|Photos by Robin May|
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
|Gen. Russel Honoré|
With retired U.S. Army Gen. Russel Honoré at its helm, the so-called Green Army arrived in Baton Rouge this weekend to deliver this message to our lawmakers on the eve of this year’s legislative session: It’s time to put people at the forefront of their agendas.
The issues raised were many, ranging from the sinkhole at Bayou Corne to the proposed natural gas storage sites underneath Lake Peigneur to the levee board lawsuit to the threats posed on our drinking water, air and seafood, and ultimately, to what the Green Army calls the gross allegiance of our lawmakers to the very culprits of our state’s environmental woes.
“We’ve been out of our homes for 582 days,” said Mike Schaff, a resident of Bayou Corne. “We call this our eternal flame of damnation, and now our legislators want to allow 300 more caverns be used for gas storage. Please, let’s stop this.” (It took Gov. Bobby Jindal nearly seven months before he even visited the site.)
Hoping to avoid a similar fate are the residents of Lake Peigneur, which spans Iberia and Vermilion parishes, and is the site of an eight-year battle with AGL Resources. The company currently operates two storage caverns beneath the lake and is planning to expand those and add two more. According to Nara Crowley of the nonprofit activist group Save Lake Peigneur, who also spoke during Saturday’s rally, the project would require pumping 5 million gallons of water out of the lake per day over a four-year period.
Chemist Wilma Subra said the affront on our water supply is nothing new. Speaking Saturday, she said about 12.6 million pounds of toxic chemicals are discharged into our surface water reservoirs every year, and that number is increasing annually by 20 percent. The result, noted Subra, are consumption advisories against eating the fish in 53 of the 64 parishes in our state.
|"Be smarter with our water" - Acadiana Brigade of the Green Army|
Another affront is being waged on the Baton Rouge aquifer, where companies, instead of using the nearby Mississippi River, are allowed to pump 80 million gallons of water per day from the area’s supply of drinking water.
“They’ve refused to recognize this for all these years,” said Hays Town Jr. “It’s time to get our legislators to act on it, and it’s up to the people to get them to do something. Otherwise our aquifer will be under attack by salt water intrusion from over pumping of the aquifer.”
While many other causes were spotlighted, the bond between our legislators and industry leaders was the one issue that was repeated over and over during Saturday’s demonstration.
“The chairman of the Senate committee that oversees natural resources is a CEO of an oil and gas company; he does his business on the Senate floor,” said Gen. Honoré, who was likely referring to Rep. Gordon Dove, a Republican who chairs the Natural Resources Committee in the House and owns an oil spill cleanup company called Vacco Marine.
That type of conflict among our legislators isn’t isolated either, as seen with Republican Sen. Robert Adley, the owner of Pelican Gas Management Co. and the author of several bills introduced for this session aimed at killing the lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against 97 oil and gas companies for their proven and admitted role in damaging our coastline.
“There’s a certain thing that’s common to all the concerns here today: Survival, that’s what it’s all about,” said historian John Barry, the former levee board member who helped spearhead the lawsuit against Big Oil.
“History doesn’t just happen,” added Barry. “People make history.”