In the end, what Abita Springs Mayor Greg Lemons did last month may turn out to be just an empty gesture.
Lemons withdrew the town’s membership in the St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce over its support of oil and gas exploration and production, which Lemons construed as backing the controversial fracking project proposed for St. Tammany Parish.
Lemons embodies the split feelings that St. Tammany residents have felt ever since Helis Oil & Gas announced a desire to explore for oil using the hydraulic fracturing method. Their reliably Republican, pro-business outlook is at odds with the fear of the damage fracking could cause there.
Lemons, himself a Republican, pointed out that giving one sector of the economy free rein could wind up hurting another — specifically, real estate. St. Tammany has been growing for years, and that has been a boon to the realty industry as more and more once-rural areas are chopped up into new subdivisions, while leaving enough trees standing to help differentiate them from the big city south of the lake.
But St. Tammany residents, and like-minded Louisianians in general, really have nowhere to go politically.
Not that there was much of a race in the 1st Congressional District anyway, but St. Tammany voters last month overwhelmingly supported the Republican incumbent in that seat, Steve Scalise. A few days after his re-election, Scalise’s bill to weaken enforcement of the Clean Air Act passed the House. So it’s unlikely that fracking opponents in his district can expect much support for their cause from him.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the Sportsman’s Paradise have not presented much of a green alternative to the pro-Big Energy view.
Take, for example, the upcoming all-Republican runoff for the District 1 seat on the Public Service Commission and the position taken by U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, the only Democrat among Louisiana’s House members (and maybe soon the only D in the state’s entire congressional delegation). You might expect a liberal to support someone with a background in alternative energy. Instead, Richmond lined up behind the candidate backed by utility companies and fossil-fuel industries.
In the campaign for Senate that ends Saturday, environmentalists see only a lose-lose situation. The Democratic incumbent, Mary Landrieu, has made a big deal out of her support from the oil industry. Even if she pulls out a surprise win against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, her victory will not blunt whatever the energy industry plans to do in — or to — Louisiana going forward.
Conservatives hunt, fish, hike and camp out just like liberals and moderates . Many of them live in bucolic subdivisions. They should care about the quality of the natural life around them, and, as St. Tammany’s reaction to the fracking proposal shows, they do.
Unfortunately, they have no way of expressing those feelings politically. So far, I can’t think of anyone who has successfully combined the views of conservationists with those of conservatives and created a political worldview that says that we value free enterprise, but as in everything else in life, there has to be limits.
Maybe Mayor Lemons has made a start in that direction. But since he’s already told WDSU that he may change his mind about withdrawing from the chamber, I have my doubts.
Meanwhile, if Landrieu loses, it just reinforces the lesson that Democrats learned nationally on Nov. 4: Though they may try to act like Republicans on some issues, that still doesn’t prevent them from being beaten by real Republicans at election time.
In a state that likes to tout its natural resources, could that lesson finally turn Louisiana Democrats into a greener party?
Dennis Persica’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.