Government & Politics
 

Cutting coastal cash is perfect complement to Big Oil’s free ride

Belated thanks to Gambit for reprinting a Bloomberg News article on the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s unwillingness to hand out big fines to the oil industry.

I linked to a summary of the article in my Feb. 24 opinion column, and was pleased to see that Bob Marshall cited the Bloomberg piece in his Times-Picayune op-ed the following day. It deserved more local exposure, and I applaud Gambit for making it their feature story for their March 8 issue. It’s an important but overlooked story that deserved some local exposure. I could pull a number of quotes from it, but this one from Kerry St. Pe should suffice:

From 1982 to 1997, Kerry St. Pe recommended fines in “hundreds and hundreds of cases” as a DEQ inspector in southeastern Louisiana, he says.

“But in terms of actual penalties that were levied based on my investigations, I can count them on one hand,” said St. Pe, 60, a marine biologist who now heads the Barataria- Terrebonne National Estuary Program in southeastern Louisiana. He said the main reason was “political pressure to the contrary,” which he described as a sense that vigorous enforcement in the field was being discouraged in Baton Rouge, the state capital.

“When oil companies see it’s cheaper to pollute than to prevent spills, it creates a culture of noncompliance,” St. Pe said. The DEQ won’t respond to St. Pe’s comments, said Tim Beckstrom, a spokesman for the agency.

More praise to Bob Marshall, who studied the latest budget proposals by Republican leaders in Congress, and cataloged how they would hurt sportsmen and the coast. Marshall stated the problem well here:

Government studies show energy development caused at least 38 percent of the 2,100 square miles of coastal wetlands Louisiana has lost over the past 70 years – and the erosion continues at the rate of 25 square miles a year. Most of that loss has been in estuaries scientists say are responsible for 80 percent of all the fish in the Gulf.

The new GOP budget cuts funding for wetlands and estuary projects. That’ll teach that pesky Louisiana coast for being so… afflicted and costly.

Marshall says:

The entire $47.6 million budget for the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund would be cut. This program has protected and preserved more than 25 million acres of waterfowl habitat over the last 30 years, leveraging over $2 billion in matching contributions from some 4,000 partners.

Another example:

The bill would cut funding for the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program by $200,000, a vital initiative that has already lost more than $100,000 in state funding recently. Kerry St. Pe, who runs the program, says “it definitely means some restoration projects just won’t happen –  even though we’re still losing wetlands at the same rate (25 square miles per year).”

At the same time many sections of the bill actually forbid government agencies from even studying climate change – a leading contributor to Louisiana’s coastal crises. Once again this isn’t saving money; it’s just another nod to industries that don’t want to clean up their acts.

Cutting the deficit by chopping St. Pe’s organization is madness. They might not like what St. Pe says, but he calls it like he sees it. The man has forgotten more about the coast than these GOP deficit hawks will ever know (that goes for oil, too), yet they want to save money by cutting restoration programs while fighting to the death to preserve Big Oil’s cushy tax breaks and subsidies during a time of record profits and after the biggest oil spill in American history? What a total disgrace.

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  • M Dickey

    how depressing.