Bobby Jindal & Mary Landrieu : Birds of a Feather Oiled Together
by Lewis D. Eigen
Bobby Jindal and Mary Landrieu may be Louisiana politicians of opposing political parties, but they have become stuck together by the thick oil produced by their current villain–BP. The oil has so affected them that they squawk in raucous unison exhibiting the logic and intelligence often more typical of the intellectual capability of the Louisiana State Bird, the Brown Pelican.
The hypocrisy is extreme and palpable. Landrieu , a very conservative Democrat and Jindal, an unusually reasonable Republican (they are an endangered species these days), share the view that the Federal government is too large, too intrusive and too expensive. For years they, especially Jindal have squawked in outrage at any Federal spending. Louisiana then gets hit with a crisis, and all we hear is how the Federal Government should do more, spend more, mobilize more people, and exert dominance over evil BP one of the the largest private corporations in Louisiana. Yet for years, both of them, and most other Louisiana politicians have been carrying BP’s water, taking their “campaign contributions”, hiring their friends and a lot of their constituents. In a state where corporate money is commonly taken by politicians for personal use, at least Jindal and Landrieu have only taken bribes from BP and the rest of the oil industry for campaign purposes–our currently legalized from of graft.
In the disease of alcoholism, we refer to family members whose behavior tends to support the drinking of the alcoholic as “enablers”. Jindal and Landrieu have been enablers of the culture whose credo is, “what is good for the oil industry was good for Louisiana.” Environmental risks to the fragile Louisiana environment were taken if the companies thought the risk benefit equation was favorable. Lax safety practices of the oil industry were overlooked with little effort to fine the firms for violations. If there was any attempt to pass any legislation or regulation that would require more from the oil industry, the two Brown Pelicans would fly to the problem and squawk with the power and influence of the state to stop any reasonable reform if the oil industry opposed it. These two oiled pelicans ran interference for the oil industry including the now evil BP. Most businesses which are faced with potential laws or regulation changes they perceive disadvantageous, would dispatch their lawyers and lobbyists. The oil industry of course did that, but they also had their own Senator and Governor who represented them.
In most of the states that have excellent workplace safety records like New York , Massachusetts, and Michigan, the State Governments are very active not only in legislation but in providing the state inspection and enforcement manpower. The Federal Government has never been a great enforcement mechanism for worker safety. The industry supporters have always made sure that there would not be enough safety inspectors to actually do much inspection.
So what has the record been of Jindal and Landrieu in using State law to ensure the safety of the oil workers of the state? Essentially their efforts have been nill, null and void and otherwise non existent. Worse, it is these two metaphorical pelicans who should be the major guardians of the real brown pelicans, the wildlife and the very vulnerable shore line and bayous. But their squawking has been limited to fending off all attempts to enforce more effective and stronger safety standards. These two leading public servants were oiled long before the spill.
Louisiana had fishing and tourism industries that, along with oil are three of the keys to the Louisiana economy and employment picture. So why haven’t the two oiled pelicans been using their power and influence to protect those industries, much less the environment itself. Unfortunately, those industries, are disaggregated. Tens of thousands of small businesses and individuals do the vast majority of the business. Not like oil where 5 firms control almost all of the industry. The shrimpers, charter fishermen, and waiters haven’t the time to lobby their politicians. In the Louisiana tradition, average people do not pay the politicians in anything but votes. The politicians are expected to get theirs from the large companies doing Louisiana business–preferably those from outside of the state. But the days of Huey Long are passed, and instead of “soaking the rich” the modern Louisiana politicians serve and enable the rich.
Our two political Brown Pelicans currently rarely go more than an hour or two without squawking accusingly about the 11 workers who were killed on the BP drilling platform. They properly cast the blame on BP and their subcontractors although it will be some time before we know the extent of the proportional responsibility of each company. In 2005, the BP oil refinery in Texas City, Texas exploded and 15 workers were killed. The report on BP refineries said, “significant process safety issues exist at all five U.S. refineries, not just Texas City.”
Four months later, the United States fined BP $3 million, citing a catalogue of “willful” safety breaches at its Toledo, Ohio, refinery. In 2000, BP had a pipeline oil spill in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Newsweek reported that an analyses of the BP operations in Alaska found “a pattern of the company intimidating workers who raised safety or environmental concerns” and that “managers shaved maintenance costs by using aging equipment for as long as possible.” In 2002 BP was found to be falsifying inspections of fuel storage tanks in California. They settled a lawsuit by the South Coast Air Quality Management District for $100 million.
All these terrible incidents were only among the ones where BP got caught. The Bush administration quashed a Justice Department prosecution that was started against BP executives. There are hundreds that have not reached public attention. But the one fact that tells the story about BP is the fact that they have had, in the last few years, over 750 serious safety violations. During that period, the rest of the oil industry had only about a dozen. Over 90 percent of all the major safety violations in the oil industry were levied against one company–BP.
Safety and environmental disregard are not the only anti social offenses against the company. They paid a huge fine for price gouging during the electricity shortage in California.
Lets go back to the month BEFORE the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in April. It was March. What did Jindal and Landrieu have to say about BP during that month? They knew this entire history and worse–information that has not been made public yet. The answer was, they said nothing! And nothing in February or January. Or all of 2009 or 2008. Nothing about the hazard of having BP operating in the state. Only after the oil spill severity was clear did they suddenly realize that supporting BP was too politically risky in Louisiana. So the ocean platform in the Gulf of Mexico served as the proverbial Damascus for the two Brown Pelicans where they “saw the light.” All of a sudden, they would take any opportunity to say something negative about BP or the entire oil industry for that matter. The shrimpers, fishermen, tourism workers, even entertainers who would play to smaller audiences, were outraged and wanted the faulty well to stop its discharge flow of oil into the sea. In a way, it was lucky for the governor and the senator, that the leak was not stopped. They could take up the cudgel, and demand that the Federal Government stop the leak. The same Federal government which the week and year before was spending too much money and was too intrusive into state affairs was now castigated for not having sufficient resources and aggressiveness in dealing with this Louisiana problem. Jindal and Landrieu had two “cash cows.” BP which claimed that it would pay for the cleanup and the Federal Government that was not very welcome in the area the week before but now could not interfere enough in Louisiana.
Everyone agreed that the first priority had to be stopping the flow of oil, and second was preventing the spilled oil from reaching shore. The Brown Pelicans called for no stone to be left unturned as long as BP of the Feds would foot the bill. But what did they do with the resources that they had and controlled? This was especially true of the Governor who could have:
- Activated the Louisiana National Guard and dispatch them to the beaches and marshes to block oil or gather it in gallon bottles if necessary.
- Assigned all state and local emergency personnel, police, firefighters to clean up and fend off oil.
- Pay the fishermen to take their boats into state waters (not federal) and skim manually if necessary.
- Release prisoners from jail with a promise of some time off their sentence if they would handle the dirtiest and toughest cleanup tasks like wading in oil soaked marshes and cleaning by hand.
- Asking high school children and their teachers to form animal rescue teams and spend time outside of school cleaning birds–especially the innocent Brown Pelicans.
- Ask all the State University Scientists and Engineers to form task forces to come up with ideas for ameliorating the effect of the oil.
They did none of these. They were not about to spend State money or even advance it and then get reimbursed by putting a State Tax on all large oil industry facilities operating in the state. All they did was get their photograph taken with those Louisiana citizens who did take local initiative. In between photo ops, the squawked about the inadequate efforts of the Federal Government. The Governor complained that the resources mobilized by the federal government were not enough and too slow to deploy. Yet he commanded vast resources that could have been mobilized by the stroke of his pen. But the governor’s energy was so much directed to his mouth, that apparently he had no energy left for his hand.
After a few weeks, the biggest irony of the political Brown Pelicans occurred. It became clear to most citizens as well as politicians that the oil companies did not really have the technology that they had claimed they did in their drilling permit applications. That they did not have total control over drilling wells a mile under the ocean and miles beyond the sea floor. BP had filed a plan with their drilling permit for the spilled well and many others which said that if there was a disaster–a leak of even 250 million gallons a day, they had the equipment and knowhow to prevent it from reaching shore. They had the resources, technology and manpower to handle even an extremely large spill. At the time we all were told by BP that the leak was much smaller than that. It turned out of course that PB could not handle a small fraction of the amount that they had claimed competency for. The spill NEVER reached the amount of discharge that BP promised they could handle. We now know that the daily oil discharge was much larger than the BP estimates, but it never even came close to the rate that they claimed they could handle. Then a strange thing happened. Some Federal officials working the problem came up with an idea. If BP had a bogus plan for handling a large spill, ignore that plan. Instead, use the plans of the other oil companies who themselves had to file plans to get their deep drilling permits.
Inspection of the plans of the other companies produced a shock. The other companies had all filed the exact same emergency plan as BP had–word for word, idea for idea. The plans themselves were a sad, feeble, joke. There were sections and pictures as to how they would handle walrus who contacted oil. However, there have not been walrus in the Gulf of Mexico for a hundred million years. One of the major resources each of the plans offered for an emergency was a very prominent scientist and expert at oil spills. He should be consulted and depended upon to advise the federal, state, and local mitigators The plans all even gave the man’s phone number so he could be called instantly in an emergency. There was one small problem, however. The gentleman in question had been dead for 7 years. The plans, with their deceased resource, were filed in the last few years. It was hard to tell who was the more incompetent and disingenuous: the oil companies who all filed the same woefully inadequate, and obviously silly plan or the government officials at Federal, State and local governments who either approved these plans or who did not bother to look at them to determine if they were practical for their communities. Our two Brown Pelicans, of course, never looked at the plans–or had their taxpayer paid personal staff bother to examine the plans. When the rig blew, there was no practical plan or procedure for dealing with a major oil spill. So the Feds and some of the local people started to develop one. The Brown Pelicans continued with their photo ops.
Meanwhile, it was realized that the failsafe device–the blowout protector, itself had failed. So here we were with a panoply of other deep wells in the Gulf, all having the same useless emergency plan, and all using the same fail safe system that had failed. How much risk was there of another catastrophe? Clearly if there were another blow out in another well, there was no way to control it after the fact as the plans were useless. So what was the likelihood of another blowout? No one knew! The scientists were studying the first blowout to try and determine the reason. That takes time. What was to be done?
President Obama then did what he was elected to do–make the tough decision. He decided to put a moratorium on all new deep drilling for 6 months with the proviso that it could be lifted if it turned out that there was little or no risk of another blowout. This was a classic Obama decision–sensible and right down the middle. The anti deep drilling environmentalists complained that if new wells were a risk, then the ones that were already operating with no improvement over the technology with which the BP well blew were at even greater risk. They should be shut down until we got a handle on the problem of fail safe or at least had a practical plan for dealing with another major spill. The oil companies, of course, howled like scalded dogs and the “drill baby drill” crowd was equally distressed. We need the oil. At least for the next few years.
So what did the Brown Pelicans do? Naïve people would assume that they would want the drilling moratorium extended to the existing oil wells in the Gulf–make sure that Louisiana did not have another major oil spill. However, that was not the case at all. Despite the fact that BP has been their whipping post, the two politicians have taken up the cudgel for BP and the other oil companies. A moratorium on all deep drilling would cost the oil companies huge profits. So they go to the Brown Pelicans and show them the number of oil workers who would be laid off, if there were such a moratorium on all deep drilling. And they have calculated the number of jobs for which they will NOT hire if they cannot drill new deep wells. After all, the oil workers are Louisiana citizens too. While that is true, they and their industry are a great danger to the other economic sectors and the environment of the state. And the Brown Pelicans have never let the media forget that the Louisiana traditional way of life is threatened. So Louisiana is very complicated. The Brown Pelicans want all the benefits, none of the costs, and complete protection against the very risks that they advocated taking. We would all want that, but alas, this is impossible in the real world.
Consider a type of fairness and justice analysis of the different economic sectors of Louisiana. The fisherman and the fishing industry do not threaten the oil industry in any way. Nor does the tourist and hospitality industry. But the oil industry is a very great potential threat to the other sectors. Of the three areas, the oil industry employees the fewest people. In addition the oil industry and deep drilling is a potential threat to the average citizens of Louisiana and their own personal recreational way of life. So, to be fair, if we have to sacrifice some people’s livelihood to protect the livelihood and way of life of the majority, that should be the decision. The Obama moratorium should hold and probably be extended to cover existing deep drilling. The Governor and Senator of the state should support the President or advocate for an extension to existing drilling.
Surprise! The squawks of the Brown Pelicans call for the President to remove the moratorium completely–and immediately. They advocate, for the sake of the state economy, taking the chance that there will not be another blowout or other disaster. However, if there is another oil spill, the oil industry may be forced to go elsewhere for more oil, but it is the non-oil related citizens of Louisiana who will be at best hurt economically and have their cultural traditions somewhat changed. At worst they could be impoverished and their way of life lost forever. Every charter boat captain, every restaurant cook, every shrimper, pays taxes for their business. The oil companies move their profits overseas and keep expenses here so that they pay less taxes. As a percentage of income or profit, it would be difficult to find any charter boat captain, shrimper, or restaurant owner who pays less taxes to Louisiana (or the national government) than BP or the other large oil companies. How does that help the American deficit problem? Or Louisiana’s devastated economy. The actual rig that blew up was not even an American vessel. BP registered it in the Marshall islands. They don’t even pay the taxes to America for flagging their vessels. Why do the Brown Pelicans side with the minority who are not very loyal to the United States and risk the way of life of the majority for whom America is number 1? It seems like a poor political equation. Not in Louisiana however.
First, the oil industry pays very well. After all, they have to incentivize their workers to be willing to risk the economic welfare and way of life of their own relatives and neighbors. The oil companies can afford it, as the nation and the world is too dependent on oil. Price can be controlled by the leading oil companies. So the $90,000 a year oil worker is worth in money brought into the state twice as much as a $45,000 shrimper. Three times as much as the $30,000 chef, and six times as much as the $15,000 waiter or crewman on a charter fishing boat. The shrimpers and restaurant owners don’t make many campaign contributions; the oil companies are very generous in this respect.
For years the politicians of Louisiana have made a fundamental decision which Jindal and Landrieu are but the latest proponents. It is this:
The economic benefit to the State from supporting big oil is worth the risk of environmental damage to the state.
That per se is not an unreasonable position to take. Arguably, over the years, there have been great economic benefits to Louisiana. The environmental damage has been modest and has been borne by only a few specific geographical areas. However, the recent blow out was a stark reminder of the down side risk of that policy. What changed? Nothing really. Arguably it was good luck that there was not a major uncontrollable blow out before. The people of Louisiana have elected and reelected proponents of this risk benefit tradeoff policy. The Brown Pelicans have taken however two very unreasonable positions and sets of actions/inactions.
- They have been advocating this risk strategy for years. Now that the risks that they have taken have manifested themselves, Jindal and Landrieu act as if they had no part in the negative consequences of the policies that they have been advocating and leading.
- During this entire time, they took a politically simplistic position–support the oil companies and fend off all attempts at regulation.
The alternatives were not as stark as the Brown Pelicans have made it. The governments of England and Norway have also made the decision to risk oil drilling. However, they in contrast, did everything they knew how to regulate the drilling and minimize the chance of a problem to whatever degree they could. Example: Any machine or system can fail. And this is true for the so called “fail safe” blow out protectors. In the current crisis, it was the blowout protector that failed when it was supposed to be the last and best safeguard. Norway and England required that each deep well have TWO blowout protectors. This is called redundancy. If the odds of a failure were one out of a million with one blowout protector, the odds do not only double to 1 out of 2 million by having two protectors. Redundancy is controlled by the laws of probability and is multiplicative. So the odds of failure with two protectors go way down to 1 out of 1,000,000,000,000. Now the Federal Government was responsible for setting the standards and enforcing them. Under the George W. Bush administration there was a serious effort to deregulate almost everything except women’s control of their own bodies. This amplified the tilt toward deregulation that was started in the Clinton administration. But our pair of Brown Pelicans never complained that the standards of protection for the Gulf were far lower than other jurisdictions of the world–jurisdictions which also had decided to take the risk of pollution and accident for the benefits of the oil. They, who were both so eloquent in criticizing federal government activities of all kinds were totally silent on the safety and environmental protection for deep drilling or other facets of the oil industry.
Senator Landrieu has great power and responsibility for oversight of federal agencies. She tells the people of Louisiana that she will look after the interests of the state in all federal operations. She has never been a shrinking violet. She can be a force to contend with. Governor Jindal does not have federal responsibility. But that has never stopped him from squawking to Presidents and federal legislators and appointees. He too his firm and loud. The primary responsibility for the oil company drilling safety rests with the inspectors of the federal Interior Department of interior. These people have no duties other than going to all the oil rigs offshore and observing and checking each frequently. However, the number of inspectors is critical. In the Pacific Northwest region of the country there are 10 inspectors for offshore drilling. But they are responsible for 23 different drilling rigs. There are many who argue that the damage of an oil spill can be so great that there should be a full time inspector for each well. There are hundreds of workers on the well with tens of thousands of measurements that are made each day. Perhaps an inspector could handle 2 wells, but in the Pacific Northwest, they average 2.3. Attempts to increase the number of inspectors are of course opposed by the oil companies. Their lobbyists remind the federal legislators and executives that we have a tight budget and a deficit. It is understandable why the senators from South Carolina or Virginia do not want to spend more money for inspectors to protect the Pacific Northwest or the Gulf states from oil spills and fatal accidents. They have no offshore drilling and a blow out or other accident has little direct affect on their citizens.
Not so for Louisiana. We would assume that the Brown Pelicans would be supportive of having enough inspectors so that each would have at most 2 wells for which he/she is responsible. The Brown Pelicans, who generally get more than their fair share of almost everything Federal would surely have a better ratio of inspectors than the Pacific Northwest which is not as vulnerable to spills. Alas, no. They do not. It is hard for most of us to believe the reality of this situation. The Inspector General of the Interior Department told a recent Congressional Investigating Committee about the meager staffing level of the Federal Inspectors. When she described the situation the Brown Pelicans were exposed. There were 60 inspectors in the Gulf for 4 THOUSAND wells. Each inspector was responsible for more than 66 different wells. The ratio was, like the emergency spill plans, an absurd joke. Did the Brown Pelicans EVER demand more inspectors–or at least as many inspectors per well as other regions of the country? No they did not. Their concern for the citizens of Louisiana is great–except where the interests and preferences of the oil companies is involved. Most of the equipment on the well that blew had never been inspected by the feds.
The Brown Pelicans have had a pattern of never looking into egregious situations that might call for something opposed by the oil industry. In addition to their inaction on the inspectors, neither of them ever demanded an explanation of why BP was so much worse than the other oil companies in its safety record. The Brown Pelicans who now squawk so viciously at BP, never suggested that they be debarred from drilling and one of the other, safer, companies be given the rights to exploit the BP wells. Most worker safety is handled at the state level. Most of the lawsuits over damages are filed in state courts. Governor Bobby Jindal, never attempted to make his state as safe as other states for workers. The senator never complained that the Louisiana working men and women who she claims to represent were at higher risk than workers in other states. She never got on Jindal’s case about that, even though they were from two different warring political parties. Oil comes first, then party, then the non oil people of Louisiana, and if there is any room, the welfare of the nation might come into play.
Senator Landrieu has demonstrated a talent and willingness to get special treatment for Louisiana at the expense of the rest of the country. She held the Health Reform Bill hostage to Louisiana getting much of their Medicaid expenses covered by the Feds, while the other states paid for it out of state finds. She was willing to “blackmail” the President of her own party on his highest priority legislation. She was willing to allow the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans who had little or no access to health care if her state did not get more than its fair share. But was she willing to pressure the President or the other senators about getting better safety standards for Louisiana oil workers or protection of the shores and way of life for the majority of people of Louisiana? She was not. How easy it could have been for her to use her pressure legislative senatorial practices to get redundant blow out protectors on the deep drilling platforms.
It is dramatic how the avian brown pelicans are so silent when covered with oil from the spill. However the human Brown Pelicans seemed to have the same degree of silence when covered with oil campaign donations, oil jobs for the state, and oil influence in general.
There were other states bordering on the Gulf of Mexico where the people and their political leaders chose a different risk tradeoff when it came to offshore drilling. Florida, a very conservative state, took the position that the risk was just too high relative to the benefit and hence would not allow oil drilling off their coast. That too was a reasonable position. Florida thought that the oil jobs and political benefits were not worth the modest risk of environmental damage. But in the current crisis, tarballs from oil spill off the Louisiana coast are reaching beaches in Florida and Alabama. Louisiana never offered to share any of the employment and tax base benefit with Florida. But they share the cost of the down side. Let’s see how the parties come out. For Louisiana and its people, heads (oil is drilled with no problems) they win, and tails they lose. For Florida, they thought that heads meant that they did not benefit and tails implied that they would not be hurt. Now they find that with heads they do not win, and tails, they lose. For the oil companies however, heads they win very big, and tails they win a lesser amount. For the Brown Pelicans, heads they win, and tails, they blame the losses on others and especially the federal government whose resources they have helped block and who they have always maintained should leave everything to the states except raising the money to pay for everything. The Federal government should give the money to the states who will spend it. Some states, Louisiana being one, have grown very skilled at spending taxpayer money that they do not have to raise and defend. Louisiana unfortunately is acknowledged a leader among the states of the union–at corruption. They are in the New Jersey, Kentucky, Illinois group.
On balance, Bobby Jindal and Mary Landrieu , our two Brown Pelicans, have become the icons of irresponsibility and hypocrisy. They illustrate the sophistication of modern political corruption and themselves will probably not be politically harmed by their egregious behavior–not in choosing the risk strategy but in doing nothing to minimize the risks that they chose to take. Why pick on these two politicians? some ask. What about the other Louisiana Senator, David Vitter, for example? He never lifted a finger or his voice to protect the state from oil problems. He has been a disaster as a politician. This criticism of his inaction is valid. However, the purpose of this article is not to show how politicians in general are dominated and controlled by the oil industry. It is to show the effect on the BEST of the Louisiana politicians. By normal standards, these Brown Pelicans are examples of honest, intelligent, flexible, non ideological, not too partisan, and somewhat dedicated politicians. By Louisiana standards, they are wonderful, amongst the best the state has produced in statewide leadership positions. Vitter, in contrast, does not have their ability. He is just an echo of his Republican party leader in the Senate and is corrupt in both a political and personal moral sense. He has been unable to keep his fly zipped and his pants up while in office, and there is very little that can be expected from him as a leader and politician.
Jindal and Landrieu are different. They should have performed better even with their decision to drill offshore. They took a calculated, and not unreasonable, risk. But they will not accept the responsibility for the policies and practices that they advocated. America will be dependent on oil for some time to come. Louisiana gambled and lost. The Brown Pelicans want to roll the dice again. That is per se not a terrible decision. We are going to have to take risks for our oil addiction. It ought to be jindal and Landrieu who should be in the vanguard of advocating and insisting on higher safety standards, less cozy relationships between big oil and state and federal officials. It is they who should insist on oil companies doing drilling to have AND TEST crisis management and pollution amelioration plans and capability. They should be strengthening the state labor and safety laws. They should call for a compensation system for oil companies that treats the killing of workers with the same economic penalties as not finding or not producing any oil. There should be long range perspective and clawbacks for those who cut corners for short term gains but at the expense of the workers, the environment, and the people of Louisiana and the rest of the country. There should be plans that are realistic and able to be implemented in case of trouble. There should be many, many more inspectors to minimize the possibility of disaster. If they do not do this, who will Louisiana produce who shall?
Entry filed under: Politics, Science. Tags: Bobby Jindal, BP, campaign contributions, corruption, deep drilling, drilling, Gulf of Mexico, industial safety, influence, Louisiana, Mary Landrieu, oil, oil industry, safety, Senate, special interests.