Environmental bill 051619

Marrero Republican Rep. Patrick Connick, at the podium, raised questions Thursday, May 16, 2019, about the environmental reporting legislation by Rep. Stuart J. Bishop, R-Lafayette, at right behind the podium.

At the beginning of the last century, John D. Rockefeller created Standard Oil, which transformed America’s, and the world’s, economy. Louisiana played a big part in that transformation today as well as then.

We want it to continue.

But industrial-scale refining and development of petrochemical manufacturing has side-effects, pollution and accidents with which we are all too familiar in Louisiana.

Our Views: A new wave of industry growth

That is why we support the oil and gas industry in Louisiana, but we also support effective and efficient regulation of the business and its industrial sites.

That is a proper role of government, but if an industry becomes too powerful, the regulators can be compromised by those they are supposed to oversee.

Louisiana is not a state hostile to the oil and gas industry, so we wonder why businesses are pushing a “self-reporting” bill from industry backers in the Legislature.

Even though the state Department of Environmental Quality has a program of that kind, intended to reduce industry's paperwork, the new bill by state Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, would expand self-reporting and create an apparently new level of secrecy for the companies’ reports.

It should be suspicious when secrecy enters government regulation of industry. The House balked at the Bishop bill, giving it a 46-40 vote on the first try, with 53 votes needed to pass. A second try is tough as the Legislature must adjourn by June 6.

We find it suspicious that the industry seeks relief from what we did not know is a problem, and that the regulators at DEQ are apparently puzzled by what the bill would do.

Tyler Gray, head of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, who presented the new bill at committee with Bishop recently, argued it would help encourage companies to self-report violations and free up manpower at LDEQ to focus on “bad actors.”

Gray said the system would let regulators see more of what’s going on in facilities. He also said the exemptions to the system laid out in the bill would prevent serious or criminal acts from being kept confidential or included in the process.

Sounds good, although following laws and regulations should not necessarily require an incentive. But why is this bill necessary if DEQ has a similar program? And why, if such a controversial matter as pollution is involved, does industry not work out a united front with DEQ on legislative changes?

DEQ has an obligation to analyze these bills and give the taxpayer a better insight into what industry wants. We fear this bill’s history suggests an agency cowering before powerful legislators and their even more powerful backers on a wide-ranging bill that a department official said was complex and difficult to comment upon.

Which reminds us of Standard Oil: It was said back then that the company did everything to the Pennsylvania legislature except refine it.

We don’t want the same to be said of Louisiana's DEQ.