Baton Rouge, Louisiana – Last weekend I premiered my new documentary film about water and man in Louisiana – “SoLa, Louisiana Water Stories” – in the belly of the beast, in the heart of the state’s capitol.
Dean Wilson, the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, who watches over the environmental health of the most biodiverse swamp in the country, says while there is no oil in the basin …yet … his biggest concern post-spill is the continued lack of political will in the state. “We’ve been able to stop a lot of local environmental problems, like the cutting of the cypress swamps, but without the support of government and legislators. I think what we saw throughout the BP spill was the same thing … a lack of political will necessary to stop big pollution.”
“I don’t think (Governor Bobby) Jindal has ever even said the word ‘environment’ out loud,” quipped Templet. Prompting a shout-out from the audience, “But we know he can say ‘berm,’ ” reference to the governor’s fervent efforts during the spill to get a too-little-too-late $400 million berm built at the mouth of the Mississippi.
“Where has Mr. Jindal gone,” someone else asked from the audience. “He was all over the TV during the spill, calling for federal help. Now he’s nowhere to be seen.” Apparently his efforts these days are focused on getting the November 30 moratorium on new drilling lifted early.
Marylee Orr, the executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, reminded a crowd that is impacted by Louisiana’s disasters first hand, whether hurricanes, oil spills or Saint’s losses, reminded that local time is now told “pre-spill and post-spill.” She guesses she did more than 400 radio, television and print interviews at the height of the spill and worked 20-hour days for more than 3 months. Is she optimistic now that the well has been capped?
“Only time will tell if we can afford optimism. The notion that is now being spread around the world that the spill is over, that the problem is over, that everything’s back to normal … is not okay. Nothing is back to normal.”
Supporting her was chemist Wilma Subra, who has literally been on the ground since day one of the BP gusher, measuring toxins in the air, water and fish. She is not impressed by any of the numbers and is most angered by the “spin” being put on the issue of whether Gulf seafood is good to go … or not.
“The director of NOAA stood in front of a group of fishermen last week and said, repeatedly, ‘Seafood from the Gulf is not contaminated.’ Well, I don’t think we know that for sure yet.” Her biggest concern is that the government has changed the “allowable percentages” of certain chemicals found in fish, to ensure the fisheries reopen, choosing economic incentive over environmental cautions.
“It will still be many years before we know for sure how these coastal communities are going to fare,” said Subra. “Anything else you hear is a rush to judgment.”