Many coastal advocates are reeling after Governor Bobby Jindal and the Louisiana state legislature dealt a blow to a heroic effort to hold the oil industry accountable for the role they have played in destroying Louisiana’s coastal wetlands and increasing the vulnerability of New Orleans and other coastal communities to the impacts of powerful storms and floods.
Of course, this is not Gulf Restoration Network’s first time supporting accountability for the oil industry.
In 2007, GRN headed up a coalition effort – working with groups from Greenpeace to the Louisiana Shrimp Association – to get Shell to step up and pay for what they had done to Louisiana’s coast. Shell would not recognize our efforts, which lead to some very funny satirical videos (search ShellCares on YouTube) and a plane circling the Shell-sponsored Jazz Fest in New Orleans, towing a banner which read: “SHELL: HEAR THE MUSIC – FIX THE COAST YOU BROKE.”
We tried to reason with Shell, we tried to shame Shell, but when those efforts failed to work, we realized a legal strategy was going to be the only thing to get them to the table. Simultaneously, BP became our oil industry target, and the effort to hold oil companies accountable for their legacy coastal impacts took a back seat to our efforts in the moment to keep BP from walking away from their deepwater drilling disaster.
Oddly, BP proved that in the right circumstances, Louisiana’s politicians are capable of holding an oil company accountable and using their deep pockets to fund the restoration of damaged coastal ecosystems. Passage of the RESTORE Act, which puts BP’s Clean Water Act fines to work for the Gulf, remains a proud success for GRN and the entire coastal advocacy community. But beyond BP, it remained politically toxic to support oil industry accountability. Enter John Barry and the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies.
No matter the interference of the Louisiana state legislature, I’m convinced the time has come for accountability from the industry. The outcry of support for the lawsuit and the outrage in response to the Big Oil Bailout from Baton Rouge shows we’re on the right track, and GRN will continue to do everything in our power to advance the cause.
Aaron Viles, who served for several years as GRN’s Deputy Director, is a member of GRN’s Board and the Deputy Director of Faithful America, an online community committed to putting faith into action for social justice.