In an email exchange between St. Tammany Director of Economic Development Don Shea and St. Tammany Chief Deputy Assessor Troy Dugas from May 2014, Shea states, “The general heat will die down, except for the loonies.” The email, one of several released by Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, continues to ring true. With respect to the theme, Covington Weekly introduced Tammany J. Frog, the singing and dancing amphibian sensation who likes to entertain the Parish administration. (See “St. Tammany’s Own Michigan J. Frog,” – CW.)
While Shea’s comment reveals disdain for the growing opposition to hydraulic fracturing in St. Tammany Parish, the action detailed in the communication is inconsistent with the basic principles of a representative democracy. Dugas proceeds to outline a strategy for subverting public discourse that was admittedly used to influence past public meetings (read the email). Despite efforts to sway public opinion, several lawsuits are filed, local municipal officials have officially stated their concerns, and the citizens responded by packing standing-room-only meetings. Perceptibly, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA) is now on the warpath.
Published on December 31, 2014 on www.loga.la, “2015: A Year Of Action” proposes that the oil and gas industry is under threatening attack in Louisiana. A quick read of LOGA President Don Briggs’ diatribe against a “rogue group of environmentalists” is reminiscent of the ranting and raving of the rabbit -hating cartoon prospector Yosemite Sam. Blame is shared with trial lawyers and activists, who elect candidates that actively work against the oil and gas industry, highlighting the dire need for “conservative, business friendly officials.”
There would be little argument against the statement that St. Tammany is a fairly conservative community with a Republican bent. The local municipal leadership familiar to this writer fits the description of both “conservative” and “business friendly.” Valid concerns about a specific technology or practice within a particular industry are not an indication that an individual is unfriendly to business or liberal, in a general sense.
Briggs harbors resentment for judges that “blatantly rule against the industry,” suggesting that all positions of influence be occupied by people who will decide only in favor of the industry, in every situation. Besides being undiplomatic, this solution more accurately describes a plutocracy, a political ideology contrary to St. Tammany Parish’s Home Rule Charter. The notion also conflicts with local control of the preservation, security and protection of our immediate environment and resources, concepts outlined in our State and Federal Constitutions.
Rather than push for unrestrained industrial development, an action LOGA could take is to ensure accountability in the existing industry. This is lacking, outlined in a report from the Louisiana State Legislative Auditor’s Office regarding Orphaned and Abandoned Wells from May 2014. In an earlier December 3rd LOGA article (“OPEC Threatened By US Shale Plays“), Briggs chides OPEC for attacking the shale industry by refusing to cut production, commenting that participating countries’ social programs will suffer, as they are subsidized through oil. Evidenced by data found in the State Legislative Auditor’s report, some Louisiana operations inadvertently become social programs, because the public is left to pick up the tab in the mitigation of abandoned and orphaned wells.
Instead of parish correspondence that denigrates the citizenry and conspires to manipulate public meetings, establishing truthful and rational dialogue relative to the future of our community would be a good start to restoring public trust between citizens and parish administration. The consequences of fracking are generating such alarming data by independent sources that support of the practice is now decreasingly a partisan issue. Acknowledgement of a community right to self determination would preclude the perceived mutual exclusivity of economic development and community preservation, which is not partisan either.
One thing is for certain: for good or ill, 2015 is here, and early signs indicate that the new year will indeed be a Year Of Action. As the Action Unfolds, you can bet that the Loonies will be paying close attention.
Timothy Gates may be reached at 985-288-9609 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org