Oyster reefs. You gotta love ’em.
In fact, they are so widely prized that conservationists, big oil and the state are working in unison to build a bunch along the Louisiana coast.
The American Wetlands Foundation in its latest TV advertisement trumpets the project as an example of the cooperation “among government, the private sector and non-governmental organizations” that is “crucial to efforts to save Louisiana’s disappearing coast.”
Fair enough. Hats off to the Nature Conservancy, Chevron and the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
Oyster reefs are no doubt a good start, but it must be admitted that there is much more scope for joint efforts to arrest the shrinkage of Louisiana, traditionally measured in football fields. The current rate is two an hour.
The AWF is well positioned to promote the collaborative spirit and does, indeed, to a large extent embody it. All the big oil companies, including even the Gulf Coast’s bogeyman, BP, are among its sponsors. Its chairman, King Milling, a leading light in New Orleans business and high society circles, has made himself an expert in restoration and is among its most heeded proponents.
In a press release announcing the new commercial, the fourth in a series, AWF cites a poll showing that 97 percent of voters believe “it will take a team effort of government, industry education and nonprofit organizations to restore Louisiana’s coast.”
Those voters are evidently convinced that “perceived conflicts between energy production and environmental protection have become too politically divisive,” and want all parties to join hands and confront what they “cite as ‘the issue of their lifetime.’ ”
Given the way wetland loss is computed, it is perhaps appropriate that AWF’s television campaign is dubbed “Game On” and airs during major sporting events. It began this year in the football bowl season to show that warring factions can indeed come together.
But, as Milling points out, “time is not on our side,” and the obvious question, if cooperation can bring us the undoubted boon of oyster reefs, is why can’t we just get along when the stakes are higher? Sure, AWF may be “proud to showcase examples of what such collaboration can accomplish,” but there is no sign of the big enchilada — a truce in the battle over the liability of oil and gas for the wanton destruction of the wetlands.
The lawsuit filed against 97 companies by a New Orleans-area flood protection authority remains in limbo while lawyers dispute the constitutionality of the legislation designed to kill it, and nobody doubts that the judiciary could spend years in learned deliberation. An out-of-court settlement would make more sense for all sides.
There is, after all, no dispute about the suit’s central contention; the oil industry’s own studies conclude the canals it dredged and the pipes it laid were responsible for 36 percent of the land loss. No matter, say the industry’s apologists in the Legislature and the media, because no laws were broken.
That just goes to show that no lie is too blatant when big bucks are on the table. The companies routinely ignored their contractual obligation to repair the damage they caused, which now figures prominently in the state’s $50 billion coastal restoration master plan. It is a great plan, lacking only the $50 billion.
A spontaneous offer to contribute was never to be expected from the oil companies, but the lawsuit might provide some incentive on the principle that money is better spent on saving Louisiana than on litigation. John Barry, prime mover behind the lawsuit, always regarded a settlement as the most rational outcome. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s loyalties being with Big Oil, Barry got a prompt heave-ho from the flood authority.
The oil industry nevertheless has a stake in coastal restoration, too, as many of its employees, particularly the fishers and the hunters, acknowledge. Wetlands loss, and the concomitant degrading of flood protection, moreover, clearly threaten the industry’s infrastructure. The interests of the tree huggers and the petrochemical barons need not always diverge.
That, apparently, is the AWF credo. Oyster reefs don’t lie.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.