ecological damage to the Louisiana marsh increases daily, a number of recent polls reflect that some 75% of Bayou State residents favor continuing deepwater offshore drilling.  `But across the nation, support for such drilling is dropping as sharply as BP’s stock. The most recent Pew research center nationwide poll showed that a majority of Americans surveyed (52 per cent) oppose increased offshore drilling. 

Florida residents, who just two months ago strongly favored drilling in the Gulf (66 % favorable-27% unfavorable), now oppose such drilling by 51-42 percent.  And Florida governor Charlie Crist said this week he may call for a special legislative session to put a drilling ban on the November ballot. A Florida candidate for Attorney general reflected the feelings of a cross section of Florida residents, saying:  “I believe there are millions of Floridians who, as they watch in the horror unfolding”¦want the state government to say, “˜Stop it, we don’t want it here, we don’t want it anymore.'”

The spill, and whether or not to drill, has become election year fodder far beyond the Gulf.  Candidates in a number of states are waging emotional campaigns in what looks like a frantic effort to turn the oil spill into referendums of who is a fault, and whether or not to continue production efforts in the Gulf.

In several of Michigan’s congressional races set for this fall, republican and democratic candidates alike are campaigning for a permanent state ban on drilling in the Great Lakes.  Canada alone has drilled 513 natural gas wells in Lake Erie. In the Pennsylvania Senate race, Democrat Joe Sestak is accusing his Republican opponent, Pat Toomey, of putting “Big oil ahead of the American people” by not supporting the moratorium while accepting $96,000 from the oil and gas industry.  The rallies against Big Oil and for a moratorium, with some TV ads using sound effects from horror-movies, set the campaign tone in a host of other states including Missouri, California, Illinois and even Kentucky.

New Orleans federal Judge Martin Feldman sure didn’t do Louisiana any favors in his ruling last week rejecting the federal government’s imposition of six-month moratorium.  It wasn’t the ruling that heaped more criticism on deep water drilling in the Gulf as much as the perception that the judge was financially involved in the oil companies that his ruling helped.  Feldman, according to numerous press reports, filed disclosure reports, required by all federal judges, showing that he held investments in a wide range of oil related companies doing extensive business in the Gulf. In fact, on the same day that his ruling was issued overturning the drilling moratorium, Feldman sold his stock in Exxon Mobil Corporation.

According to federal law, federal judges are required to step aside from cases that present financial conflicts or cases in which the judge’s impartially might be questioned.  His “impartially” is being “questioned” in editorials and other news commentary nationwide. Feldman is also receiving criticism from conservatives who are not as concerned over the moratorium as much as Feldman’s “judicial activism,” a no no to those on the right.  Still others feel that Feldman reached the right result, but with questionable and even sloppy reasoning in his written opinion, that may give leeway for the federal government in its coming appeal.

Another New Orleans judge, with no ties or financial investments in the oil industry would probably have reached the same result and overturned the moratorium.  A judge with no conflicts and who might issue a  much better researched and reasoned opinion, would be less open to attack when the appeal reaches the Fifth Circuit Court Appeals next week in New Orleans. The perception of many across the country is that it’s just one more example of judicial impropriety, and typical of “the Louisiana Way.”

Louisiana is also taking its share of national hits for not doing more to anticipate and protect its marshes.  The New York Time wrote a front page article this week concluding that the state’s response plan was inadequate largely because the state failed to fully develop a plan.  Included in the lack of an adequate response were:

The state’s oil spill coordinator’s office has had its budget slashed by 50% over the last decade.

Last year, the legislature cut funding from the state’s oil spill research program.

The state’s oil spill contingency plan included “pages of blank pages and charts that are supposed to detail available supplies of equipment like oil-skimming vessels.”Â  A plan for a worst-case scenario was labeled “to be developed.”

Louisiana officials attacked the federal response plan, after having approved and signed off on the same Coast guard response plan just a few weeks before.

CBS News also raised questions about why Louisiana was not putting to use help that had been authorized by the President.  Six thousand National Guard troops had been approved and funded by the Feds, but the troops needed to be called up by the Louisiana Governor.  After weeks, only 1600 guardsmen had been activated by Louisiana officials.

Maybe political analyst James Carville is correct in suggesting that that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed up the war effort in Afghanistan until being fired last week by the President, be hired to take command of the entire Gulf oil spill response. I’m a big McChrystal supporter, and would endorse such an idea.  McChrystal has a reputation for “kicking some butt.”Â  Perhaps his boot could include some Louisiana officials as well as the whole federal response team.          


“A little less conversation, a little more action please. All this aggravation ain’t satisfactioning me. A little more bite and a little less bark.”

Elvis Presley

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South.  You can read all is past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am central time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.


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