Sunday, June 6, 2010

Thank You, President Obama!

Let the record show that Governor Bobby Jindal's embrace of the protection of Louisiana's coastal environment lasted just about a month.

During a week in which Jindal lost no opportunity to lambaste BP over the damage their still-gushing oil was doing to Louisiana's wetlands and estuaries (and their ineffective response), the governor sent an impassioned letter to President Barack Obama asking that the President lift the six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Louisiana House of Representatives got into the act on Thursday, too, passing a resolution on a vote of 92-0 asking Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to end the just-announced moratorium.

Senator David Vitter (John-DC/LA) declared his undying loyalty to the energy industry and his largest contributors by sending his own letter to the President, asking that the moratorium be ended and that drilling be allowed to continue unless safety violations were found.

The question is: Found by who?

What the President recognizes — as does anyone else who has followed the reporting on this disaster — the oil and gas companies have written their own tickets in the Gulf of Mexico. Consider these items:
Still, apologists for the industry led the charge to let the drilling continue while the damage inflicted by the BP Gulf Gusher continues unabated and it is not clear what went wrong on the rig on that fateful night.

During his trip to Louisiana on Friday, President Obama made clear he is aware of the economic cost of the moratorium but that there is no safe way for deep water drilling to continue until what went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon is known and corrective measures are in place to ensure that something like this does not happen again.

"As difficult as it may be, it's important for us to do this right, because if we don't do it right, then what you could end up seeing is an even worse impact on the oil industry down here, which is so important to so many jobs," the President said.

Obama said everyone in the meeting agreed that safety is paramount.

"They did ask: Can we do it faster?'' he said. "And what I said to them was the same thing that I said to (Bob) Graham and (William) Reilly, which is, you do it as fast as it takes to do it right.''

Obama appointed Graham, a former Florida senator, and Reilly, a former chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, to head a presidential commission probing the Gulf oil spill. He said although the commission has six months for the investigation, that doesn't mean it has to use the entire time.

"If they can front-load some of the analysis of what went wrong and can do that more quickly than six months, let me know. Don't hold the results," the President said.
No Going Back to BBP (Before BP)

Essentially, the President is saying that business as usual is over in the Gulf of Mexico. Fishermen and their families have recognized this. The energy industry is going to have to come to grips with this. The politicians, well, they can keep posturing and taking money from those companies, but the old game of conflating our state's interests as being the same as the energy industry's are over. Things like this make it unmistakably clear.

There can be no going back to "Before BP" thinking where every permit was approved and every project rubber stamped.

The concern about the moratorium is on the economic impact it will have. The temporary loss of oil and gas industry jobs is not a trivial concern but neither were the potential environmental and economic impacts of a Gulf Gusher like the one currently under way. It was the industry and their apologists who downplayed — yes, trivialized — those concerns.

Now that a catastrophe far worse than anyone had predicted is unfolding it is pretty hard to feel much sympathy for the industry that paid lip service to the environmental impact of their work, down played safety concerns and ignored the risks associated with deep water drilling.

The industry's accountability moment has arrived and they want to skip the test.

What makes the President's clarity so stark is that most of our political leadership has long been — and still remains — in the back pocket of the energy industry. Back in the 1980s, when oil and gas exploration was at its peak in Louisiana, it fed our families, it funded our government and it bankrolled out politicians.

Three decades later, industry employment has been shrinking and energy revenue accounts for a smaller percentage of government funding. But energy industry bankrolling of politicians has remained constant.

Following the Energy Money

Let's look at the campaign records of each of the four leading Louisiana political actors involved with dealing with the BP Gulf Gusher: Governor Jindal, Senator Vitter, Congressman Charlie Melancon, and Senator Mary Landrieu.

There was a time before his 2007 election as governor that then-Congressman Bobby Jindal was fighting with Senator Landrieu for credit for opening that section of the Gulf of Mexico to deep water drilling that is now the spot from where BP's oil continues to gush. Have not heard much from either on that issue of late. One can only assume that they are now each perfectly willing to let the other take credit for putting this area into production.

Jindal did pretty well with the energy industry as a congressional candidate, even managing to get a contribution from BP before his run for governor.

Senator Vitter is a leading flack for the industry, owing in no small measure the hefty sums of money he's raised from the energy industry over his various federal campaigns.

Congressman Melancon's emotional investment in the disaster unfolding in his district is probably fed by the fact that he has good friends on both sides of the issue — fishermen and energy people. Charlie is clearly torn on this issue.

Senator Landrieu continues to champion the industry, acknowledging its importance to the state's economy. However, the Senator continues to view this in terms of a transactional relationship — that is, production should be allowed to continue (albeit safely) and the state should get more money for the risks it is taking. Any fair minded accounting of the damage being inflicted on Louisiana now would have to put Louisiana on the short end of the deep water drilling transaction. The hundreds of millions of dollars the Senator won for the state back in 2006 that she now wants to see given to the state sooner than was scheduled, is inadequate.

There is not enough money to offset what is being lost in the Gulf and on Louisiana's coast now.

Interestingly, the Senator cites NASA's moratorium on manned space flight after the Challenger accident. That moratorium lasted 32 months and fewer people were killed and that disaster did not include anything like the ecological and economic catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf now. Put in that perspective, the calls for the President to lift the moratorium before the causes of the Deepwater Horizon accident are known and remedial steps recommended and taken are craven even by Louisiana political standards.

Oh, and the problem of divided loyalties is not limited to elected officials. It affects the courts, too.

Leading Hypocrites: Jindal and 'Em

But the award for hypocrisy on this issue must be shared by Jindal and Republican members of the Louisiana House of Representatives.

First, the Governor: In his letter to the President and Secretary Salazar, Jindal cites the potential that the moratorium "will result in a loss of 3,000 to 6,000 Louisiana jobs in the next 2-3 weeks and potentially over 10,000 Louisiana jobs within a few months."

Members of the House took every opportunity to bash the President during their discussion of a resolution calling for an end to the just-declared moratorium. Like Jindal, the legislators — particularly Republican legislators — decried the loss of jobs that would result from the imposition of this moratorium.

The next day, those same House members sat for hours and voted in lock-step fashion to pass a state budget that will result in the loss of hundreds if not thousands of state jobs and they did so without any hint of irony, remorse or regret.

And they are not done. The budget being passed will not meet revenue projections and more cuts will have to be made. But, that's OK with Jindal and 'Em so long as they don't have to tax the top income brackets of the state.

With larger deficits looming down the road, the plan to close the LSU Hospital System is moving forward which will throw still more thousands of workers out of jobs. More higher education cuts will follow, meaning the loss of still more decent paying jobs.

What is clear is this: the only jobs that matter to Jindal and 'Em are jobs that damage our environment, wreck our coast, and put poorly educated Louisiana workers in highly dangerous jobs run by people who don't care about their safety and well-being. Jindal and 'Em people can't do enough to generate these kinds of employment opportunities while crushing jobs of people got good educations, worked to improve our state and whose 'crime' was thinking they could do this honorable work as employees of the state of Louisiana.

Jindal and 'Em's Medicaid cuts eliminate jobs in the private sector as well. Yet, all they are crying about now is the loss of jobs in the oil patch. Maybe the real reason these guys are crying about the moratorium is that Chouests, the Bollingers and their oil field marine service companies might not be able to contribute as much money to their campaigns next year?

Whatever the reason, Jindal and 'Em have amply proven that Louisiana jobs are by no means sacred to them.

Dick Did It: Cheney's Oily Gulf Legacy

Finally, the reason that President Obama's principled stand on the moratorium is such a shock to the oil patch is that for eight years, they really got their way with Vice President Dick Cheney setting the policies and the tone for the Bush administration's dealings with the energy industry.

Cheney, as you may recall, selected himself as George W. Bush's vice presidential nominee then he retired as CEO of Halliburton. Cheney convened a secretive energy advisory panel, the details of who was on it and what they recommended remain secret to this day.

A look at the legislative and regulatory agenda that flowed from those meetings early in the second Bush's first term pretty much lays it out: give the industry what it wants, ramp up our usage of oil and gas and scrap environmental regulations where they get in the way.

Check out the two links in the first paragraph of this section. It's all there. The BP Gulf Gusher is the logical outcome of Cheney's policy initiatives.

Billy Tauzin did yeoman work for Cheney and the industry trying to get some of this stuff through, but the real dirty work did not get accomplished until Tauzin had left Congress.

And, while the Gulf disaster continues to play out in coming months, years, decades, keep an eye on northwest Louisiana where the Haynesville trend gas find has drawn a lot of drilling activity. Hydraulic fracturing is the process used to extract the gas from the shale in that trend. It is a process that Halliburton invented and which Cheney and it was specifically excluded from coverage of the Clean Water Act under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that George W. Bush signed into law in August 2005.

So, Cheney is no longer in office but his policies continue to inflict a high cost on the people of Louisiana, our coast and our way of life.

In the eyes of Cheney and the industry, we have always been expendable.

Thankfully, we have a President now who sees things differently and is standing to protect our interests!

Thank you, President Obama!

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