USA: Louisiana demands justice, not charity

Publisher Name: 
CNN

Editor's note: CNN political
contributor James Carville was chief strategist for Bill Clinton's 1992
presidential campaign. Carville is a resident of New Orleans,
Louisiana, where he teaches political science at Tulane University and
serves as co-chairman of the 2013 Super Bowl Host Committee.

New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) -- Henry Ford once described history as "one damned thing after another." And he didn't even live in Louisiana.

Much
has been made of my "outburst" toward the Obama administration on May
26, with George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America," when I
exclaimed, "Man, you got to get down here and take control of this! Put
somebody in charge of this thing and get this moving. We're about to
die down here!"

But those emotions had been percolating below the surface like the crude that threatens our way of life today.

While
it is important to note that both BP's and the administration's tepid
responses to this catastrophe are unacceptable, it is also essential
that the rest of the country understand that this feeling of neglect
has festered amongst South Louisianians for generations. It's just one
damned thing after another, so the anger rising out of the Gulf is not
new.

For too long, the federal government and industry alike have
simultaneously abused and neglected, patronized and plundered, and now
polluted the people of Louisiana. And our plight now is a national
emergency.

We felt the effects of this neglect for the past five
years, after rebuilding a city which was 80 percent flooded due to
shoddy construction of flood control systems and levees by the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers. And we feel ourselves ever more vulnerable due
to the nonstop degradation of our wetlands, which serve as our first
line of defense against hurricanes and powerful storm surge.

For
decades, massive engineering projects across the country have made us
more vulnerable. We lose a chunk of land the size of a football field
every 38 minutes. Since World War II, we've lost wetlands the size of
the state of Delaware. I bet Joe Biden would be screaming on national
television too if it was happening on his turf. Or if the Hamptons lost
16,000 acres a year, you bet there'd be a Million Hedge-Fund Managers
March on Washington to demand action.

And the loss of coastal
wetlands has everything to do with activities across the rest of the
country, starting with the deprivation of natural sediment that the
Mississippi River should carry to its mouth and dump at the Gulf of
Mexico to nourish our barrier islands.

The Mississippi River
system drains more than 30 states. Part of the sediment is lost by the
damming of rivers in the system in the 1950s to provide electricity as
well as flood protection for states like North Dakota and Missouri.
According to historian John Barry, our sediment level is only 30 to 40
percent of the natural amount, which is why we are losing such valuable
land so quickly.

Then the oil companies dredged canals in the
marshlands in an attempt to grow an industry which now provides the
country with more than 30 percent of its domestic oil and natural gas.
Saltwater intrusion is killing the marsh. These marshlands provide jobs
for tens of thousands of fisherman in an industry that provides over 30
percent of this country's domestic seafood supply.

Canals were
also dredged for shipping. Five of the nation's top 15 ports are
located in South Louisiana. So in essence, we are the gateway of
commerce to much of the lower 48 states.

Add that to the fact
that we have not seen a single penny of royalties for oil produced more
than six miles off our coast. We assume all of the risk, produce
seafood and oil and gas, with none of the reward. Royalties totaling
$165 billion have gone to the federal treasury when they could go to
help repair this pressing issue.

But there's more.

In the
aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, federal judge Stanwood Duval Jr. found
that the Army Corps of Engineers had displayed "gross negligence ...
insouciance, myopia, and shortsightedness." He continued, "The Corps
not only knew, but admitted by 1988, that the [Mississippi River-Gulf
Outlet Project] threatened human life." And yet, nothing was done about
it until recently.

And then BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster
hits, which is the deadliest combination imaginable of corporate greed
and governmental malfeasance. We've been lied to by BP at every turn,
from oil-flow estimates to the existence of plumes to health effects.

There's
also the blatant malpractice and corruption in the Minerals Management
Service. Free meals, cushy seats at sporting events, and other gifts
from the folks they were trying to regulate seemed to cloud the
judgment of too many MMS officials to be bothered with protecting the
interests of our residents and our way of life.

In case anyone
misses the point here, let me state it bluntly: There is nothing
natural about the great engineering failure of 2005 in Orleans and
Saint Bernard Parishes. There is nothing natural about the
environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico today. Both were the
result of shoddy engineering on the part of private industry, which was
in both cases supposed to be regulated and overseen by the federal
government.

Every penny that has been allocated to the
hurricane recovery in Orleans and Saint Bernard is owed to us, and
every penny in the future that will be allocated as a result of this
current catastrophe is owed to us. We do not seek charity, but we do
demand justice.

So we've had two monumental, mostly preventable
man-made disasters in five years, which brings us to the moment where I
said on television the thing that every person who lives south of the
Interstate 10/Interstate 12 corridor agrees with.

We've been abused, neglected and exploited for too long.

And
to be brutally honest, part of my frustration is a sense of personal
shame that I have known this was going on for a long time, and I was
ineffective in making Louisiana's case in my years in Washington.

But
let me say that it's now time to draw a line in the alluvial mud. We
want our fair share of oil revenues now so that we can protect
ourselves. And we want to be treated like we matter.

And we're
not whiners. We produce oil and gas and produce seafood and allow goods
to flow freely to the heartland. We assume the risks with little
reward. Jobs and livelihoods are at stake.

In the end, whatever
past transgressions by the country toward us or whatever our failures
to articulate our plight have been, we should be reminded of the words
of Admiral Lord Nelson just before the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805:
"England expects that every man will do his duty."

And in this,
the most critical hour in our region's long, tortured, and yet glorious
history, let's remind ourselves that Louisiana expects every person to
do his or her duty.

This is a struggle for the preservation of our culture, way of life, and the land we love.

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