Rush to oppose coastal reclamation suit exposes weakness of Jindal’s case

Sandy Rosenthal


Sandy Rosenthal

It’s embarrassing enough that the governor of Louisiana would side with corporate interests in trying to abort the lawsuit filed last summer by public officials against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies for damaging the coast.

But equally telling is how rapidly he went ballistic on behalf of Big Oil.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed the suit in July demanding that companies fulfill their legal obligation to fix the damage they did to coastal wetlands.

Within 24 hours, the Governor’s office came out swinging in oddly over-excited opposition.

If Jindal had a sound reason to oppose the civil lawsuit against Big Oil, he would have conferred calmly with his consultants, and he would have crafted a concise and meaningful explanation for his opposition. He also would have provided compelling data to support it. But he has not done that.

If he thought the suit was groundless and the Flood Protection Authority unqualified to file it, he could have waited for it to collapse in court or challenged it on legal grounds — which, significantly, he has not. Indeed, similar suits are being prepared at the parish level all over the region.

Instead, speaking through Garret Graves, his appointee as chairman of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), Jindal has provided a rapidly morphing litany of hollow arguments that can neither be proven nor disproven.

For example, at a video-taped meeting of the Flood Protection Authority nominating committee that I attended on Sept. 13, Graves attacked individual members of the Flood Protection Authority by accusing some of them of filing their lawsuit to seek fame.

In my mind, when a politician avoids discussing the merits of an issue and instead launches personal attacks against those opposed to his views, it’s because there is nothing solid to stand on.

Graves has also wagged his index finger at two different public meetings I’ve attended and stated he “guarantees that if the lawsuit moves forward, that the state will get less money.”

What is missing from this statement is “from whom.” If Graves is saying that Congress will be disinclined to fund coastal restoration if corporate interests are put on the hook, the opposite is more likely. Congress would prefer the state to collect from the industry responsible for its coastal wetlands damage rather than expect taxpayers around the country to pick up the tab.

And if his concern is that the industry will be less than generous, he may be confusing near-term tensions around certain commitments made by the oil interests with longer-term and much larger sanctions against Big Oil that carry the force of law.

The reality, as ousted Flood Protection Authority member John Barry has suggested, is that when finally forced to pay, the industry will, in effect, spread the cost nationwide by adding a penny or two to the cost of a tank of gas. (Full disclosure: I am a board member of Restore Louisiana Now, the nonprofit Barry founded to continue the fight for coastal reclamation.)

Building coastal reclamation costs into the price of a tank of gas is a fair and reasonable way to finance the recovery of what is rightly called “America’s Wetland.”

Quite aside from its beauty and its importance as a storm buffer and staging ground for access to enormous energy reserves, Louisiana’s coast is the most productive fishery in the lower 48 states — and one of the planet’s most fragile ecologies. It must be saved.

At a recent CPRA meeting in Baton Rouge, Graves opined that “anyone who thinks the Legislature will not shut down this lawsuit is living in a dream world.”

That is leadership through intimidation — and also a rather dubious political prediction as parishes across the region take inspiration from the Flood Protection Authority’s action and prepare to file lawsuits of their own against Big Oil.

One of the bullying remarks from Graves at the Dec. 3 CPRA  meeting in Baton Rouge hit particularly close to home for me. It was his observation that Flood Protection Authority commissioners work part-time — not full-time, as he and his staff do. The implication was that the commissioners lack the expertise and experience needed to file their lawsuit.

Logic like that is particularly specious when raised against levee boards now professionalized for the first time in their history, thanks to a post-Katrina referendum that passed overwhelmingly. Indeed, that kind of logic condemns any and every effort to try something new or innovative.

Similar accusations were leveled at me when I founded Levees.org.

After the levees broke, I was driven to lead a team that would show that — in New Orleans — the “natural disaster” called Katrina was in fact the worst civil engineering fiasco in U.S. history. My detractors said I had no credibility because I was not a civil engineer. Today, Levees.org is an influential grassroots group with 25,000 supporters and chapters in five states.

I am not a civil engineer, but I can see. I am not a lawyer, but I can read. I am not a math professor, but I can add. And now, using these same faculties, I am able to point out what should be more obvious with each passing day.

It’s been four months since the lawsuit was filed, and if there were a good reason for Jindal to continue shielding Big Oil from its legal responsibilities to the people of Louisiana, we would have heard it by now. We haven’t heard it, because it doesn’t exist.

No one wants a lawsuit, but in the case of our rapidly vanishing coastal wetlands, we really have no choice. We must allow the experts and the scientists to determine in a court of law what damage Big Oil did to our coastal wetlands — and, of course, how Big Oil should fix it.

Sandy Rosenthal is the founder of Levees.org and a board member of Restore Louisiana Now, both nonprofits.  

Help us report this story     Report an error    
The Lens' donors and partners may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover.
  • nickelndime

    Walk your dog, Sandy. You and your husband, Stephen Rosenthal, contributed $117,045.00 to the GUV (#170 of top 400 contributors). For what?

  • Below is a partial list of companies that have moved out of Louisiana, or got bought out.
    Notice how there are quite a few OIL companies. Notice how the state had to get Benson to purchase Dominion Tower or CNG Tower that used to house oil companies.

    WestWay Group (NASDAQ: WWAY) with market cap 191M acquired by EQT Infrastructure II and ED&F Man

    Superior Energy Services (NYSE: SPN) with 4B Market Cap moved H.Q. to Houston.
    EPL Oil & Gas, Inc. (NYSE: EPL) with 1.3B market cap moves H.Q. to Houston.
    Shaw Group (Fortune 500) in Baton Rouge merged with Houston Firm, gone.
    Entergy cutting back hundred of New Orleans workers.
    McDermott International New Olreans HQ gone.
    McDermott Morgan City Fabrication Yard gone.

    If these oil companies are SUED for coastal damage, rightly or wrongly,
    do you think they are going to come back to Louisiana? No way. See how
    that recent Shell plant deal collapsed.

    From one point of view, some might say, there is hope these oil companies will come back to
    Louisiana, let’s see if we can work out a deal.

    Yet, from another point of view, like those suing, they see no hope of these oil companies coming back to Louisiana. Hence, they say, lets sue them since they aren’t coming back anyway.

    Kind of a like dilemma….similar to like Bienville’s Dilemma….and Louisiana sure has quite a few of these dilemmas….the lessor of two evils..

    Yet, could there be a ray of light? How about dropping the promotion of irresponsibility like 24/7 alcohol, gambling, etc….and who knows…these many dilemmas might one day be solved with a miracle from God.

    MyTwitter: @AhContraire

  • 1NONewsladder2

    Not to put to pithy a point on your nickle’n’dime ad hominem attack of the Rosenthals for exercising their Constitutional Rights, but you prove the main thesis of Mrs. Rosenthal’s piece here, to wit: like The Governorcist, you got nothing, no argument, so you attack her, and by implication Restore Louisiana Now and the SLFPA-E Lawsuit, personally and with glaring pedantry. It is a common tactic of a losing astroturf strategy.
    So what if they gave to Jindal? So what if they can afford to support candidates across the board, which they do btw, as any cursory search of the La Sec of State website would reveal? That’s their bidnez and I bet it’s not the first time someone has bet on a losing horse in Louisiana politics. But it’s irrelevant here and you know it.

    The published list of defendants in the SLFPA-E Lawsuit contains about 1.7 MILLION DOLLARS these permit-breakers have contributed to The Koch Sucker Jindal. Who’s getting their money’s worth now?

    I’d say walk your own dog, but that dog don’t hunt.

    Thank you,

  • nickelndime

    And Sandy’s detractors said she “had no credibility”! What were her critics thinking?! Now in Sandy’s own words, she is “…not a civil engineer…not a lawyer…not a math professor…” Exactly what IS Sandy??? OMG! Sandy IS rich. And that is what gives Sandy the privilege of being heard (and read, judging by this opinion piece). And being quite wealthy, Sandy has the time to be driven “After the levees broke, I was driven to lead a team…” Well look-ee here, Sandy has proclaimed herself a leader too. While approximately 98 percent of the U.S. population is wondering how to live with the rising cost of gasoline, food, insurance, education, etc., not to mention unemployment and under-employment issues, this state stings itself to death, like a scorpion in the sun. Thank you, Mr. & Mrs. Rosenthal for contributing to politicians “across the board,” winners and losers alike, because according to 1NONewsladder2, it’s your “bidnez” and your Constitutional Right. So I say again, “Walk your dog,” Sandy. Perhaps this is where you will do the most good, for it takes time and effort, not money and privilege, to do that.

  • Sandy Rosenthal

    Twinkie and Cupcake like one of your suggestions.

  • nickelndime

    Sandy – you killin’ me, girl, wat wit yor pikturs an everyting! I love your comeback. Even Bruce “da Boss” gots a song about you, “SANDY.” I had a cat named Twinkie. She were a spayed inside-outside 4-mer feral cat dat a neighbor from Jamaica decided…well, he were not so liberal as you (or me), but dat anutha time an anutha place (anti-freeze not a gud ingestant 4 cats). I like that you responded personally (that show me you gots spirit, girl), and that also give me pause to print part of my personal philosoophy (witch is) and would not be possible without THE LENS (thank you, THE LENS): YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, SO MAKE SOME NOISE AND LET THEM KNOW YOU ARE HERE. In summary, Sandy – Do your thing and I will do mine. But together, we need to “DO DA DAMN THING.”

  • KC King

    Not only is the Corps forgiven from fulfilling its end of a contract for flood protection it is eternally exempt fro any liability for harm caused by their engineering incompetence. No one in the state should be allowed to enter into a contract with an institution that has a proven record of contract breaches particularly where life and death safety I critical.

    Getting “free” flood protection services with absolutely no accountability is far from a bargain. The solution is to ensure that the real risk of flooding is priced in to the insurance market as soon as possible. If some one wants to promote growth it should be at realistic and safe insurance rates couple with actions to mitigate past damage due to designs that favored growth over safety which is what the real meaning of the 100 year flood standard is all about.