By Kristen Evans, LABB Art-to-Action Coordinator and Raleigh Keagan, LABB Member Action Associate
On Friday, May 25, 2012, five Congressmen, including Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) and Eric Cantor (House Majority Leader, R-Virginia) flew to an oil rig for a tour partially paid for by Shell. It was a two-day trip to Louisiana and just one stop on a multi-state “2012 Energy Tour”, as part of a larger energy and employment strategy by Republicans and some Democrats.
They flew right over our damaged coast and destroyed wetlands, past our fishermen, shrimpers, oystermen and communities devastated by the BP oil spill, and straight to a rig. Upon their return, Scalise declared the industry safe. Congressman Steven Palazzo (R-Mississippi) claimed that it polices itself.
Really? 4500 spills since the BP disaster say otherwise.
It is apparent that the Oil Industry is not safe. They have a huge accident problem, and Louisianans are paying the price: destroyed wetlands, damaged coast, chronic health problems, lost jobs and lost lives. The oil industry is reaping record profits, and they are doing it by unloading their accidents and pollution onto us.
Instead of investing in jobs and safety equipment—which would be good for the economy –oil companies consistently cut corners in safety to make even more money. “Deferred maintenance and inadequate safety management significantly contributed to accidents, according to refineries’ own reports and testimony from the United Steelworkers… In 2010, [ExxonMobil’s two] Louisiana refineries had 133 accidents releasing more than 340,000 pounds of pollution. During the same year, the company made $30.4 billion while continuing to externalize the costs of production.” That money goes straight to shareholders, the vast majority of whom do not live in Louisiana.
By examining the source of contributions for politicians, it can be fairly simple to identify correlations between their actions and loyalties. Let’s look at who pours money into Steve Scalise’s campaign coffers: Koch Industries, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Edison Chouest Offshore are top funders to Scalise’s 2012 campaign. The oil industry pays him more than any other sector, and he is making it worth their while.
The Bucket Brigade greeted the delegation at the airport when they returned from their rig tour to call this outrageous junket out for what it was: a high-priced trick turned for the oil industry once again. Our politicians are pimping out our state to the oil industry, and prostituting themselves at the same time by accepting massive donations from the industry, and catering to their demands. We greeted Scalise, Cantor and Co. back from their rig tour with boas, boots and wigs as we donned our best pimp and prostitute costumes to flaunt their charade.
When we showed up for the press conference, Scalise’s Deputy Chief of Staff told an airport employee to ask us to leave. WWL4 and Fox8 were not afraid to talk to us. Click the links to watch news coverage of our pimps and prostitutes parade.
LABB has adopted a new plan for getting the attention of policy-makers and the oil industry: Creative Actions. By dressing, acting, and/or performing extravagantly, more people turn a keen eye. We have adopted our culture (costumes, pride for our state, even a little burlesque) to defend our culture (shrimping, unique and fragile wetlands, largely marine-based economy, etc.).
We believe that creative actions such as these have the potential to reach a vast audience, while still striking at the hearts of our targets. Scalise took down his Facebook post boasting about the rig tour after our show, and after receiving numerous comments from concerned residents of Louisiana. Humor attracts attention. It was fun for us to go out and make a spectacle of a seemingly serious action. But what makes it all the more meaningful, is that it mattered. Our Congressmen are harming our state, our residents, and our economy with their careless actions, and we need to let them know with our creative ones.
It is time that our politicians hear this message loud and clear: they cannot sell out Louisiana to the oil industry anymore. And as Louisianans we cannot let offensive events like this happen unchallenged. Our future, our health, our economy and the very existence of many of our communities depend on it. We must make our voices heard. If we don’t, the oil companies will continue to exploit us for massive profit at our expense, and our politicians will do nothing to stop it.
 “Common Ground 3: Why Cooperation to Reduce Industry Accidents at Refineries in Louisiana is Needed Now”. Louisiana Bucket Brigade. 2011. http://labucketbrigade.org/downloads/CGIII%20-%20Complete%20Report.pdf
3 According to Federal Election Commission information presented by the Center for Responsive Politics http://www.opensecrets.org