Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Written by The Independent Staff

A bill attacking the work the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic takes on in support of the state’s low-income population was shut down by the Senate Commerce Committee last week. Though its target was clearly Tulane, which has the state’s only environmental clinic, the measure would have prevented LSU, Southern University and Loyola University’s law clinics, all of which get state funding, from suing individuals and businesses for damages, taking government agencies to court or — with some exceptions — making constitutional challenges. The bill was ardently supported by the Louisiana Chemical Association, whose next campaign should be focused on rebranding itself. Adding insult to injury was the timing of the bill, which was brought up as the state fends off one of the worst environmental catastrophes in history with the Gulf oil spill.


Not a day goes by without more disturbing news about the oil spill. Last week, the New York Times revealed some rampant conflicts of interest at play in the recovery effort. Turns out, pollution samples that will be used to establish liability claims against BP are being analyzed at a lab that is part of an oil and gas services company that counts among its biggest clients, guess who, BP. In addition, federal officials are demanding that other data used to calculate penalties for the spill, including the impact on wildlife, be done by companies hired by BP. Independent experts have also countered BP’s estimate (5,000 barrels a day) of how much oil is currently leaking into the Gulf, claiming that it could be more than 10 times that number.

The state may well have to employ another full-time accountant to keep up with state Commissioner of Higher Education Sally Clausen’s ever-changing salary. Last month, Clausen made headlines when she requested that her salary be cut almost in half, from $377,000 to $199,000, in order to show solidarity with her employees in a time of deep budget cuts. Since then, a story in the Times-Picayune revealed that Clausen made the not so altruistic move of quietly retiring for a day last August (the Board of Regents didn’t even know), then taking her job back, in order to start collecting pension payments this August. This effectively would boost her salary by about $146,000 a year, not to mention the $90,000 she got in lump sum payments for unused vacation and sick leave. The T-P also reported that on Jan. 7, more than five months after the retire/rehire fiasco, Clausen asked to reduce her salary by $70,000, but the cut never went into effect. Additionally, she apparently asked to rescind her pension payments, and after being told she could not, now says she will donate the money to charity as long as she remains commissioner.

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