Honoré: Environmental agencies using 1950s technology to monitor 21st-century industries _lowres

Advocate staff photo by Amy Wold -- Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré (ret.) speaks about his GreenArmy Army Louisiana Legislative Scorecard during Monday's Press Club of Baton Rouge meeting.

The state is using 1950s technology to regulate its 21st-century industries, and that needs to change in order to protect Louisiana’s air, water and land, Russel Honoré told the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday.

The comments of the retired Army lieutenant general-turned-environmental activist came during his presentation of the GreenARMY’s 2014 legislative scorecard.

Honoré, who made national headlines when he arrived in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, has more recently taken on environmental causes, from the sinkhole at Bayou Corne to concerns about saltwater intrusion into the Southern Hills Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to Baton Rouge.

“We advocate for fighting pollution,” Honoré, a Pointe Coupee native, said of the GreenARMY coalition. “We’re volunteers who work on saving our water, saving our air and saving our culture.”

A leader of the coalition, Honoré said federal environmental regulations like the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act are “dirty words” for some people in the state.

That shouldn’t be allowed to continue, he said.

“The only ones who are going to save us is ourselves,” Honoré said.

Asked if he has plans to run for political office, Honoré said he is thinking about it. He also said that while many of the potential candidates for governor have had disparaging things to say about environmental regulators, he hasn’t heard any of them talking about environmental concerns.

“I heard one of the candidates say he’s going to put his boot on the neck of EPA,” Honoré said.

Instead, he said, the lack of resources, staff and technical expertise at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state agencies — along with a lack of strong laws — are leading to problems like the Bayou Corne sinkhole.

Although industry in Louisiana can boast state-of-the-art technology, many state and federal environmental agencies are still using what Honoré calls 1950s technology.

No one begrudges oil and gas companies making money and providing necessary products for the economy, Honoré said. However, these companies need to ensure clean water and air for the state’s residents and to clean up any messes they make.

As he displayed a picture taken in south Louisiana showing a web of dredged canals that cut up the landscape, Honoré said this is something that should be fixed by those who caused the damage.

He was referring to the oil and gas lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against more than 90 oil and gas companies for compensation of wetland damage.

The GreenARMY was active during the 2014 legislative session, fighting against a number of bills introduced to get rid of the lawsuit, which is opposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and many legislators.

Other issues GreenARMY addressed include new regulations covering salt domes in the wake of the Bayou Corne sinkhole and supporting a House resolution to get the state Department of Natural Resources to look at ways to get abandoned oil wells cleaned up faster. In June, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office released a report that was critical of DNR for its management of oil and gas well regulation.

Although some things were accomplished in 2014, Honoré said, the GreenARMY will be back at the Legislature this year to push for more progress on the environment.

One of those initiatives, he said, is to get industry to pay for upgrades to the monitoring and alert systems for those communities along the fence line of industrial facilities. This alert system would automatically send messages or phone calls to residents in an area in the event of incidents at the facility.

The process now consists of a “phone tree” that includes the state Department of Environmental Quality, and there has long been a concern that incidents aren’t communicated to people living around facilities because the chemical release didn’t leave the facility site.

“We’ve got to move the monitoring of these companies into the 21st century,” Honoré said.

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.