Over the weekend, the State Central Committee of the Louisiana Democrat Party had a meeting at which the primary issue to be decided was whether to support the efforts of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection District to sue every oil company in sight for the loss of the state’s coastline over the years.
The levee board lawsuit is rapidly becoming a major political football in the state. It was largely the product of overexuberance by a number of environmentalist types, chief among them former board member, author and professor John Barry, perhaps best known for his book Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America, who got together with some trial lawyers and decided they’d plunder South Louisiana’s largest and most lucrative industry. Barry and a couple of other members of that board were removed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is adamantly opposed to the suit, but it continues nevertheless.
The suit seeks some $8 billion, a third of which would go to enrich the lawyers, for harm to Louisiana’s coastline due to the oil industry’s activities like cutting canals through the marsh to service pipelines. It’s difficult to understand how it would do much to replenish Louisiana’s coast, however, seeing as though the majority of the damage to the marshes in Southeast Louisiana comes courtesy of the fact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has leveed the Mississippi River all the way to its mouth and thus prevented the receipt of silt the river would otherwise deposit in the marsh with the spring floods. The Atchafalaya River to the west of the Mississippi, which is not leveed to its mouth, is actually building a delta despite similar types of oilfield activity to that in Southeast Louisiana.
There are also some 28 lawsuits filed by Jefferson and Plaquemines Parishes against oil companies along the same lines.
Complications like that didn’t bother Public Service Commissioner “Bananas” Foster Campbell, though, as he came up with the brilliant idea that the Louisiana Democrat Party should politicize the suits by endorsing them at its State Central Committee meeting Saturday. Campbell was joined by state sen. Karen Carter Peterson in thinking the endorsement was a good idea, and it passed overwhelmingly.
The 210-member Louisiana Democratic State Central Committee passed the resolution on a voice vote with one vote in opposition. The committee was holding its regular meeting to hear updates on the party’s work and consider positions on several policy questions.
The Democrats resolved to back the lawsuits and encourage state and local boards and governments to seek judicial remedies.
The resolution is the position of the Democratic Party, but members and elected officials will not be sanctioned if they take different positions, said Karen Carter Peterson, chair of the state Democratic Party and a state senator from New Orleans.
We’re told that U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, the sole remaining Democrat in statewide elected office in Louisiana and who is in a very difficult re-election fight this fall, was behind the scenes begging the party not to endorse that lawsuit. Why? Because Landrieu’s number one argument for re-election is her good odor with the oil and gas industry and the support from members of that industry she has received over the years. She has painted herself as a friend to the energy business and she boasts about her new role as chair of the Senate Energy Committee and the great value she can bring to Louisiana’s oil and gas producers with that chairmanship.
From the New York Times article about that Energy Committee chairmanship…
“She believes wholeheartedly in our industry, and that’s good for Louisiana,” said Mark Miller, the president of Merlin Oil and Gas in Lafayette, La. Although he is a Republican, he said he planned to vote for Ms. Landrieu. “I don’t support her on all the issues, but on this I do,” he said.
Of course, there’s a downside to that rosy picture – namely, that Landrieu has raised a ton of money for her Senate colleagues who don’t share her support for oil and gas. If you’re really pro-oil and gas, you probably don’t write big checks to Barbara Boxer, Sheldon Whitehouse and Robert Menendez.
To date, Landrieu has managed to paper over this “duality.” That becomes a lot more difficult when the Louisiana Democrat Party plants its flag firmly on the side of the enviro-loons and makes a public show of its antagonism of the energy industry.
The larger this issue becomes, the more Landrieu is going to have to choose between two groups of people she’s managed to get both of in past elections and can’t win without getting both of. And it’s a nightmare when you consider that amid all this she’s having a lot of difficulty polling above 40-42 percent as an incumbent. She can’t lose any significant part of her base, and with the levee board and coastal parish lawsuits growing as political issues it’s hard to figure how she manages to avoid driving away voters either on the oil and gas side or the enviro-nut side.
And particularly once these suits start to be seen as nothing more than a money-grab by plaintiff lawyers who stand to make millions if not billions of dollars while oil companies swear off any future investment in Louisiana and cost the state tens of thousands of jobs.
That’s why Landrieu’s people were begging the state party to leave the lawsuits alone, and they got nowhere with that advocacy. And Landrieu wasn’t at the meeting in person, because she had someplace else to be on Saturday – and this doesn’t particularly help her image with the Mark Millers of the world…
History doesn’t offer a lot of examples of politicians winning statewide office when the parties they belong to are in total disarray, run by morons and do things they are specifically warned will damage the chances of said politicians to get elected. Landrieu is going to have to hope she can be an exception to the rule.