John Prine wrote a song lamenting the loss of the land where he was born and spent his childhood. The refrain goes like this:
“Daddy, won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County, down by the Green River where Paradise lay. Well, I’m sorry, my son, but you’re too late in asking; Mr. Peabody’s coal trains done hauled it away.”
During the time that I served on the Council of Occupational Education’s National Accreditation Team, I was involved in the evaluation of several schools in Kentucky and West Virginia, among them the Muhlenberg Technical School. What the coal companies did to that region can best be described as industrial rape. Now there is no coal, no jobs, and the land is so desolate it cannot grow a beanstalk.
In South Louisiana, someday we’ll be singing an adapted version of the John Prine refrain:
“Sorry, my son, but you’re too late in asking, the oil companies’ canals done washed it away.”
In the upcoming legislative session in Baton Rouge, we, the public, will be blitzed with the biggest ad campaign the oil industry has come up with. It will warn of dire consequences: You’re going to lose your job; you’ll have to give up your first-born child, etc., etc. All this will happen, we’ll be warned, if the oil companies are held liable for the environmental damage they’ve caused. There is even legislation proposed to exempt them from such damages and past infractions. Unbelievable!
The oil industry has undoubtedly contributed to the economy of Louisiana and in return Louisiana has rewarded it abundantly. Generous tax breaks favor this hugely profitable industry. A subservient Gov. Bobby Jindal is attempting to squelch the East Bank Flood Protection Authority’s lawsuit seeking reparation for ruining our coast.
Expect to hear threats that the oil industry will “move out” if Louisiana fights back. But crying wolf like that has about run its course. As long as there is oil offshore and beneath Louisiana soils, there will be oil-related jobs in Louisiana. Just as there are in Nigeria and Iraq and other political locales far riskier for oil operations.
And when the oil is depleted, just as when the coal was depleted, the jobs will be gone, the companies will be gone, and Louisiana will be left with a contaminated and washed-out coast. Former shoreline soils will lie somewhere between here and Guatemala, and our grandkids will be fishing for crabs somewhere around Plaucheville.
Raymond “LaLa” Lalonde, a St. Landry Parish native, served in the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1980 until 1996. A retired college administrator, he remains active promoting and preserving the French/Acadian culture of South Louisiana.