An Open Letter to President Obama

Mr. President, Louisiana is hurting badly.

Even before the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, our state was experiencing hard times. Our state finances are heavily in the red and, while our unemployment rate isn’t as high as in some places, we have lost many jobs here since the economic downturn in the fall of 2008.

As you are well aware, Louisiana is likely to take the brunt of the ecological and economic negative consequences emanating from the disaster. Our marshes, bays, estuaries and offshore waters are the production facilities for our once-thriving seafood industry. The fate of that industry is now uncertain at best. Beyond helping to ensure that proper compensation for legitimate losses will be paid by the parties at fault, the best relief you can bring to the seafood industry is to focus the first line of defense from the spill on the areas containing the inlets to the marshes, bays and estuaries critical to that industry’s future.

Mr. President, in Louisiana’s coastal communities, the workers and businesses in the seafood industry live side by side with those in the offshore oil and gas industry. Those workers and businesses are the mainstays of the south Louisiana economy. Your recent action to declare a six-month moratorium on much of our offshore exploration will have severe and lasting consequences on thousands of Louisiana families, the entire economy of the state, and the fiscal viability of our state government that is already teetering on the brink.

Some 30,000 jobs or more will be lost in Louisiana if your moratorium stays in effect for six months. In fact, a six-month moratorium might well be a six-year one. The 33 rigs that (currently) will be affected won’t sit there and stay idle for six months or longer. They rent for upwards of $500,000 a day and they will go to other places in the world where that day rate will gladly be paid. Few if any of our Louisiana workers will follow them. Instead, they will join the already too large ranks of the unemployed in this state.

Mr. President, we know that every day you have concerns about the slow rate of recovery from the recession that our nation is experiencing. We know that you want to see the millions of unemployed in our nation rejoin the ranks of productive workers using their hard-earned pay to care for their families and lead normal lives again. We ask that you keep those feelings about the unemployed in mind when you consider actions impacting our troubled state and its people.

You certainly have an obligation to ensure that offshore drilling is safe to the maximum extent possible. An expedited review of the permits, safety procedures, and maintenance records of key equipment is certainly in order. Mobilizing the full force of the federal agencies involved in that review for the 33 operations in question should not take six months. I am sure that Governor Jindal will go overboard to make available any and all state records and data that would be useful in expediting the review. South Louisiana will soon be facing severe economic deterioration if the moratorium lingers.

Our state government cannot run a deficit, Mr. President. The collapse of our seafood and offshore oil industries will turn our current $2 billion economic shortfall into one much larger. Public and post-secondary education, indigent health care, and other critical areas of government may not survive.

Please think about our families, workers, businesses, and institutions that may not recover from this moratorium, Mr. President. It must be lifted soon.

Dan Juneau is the President of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

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