It Seems Like We Have A Vitter-Angelle Primary Going On

Since nobody is attacking John Bel Edwards, and it appears the other candidates have conceded Edwards will be one of the participants in the November runoff in the governor’s race, and since Jay Dardenne appears to be off doing his own thing without participating in the current food fight, the gunfire you hear between David Vitter and Scott Angelle is going to dominate the discussion for the immediate future.

Vitter and his Super PAC hit Angelle with a pair of ads, one blaming him for the Bayou Corne sinkhole opening up and the other essentially calling him out as a closet liberal who voted, among other things, to essentially expand the Obamaphone program to give dirt-cheap internet to welfare recipients. That occasioned Angelle to hit back with this ad making the claim that Vitter is sliding in the polls and is desperate, and is therefore lying about Angelle’s record…

Most of this our readers will take at face value and at least conclude that’s Angelle’s story and he can at least claim it has some validity. The internet sales tax argument is so convoluted on both sides that unless you’re willing to go deep into the weeds you’re struggle to figure out who has done what, and the denial that Angelle voted for Obamaphones is true to an extent but he absolutely, categorically voted to invite an expansion of a federal program giving $9.95-a-month broadband service to people in public housing in Monroe as a member of the Public Service Commission – something we covered here at the time, more than once. Now that Angelle has denied it, don’t be surprised if Vitter blows that issue up in a major way under the category of “Angelle is a closet liberal and here’s proof.” But otherwise, the ad is a relatively strong defense of his political record and it makes the argument you would expect Angelle to make – he can show polling which says he’s closing the gap with Vitter, something which our poll doesn’t show but there are others which do, and therefore if Vitter is attacking him it must be desperation.

In the meantime, the two sides are absolutely at war over the Bayou Corne sinkhole, Angelle’s role in it and whether Vitter has cut a deal with Texas Brine’s lawyers to have the state let them off the hook for paying damages.

After Vitter released that ad pinning responsibility for the sinkhole on Angelle, the latter’s camp put out a lengthy brief on why the attack misses the mark – and then Vitter put out a response. Some of this will drag us into the weeds, and as such we’ll just let our readers see both communiques and decide what to believe. General comments to follow.

Here’s Angelle’s…

This ad was full of factual inaccuracies. I’d like to quickly set the record straight.

Before we begin, I feel it’s important for you to know that the law firm of Sher, Garner, Cahill, Richter, Klein, and Hilbert represents Texas Brine, whose operations allegedly caused the sinkhole. Representing Texas Brine, the Sher, Garner law firm sued the State of Louisiana on September 1, 2015, attempting to shift the blame for the sinkhole to the State and seeking damages in excess of $100 million (Suit #33796, Division A in the 23rd JDC in Assumption Parish).

This is the SAME law firm that works for David Vitter – he used the Sher, Garner law firm to send letters to TV stations just last week, attacking an anti-Vitter ad sponsored by a third-party PAC (see attached letter).

ALSO, James Garner, the lead lawyer for both Texas Brine and David Vitter, has given $25,000 in three separate contributions to Fund for Louisiana’s Future.  Garner also gave a separate $5,000 campaign contribution directly to David Vitter’s state campaign.  And the Sher, Garner law firm has contributed an additional $5,000 to the David Vitter state campaign fund.

BOTTOM LINE: The attorneys who are alleging that Texas Brine was not responsible for the sinkhole, and who are seeking $100 million from the State of Louisiana, also represent David Vitter’s campaign and have made substantial donations to both his campaign and his Super PAC.

It’s no wonder David Vitter’s PAC is falsely attacking Scott Angelle about the sinkhole. David Vitter and Texas Brine are working together to shift the blame.

Below are the facts surrounding FFLF PAC’s false attack:

ALLEGATION #1: Scott Angelle never disclosed a failed integrity test

FACTS:

  • Due to a unique state law (click here to read LA RS 36:806), Scott Angelle as secretary of DNR had “no authority to exercise, review, administer, or implement the quasi-judicial, licensing, permitting, regulatory, rulemaking, or enforcement powers or decisions of the assistant secretary of the office of conservation.”
    • This means that by law, Scott could not be involved in the day to day operations of the Office of Conservation.
    • Louisiana law grants sole authority to the Office of Conservation regarding Texas Brine’s salt dome (“solution mining”) operations and the resulting sinkhole (click here to read LA RS 30:4, particularly subsection M).
    • This means that by law, Scott was not privy to the information being questioned (the “failed integrity test”), unless the commissioner of conservation himself provided it.
  • Scott was never made aware of the letter sent in January of 2011 to the office of the commissioner of conservation regarding a failed mechanical integrity test.
    • There has not been one shred of evidence to indicate that Scott was aware of the letter.
  • Scott first learned of the letter from Texas Brine officials when he visited the sinkhole site on Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012.
    • Immediately after learning this information, Scott relayed it to local officials as noted in the Aug. 10 article by The Advocate.
    • Scott was on site within 48-hours, despite it being the commissioner of conservation’s responsibility, in order to kickstart the state and local response to the disaster.
      • Scott was joined by the Assumption parish police jury president, Marty Triche, and the Assumption parish OEP director, John Boudreaux.

ALLEGATION #2: Scott Angelle “resigned without giving a reason”

FACTS:

  • On Aug. 8, 2012, Scott Angelle resigned his position at DNR to run for the public service commission.
  • On Aug. 9, 2012, it was widely reported by numerous news organizations, including the Associated Press, WBRZ, the Town Talk and the Baton Rouge Business Report, that Scott resigned from DNR in order to run for the public service commission.
    • The headline in the Daily Comet, with an Associated Press byline, published on Aug. 9 read “Former Jindal cabinet secretary running for Public Service Commission” (click here to read the article).
    • The headline for an article on WBRZ published on Aug. 9 read “Former Jindal cabinet secretary running for PSC” (click here to read the article).
    • The headline in The Town Talk published on Aug. 9 read “Day after resignation, Angelle announces PSC candidacy” (click here to read the article).
    • The headline for an article in The Baton Rouge Business Report published on Aug. 9 read “Angelle announces candidacy for Public Service Commission seat” (click here to read the article).

Louisiana Revised Statute § 36:806 should play a central role in any discussion of this topic. It clearly prohibited Scott by law from having any responsibility and/or hand in the sinkhole disaster. Upon learning of the disaster, Scott did as he always has, he rolled up his sleeves and went to work. Scott jump started the state and local response, was on scene the next day and followed-up even after leaving DNR to ensure the situation was being handled appropriately.

And here’s Vitter’s response…

Angelle Still Running From His Sinkhole

Angelle failed to disclose a “failed integrity test” of the sinkhole and quit when things got bad

Scott Angelle is still running away from the Bayou Corne Sinkhole. Yesterday the Angelle Campaign sent out a long press release trying to defend Scott Angelle from his negligence and the fact that he quit his position as Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) five days after a Bayou Corne salt cavern turned into a massive sinkhole.

In 2010 the DNR had a report showing that the sinkhole posed a threat not long before residents started experiencing earthquakes. Scott Angelle and the DNR did not disclose the failed integrity test.

The convoluted Angelle rebuttal said that Scott Angelle, whose job oversees the Office of Conservation which directly reports to the Secretary, cannot by law be involved in the Office of Conservation’s operations, but then said that they could by law be involved as long as the Office of Conservation lets them know. So which is it?

Please see the below chart with 13 major news stories, some of them front page, from several months leading up to the sinkhole collapsing. The stories clearly highlight the threat and danger. Was Scott Angelle oblivious to this, or did he just not care?

Also of note: Phyllis Darensbourg, Scott Angelle’s spokeswoman in the Office of the Secretary at DNR is cited in sinkhole articles months before Scott claims to have known anything. Are we to believe that she did not talk to Angelle about Bayou Corne?

  • 6-30-12 Advocate: “Phyllis Darensbourg, DNR spokeswoman…”
  • 7-27-12 Advocate: “DNR spokeswoman Phyllis Darensbourg…”

The Angelle campaign also rolled out a letter from an Assumption Parish Police Jury President Marty Triche who defended Angelle this week; however, Triche was reportedly “upset” and “disturbed” with Angelle when Bayou Corne began sinking. Triche was so concerned that he told the press on July 12, 2012 that he was trying to meet with Angelle: “Triche said he has spoken to state Reps. Karen St. Germain, D-Plaquemine, and Joe Harrison, R-Houma, about meeting with DNR Secretary Scott Angelle.”{July 12, 2012 The Advocate}

Scott Angelle can’t keep running away from the sinkhole.

Here are some excerpts from a Baton Rouge Advocate story, “Officials upset by lack of salt dome info,” from August 11, 2012:

“Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part; Sheriff Mike Waguespack; Police Jury President Martin “Marty” Triche; and John Boudreaux, director of the parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said they were “upset” and “disturbed” to learn about those problems not directly from DNR, but in a news account Thursday….

…The parish officials said they did not know until Thursday that the Texas Brine salt cavern had failed an integrity test in late 2010, a development that may have pointed to the cavern breaching the outer wall of the massive Napoleonville Dome…

…Waguespack and Boudreaux said then-DNR Secretary Scott Angelle told them in a meeting Saturday, a day after the sinkhole appeared, that the salt cavern may well have had “problems” in 2010, but Angelle did not disclose the failed integrity test.

The test measures whether caverns, which are hollowed out of solid salt deposits forming the 1 by-3-mile dome, can hold pressure or may have some kind of leak or weakness.

Angelle resigned Wednesday without giving a reason.

Date Page Headline Publication
JUNE 27 2012 Sect B, Page 1 “Assumption Officials Investigating Bayou Bubbles”

        A variety of state and parish entities are working with industry to determine the cause of the leaking gas, parish officials said.

Advocate
JUNE 28 2012 Sect B, Page 5 “Public Meeting Called: Officials to Discuss Gas-Bubbling Repairs”

Officials have said they do not know the source of the percolating gas bubbles but have speculated they could be coming from submerged oil and gas pipelines or from underground salt dome caverns that store natural gas.

Advocate
JUNE 29 2012 Sect B, Page 1 “Fears Rising on Source of Gas Leaks”

DNR officials asked for patience and warned the process of pinpointing the source could take a while.

Advocate
JUNE 30 2012 Sect B, Page 3 “Pressure Test Seeks to Locate Gas Source”

Phyllis Darensbourg, DNR spokeswoman, said inspectors visited seven of 17 orphan wells Friday that officials identified after checking well records. She said they did not have special Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality camera equipment to detect invisible gases venting from the capped wells.

Advocate
JULY 7 2012 Sect B, Page 5 “Tremors, Gas Bubbles Puzzle Assumption”

State and parish officials have not made a connection between the tremors and the natural gas releases and are focusing on the oil and gas infrastructure in the area to pinpoint the source of the leaking gas

Advocate
JULY 12 2012 Sect B, Page 1 “Meeting Scheduled on Bayou’s Bubbles”

“We have all agreed to facilitate that meeting, and I think out of that meeting, it’s going to be to get, you know, the DNR officials to recognize that it’s just not an act-of-God situation, and they need some significant people in there to try figure out what’s going on,” Triche said.
“Because they have the resources,” Triche said, “they need to bring them to bear, and I agree they have been taking too long.”

Advocate
JULY 13 2012 Sect B, Page 1 “USGS: Earthquakes Were Real”

On Wednesday, Assumption Parish Police Jury President Martin “Marty” Triche said he is trying to have a meeting with DNR officials and legislators to increase the agency’s involvement and suggested it has taken too long for DNR to respond.

Advocate
JULY 16 2012   “DNR Geologist: Gas May Be Bubbling From Salt Dome”

A top geologist at the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources says bubbling gas in bayous in Assumption Parish may be connected to a salt dome deep underground.

AP
JULY 16 2012 Sect A, Page 1 “Residents Uneasy About Gas Bubbles***Monitoring Agency”

The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and other agencies have focused on the oil and gas infrastructure and brine operations in the area. The parish has about 680 miles of transmission lines alone, according to DNR.

Advocate
JULY 19 2012 Sect B, Page 3 “Officials Watching Assumption Bubbles”

Officials with the state’s Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Natural Resources have been working in the area since Saturday. DEQ is performing air monitoring, and gas samples were pulled on Tuesday. Results are pending, the release said.

Advocate
JULY 25 2012 Sect A, Page 1 “Orphan Well could be Bubbles’ Source”

Louisiana Department of Natural Resources officials and others have asked for patience as they check oil, gas and brine production infrastructure in the area and the integrity of nearby salt dome caverns inside the Napoleonville Dome.

Advocate
JULY 27 2012 Sect B, Page 1 “DNR Experts Say Well Not Source of Gas”

DNR spokeswoman Phyllis Darensbourg said agency personnel familiar with petroleum exploration processes believe the well in question served long ago as a rig supply well, or a water well, and is not the source of the natural gas releases in the bayous.

Advocate
AUGUST 4 2012 Sect A, Page 1 “Sinkhole Forms Near Site of Bayou Bubbles”

Triche gave residents a stark warning of the risks posed by the slurry area as he announced the evacuation. He reported a conference call with DNR officials revealed that the slurry area could quickly enlarge and possibly sheer off nearby wellheads, releasing harmful gases.

Advocate

Our takeaway from the Great Sinkhole Debate is twofold. First, Angelle’s camp might have a better factual argument, but Vitter’s political argument is going to be much easier for the public to digest and form an opinion from. It might be true that the Office of Conservation is independent from DNR and therefore Angelle wouldn’t have been in the loop about the integrity of the salt cavern that collapsed into that sinkhole, but most people will take Vitter’s position and conclude that Angelle wasn’t on top of the situation and should have been, and he’s at fault.

Whether that’s true, strictly speaking, or not doesn’t really matter. It looks like Angelle screwed up.

But the second part of this is something of a comfort to Angelle – namely, that the people who will really get bent out of shape about the sinkhole and the government’s failure to prevent it (there will be people bent out of shape about the sinkhole but most of them will see this as Texas Brine’s screwup and Texas Brine’s alone) are going to be Democrats who aren’t going to vote for either Vitter or Angelle. They’re going to vote for Edwards, with a smattering of them voting for Dardenne. So even if Vitter beats Angelle on this issue politically it probably doesn’t cost him any significant votes.

But what’s certain is that the Vitter-Angelle fight is going to get red-hot before all this is over.



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