By Kellan Lyman, Member Action Associate
“The way we’re going in the State of Louisiana, this state won’t be fit to live”: retired Lieutenant General Russell Honore spoke about the oil and gas industry’s negligent operations last Saturday. On top of that, “we let them get away with it,” he said during his speech at Rising Tide, a blogging and new media conference for organizing and activism for the future of New Orleans. Honore talked about the destruction of the oil industry on Louisiana’s communities, health, economy, and wetlands and the need for change. His immediate solution to ultimately living in harmony with the industry is to “make it miserable for them to operate.” Honore was spot on describing the landscape of the industry’s operations and the actions we need to take to change it.
For one, we have to let them stop saying “none of the poison went behind the fenceline,” as if a chain link fence can so much as slow down thousands of pounds of carcinogens and respiratory irritants emanating from a refinery from descending upon families. “How do we do that?” you ask. Report pollution you see or smell and any health effects to LABB’s iWitness Pollution Map, so we can show that the toxic chemical did make it beyond the fenceline.
Secondly, our language has to accurately represent the situation. Honore scoffed at initial attempts to call the 2010 BP Oil Spill the Gulf Oil Spill (nice try, BP PR team). The Gulf didn’t do it; BP did. To follow suit, Honore will now call the sinkhole in Bayou Corne the Texas Brine sinkhole for the industrial product-producing company who caused it.
Honore went so far as to say that democracy cannot function in Louisiana with the contributions the oil industry gives to politicians and university systems. If Gen. Honore had his way, politicians would not be allowed to accept money from the oil industry. How can politicians not let over a million dollars influence their decision making? (I’m looking at you, Bobby Jindal). Universities, which should aim to seek the truth and not oil spokesperson rhetoric, should not have to fear losing funding because their research project conflicts with Big Oil’s agenda. On the other hand, one might say that the oil industry benefits our State so much in terms of giving. As Gen. Honore put it, “if oil and gas is doing so much, then why are we the poorest state in America.”
Honore’s speech charged the room as he spoke of the loss of culture and entire communities as Louisiana’s land disappears. What we need to do now is to talk to the rice farmer and the duck hunter, and to show them how the negligent manner in which the oil industry operates damages his life before we have to import rice and crawfish. I’m thankful General Honore is so enthusiastic about the work of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and hope the energy he brought to Rising Tide will inspire further activism to protect our dream State.