Though he would not commit when interviewed by phone Wednesday, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle says he is interested in the District 2 Public Service Commission seat being vacated at the end of the year by longtime commissioner Jimmy Field of Baton Rouge. “I will say I am visiting with my family this weekend and would be looking to make an announcement sooner rather than later,” the Breaux Bridge native says. “I feel very confident at this point, but I need to visit with my family.”
The recently redrawn District 2 covers the parishes of Lafayette, St. Mary, St. Martin, Terrebonne, Lafourche, East Feliciana, West Feliciana and Point Coupee as well as parts of Iberia, East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Iberville and Livingston parishes. Field, a Baton Rouge attorney, has served as a commissioner since December 1996; he announced earlier this month that he would not seek re-election.
An independent regulatory agency, the PSC manages public utilities and motor carriers in the state. It has five elected members chosen in single-member districts for staggered six-year terms. Commissioners make $45,000 a year and get a $700 monthly car allowance.
Widely regarded as a hard worker, Angelle was the state’s liaison between the offshore oil and gas industry and the federal government during the 2010 drilling moratorium and more recently took the lead on the acrimonious “legacy lawsuit” issue debated in the Legislature. A Democrat until late 2010 when he switched to the Republican Party, he has close allies on both sides of the aisle.
Angelle says he’s attracted to the post because the work of the PSC can be critical in directing the overall economy. “I would say this much — that I fundamentally believe that since we’ve had six recessions since 1972 and all of them can be traced to high energy prices, that I have a passion for what I call the three Es: energy, economy and environment,” he says. “And I believe the PSC operates at the intersection of those three and that a highly functioning PSC can help improve the quality of life for all people in Louisiana.”
It's always a slippery slope when politicians complain about high energy prices, which are the fuel for South Louisiana’s oil and gas economy, but Angelle says there is no question that inflated prices can also drag down the local economy. “I think we all saw in 2008 when we had extraordinary energy prices we all felt it here. There is a balance,” Angelle says, noting that even energy officials acknowledge that there is a point where high prices are more destructive than beneficial for the area’s overall economy.
Angelle is just days removed from a tough legislative battle in which state lawmakers passed compromise legislation he believes will finally settle the dispute between the oil and gas industry and landowners over how to clean up environmental damage from past drilling operations. With Angelle taking the lead for the Jindal administration, two bills were approved to deal with the complex legal process in which landowners sought millions in damages from oil companies — claims industry officials have long argued were hurting energy exploration in the state. Expected to be signed into law by Jindal, the changes call for companies to clean damaged areas to regulatory standards but allow more extensive damages claims to be pursued in the courts. The battle was so contentious that U.S. Sen. David Vitter jumped into the fray (quite possibly exploiting the issue for his own political aspirations to seek the governor's seat in 2015), accusing Jindal of not providing adequate leadership.
“I think it was a fair compromise that is going to accelerate cleaning up the environment while at the same time providing a process, a transparent process, that I think was absolutely critical to landowners,” Angelle says. “So I think we will be able to accomplish what we set out to accomplish.”
Angelle, 50, has been DNR secretary since 2004. He was appointed by then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco and reappointed by Jindal. When Mitch Landrieu resigned as lieutenant governor in 2010 to take over as mayor of New Orleans, Jindal named him to the post on an interim basis. As a condition of the appointment, Angelle agreed not to be a candidate in the special election to replace Landrieu.
Should he decide to run. Angelle will face fellow Republicans Ed Roy of Lafayette and Erich Ponti of Baton Rouge. Ponti, a state rep, is holding a June 21 luncheon fundraiser at the Louisiana Manufactured Housing Association in Baton Rouge.