Louisiana

Extreme Weather, Widespread Flooding Hammer Louisiana as Federal Government Prepares to Lease Gulf of Mexico for Drilling

Walter Unglaub never thought flooding would threaten the carriage house he rents in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. It is on a bluff 30 feet above the Bogue Falaya River, in an area that is not considered a flood zone.
 
But that didn’t stop a flash flood from forcing Unglaub to swim for his life to get to higher ground awaiting rescue last Friday.
 
“No one is safe from extreme weather,” Unglaub told DeSmog on Sunday when he returned to sort through his belongings to see what, if anything, was salvageable. 
 
After two days of intermittent rain, 14 inches of rain fell Friday night. This extreme weather event took place 12 days before the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will auction drilling leases to 43 million acres of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Climate Change Threatens Louisiana’s Isle de Jean Charles, But Doesn’t Dampen Holiday Cheer

Members of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe who live on Isle de Jean Charles in southern Louisiana are destined to become some of the first climate change refugees in the United States.

But that doesn't stop a lifelong resident Chris Burnet from enjoying every day he has left. 

Holiday Melancholy In Bayou Corne, Louisiana, Home of Giant Sinkhole Caused by An Industrial Accident

Hand-painted standing alligators holding signs that read “Noel” on Tim Brown’s lawn in Bayou Corne, LA, offer holiday cheer in an area where most of his neighbors moved away

Bayou Corne, 77 miles west of New Orleans, has joined the growing list of communities destroyed by industrial accidents.

Once known as a sportsman’s paradise, Bayou Corne is now famous for a giant sinkhole that opened up on August 3, 2012, after a salt dome cavern, owned by Occidental Chemical Corp. and operated by Texas Brine Co. LLC, collapsed.

Council Votes to Kill Coastal Erosion Lawsuits Against Oil and Gas Industry in Louisiana’s Plaquemine Parish

South Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish Council voted 5 to1 on November 12 to kill the lawsuits it had previously filed for damages done by oil and gas companies to the coast resulting in land loss. The 21 suits cited 68 companies that did not adhere to work permits, or didn’t have them in the first place. 

The crowd that filled the council meeting cheered when the council voted to withdraw from the lawsuits, though pulling out of the litigation could cost the parish millions, potentially billions of dollars the parish stands to win.

Bernie Sanders Electrifies Crowds in Louisiana with Message to Fight Climate Change

I hear that you have somewhat of an oil industry here,” said Bernie Sanders, Democratic candidate for President, drawing laughter from the crowd of 4,500 at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner, Louisiana on Sunday evening. 

The audience whistled and cheered when Sanders said we need to end our dependence on fossil fuels. He acknowledged the transition would be painful for some, and that those economically impacted by the loss of jobs must be taken care of. But in no uncertain terms he said it was America’s moral obligation to lead the world in saving this planet from the ravages of climate change.

Five Years After the BP Oil Disaster: A Barrier Island for Nesting Birds Devoid of Life

by Julie Dermansky

Cat Island, off the Gulf Coast in Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish, was home to a vibrant bird rookery inhabited by brown pelicans, seagulls, spoonbills, and egrets before BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Five years after the largest oil spill in American history, the barrier island has just about disappeared.

Despite ongoing efforts by former Plaquemines Parish coastal zone manager PJ Hahn to restore the island, only the needed building permits and an engineering plan have been completed.

“Cat Island was ground zero of the oil spill,” Hahn told DeSmogBlog.


Dead bird on Cat Island five years after the BP oil spill. 
March 31, 2015. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

"Carbon Copy": How Big Oil and King Coal Ghost Write Letters for Public Officials, Business Groups

The Billings Gazette has revealed that coal mining company Cloudpeak Energy ghost wrote protest letters to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) on behalf of allied policymakers and business groups. 

Reporter Tom Lutey examined numerous letters written to DOI from Montana-based stakeholders and noticed something unusual: the language in every single letter was exactly the same. That is, the same except for a parenthetical note in one of them instructing the supposed writer of it to “insert name/group/entity.”

The “carbon copied” (pun credit goes to Lutey) letters requested for the DOI to give states a time extension to begin implementing new rules dictating the coal industry give states a “fair return” on mining leases granted to industry by the states. DOI ended up giving King Coal the 60-day extension.

“Last month, coal proponents scored a major victory by convincing the Department of Interior to hold off on its rule making for 60 days so that more people could respond,” Lutey wrote. “Members of the Montana Legislature, along with county commissioners and mayors from Montana and Wyoming communities put the weight of their political offices behind letters asking the DOI for more time. What they didn’t offer were their own words.”

Among those who submitted a “carbon copied” letter originally written by Cloudpeak Energy include the Montana Chamber of Commerce, Billings Chamber of Commerce, Montana Coal Council, Montana Sen. Debby Barrett and the Yellowstone County Board of Commissioners.  

Unlike others, the Montana Chamber of Commerce embarassingly forgot to take out the boilerplate “insert name/group/entity” language. 

Montana Chamber of Commerce Ghostwriting Coal Letter
Image Credit: Quit Coal

Cloud Peak responded by saying this was a “sample letter…included as part of…briefings,” but did not clarify if those allied stakeholders were supposed to send them to DOI in verbatim fashion, as did the Montana Chamber.

Ghost Town Left in the Wake of the Bayou Corne Sinkhole in Louisiana

Bayou Corne, 77 miles west of New Orleans, can be added to the growing list of communities destroyed by industrial accidents.

“I wanted to stay in Bayou Corne for the rest of my life. I wanted to die here,” Mike Schaff, who recently moved out, told DeSmogBlog. “Texas Brine took that away from me. It’s like a ghost town now.”

The area was known as a picturesque sportsman's paradise for its waterways teeming with fish and alligators, but is now famous for a giant sinkhole that opened up on August 3, 2012 after a salt dome cavern owned by Occidental Chemical Corp. and operated by Texas Brine Co. LLC, collapsed.


Swamp maple blossoms near the sinkhole in Bayou Corne. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

United Steelworkers Oil Refinery Strike Spreads

Workers at Shell and Motiva refineries in Norco, Louisiana, about 30 miles west of New Orleans, have joined the growing national United Steelworkers Union (USW) strike. In total, 15 facilities are now striking, making this the largest refinery strike since 1980.

On the second night of the strike in Norco, a giant flare at the Shell refinery illuminated the workers on the picket line, serving as a reminder of the dangers that come with working at refineries.

“There are a lot of hazards out here,” Bryan Shelton, a media liaison for the union, said. “If you have that much hydrocarbon in one area, you have a chance for a lot of things to go wrong, so if you have someone working too many hours that is a dangerous thing.”

Fossil Fuel Connected Judge Says Oil Industry Not Liable For Destroying Gulf Coast

While much of the attention paid to the Gulf Coast in recent years has focused on BP’s destruction of the Gulf of Mexico and the coastline, it is important to remember that the fossil fuel industry has been polluting the South for decades.

In fact, the problem is so bad that the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed a lawsuit against 97 fossil fuel companies two years ago to force them to pay for the destruction that they have caused to the Louisiana coast.

The lawsuit seemed almost doomed from the start: Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed legislation in 2014 that forbade the lawsuit from moving forward, but this legislation was later ruled unconstitutional and thrown out.

As Climate Progress points out, the growing concern among Louisiana citizens is that their coastline is disappearing: More than 1,900 square miles of coast line has vanished in the last 85 years, and the fossil fuel industry has been responsible for polluting what’s left. The industry has even admitted it is responsible for at least 36% of the total wetland loss in the state of Louisiana. The State Department estimates that the wells drilled by the dirty energy industry are destroying as much as 59% of the coast.

An admission of liability, hard facts, and the protection of the public’s well being should have been enough to make this case a slam-dunk for any seasoned attorney. Unfortunately, the dirty energy industry has powerful connections all over the South – from politicians to judges – and those connections have resulted in the dismissal of the lawsuit.

In mid-February, U.S. District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown tossed the suit, after the industry successful lobbied to have the case moved from a state judge to a federal judge. This action, known as venue-shopping, allows a defendant to search for a more friendly judge before the case is heard, and Judge Brown is about as friendly with the industry as a judge ever could be.

Before her appointment to a federal judgeship by President Obama (confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate), Judge Brown spent decades as a corporate attorney, working for firms that regularly represented the dirty energy industry in matters of environmental litigation.

During her time in practice, she worked at the law firms of Adams & Reese, the Onebane Law Firm, Milling, Benson, & Woodward, and the Chaffe McCall law firm. The McCall firm’s website says the following about its oil and gas representation:

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