Environmental groups create ‘Green Army’ to take on key La. issues

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- With a satellite image of Lake Peigneur projected behind him, Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré speaks on Friday at the Burden Conference Center in Baton Rouge.
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- With a satellite image of Lake Peigneur projected behind him, Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré speaks on Friday at the Burden Conference Center in Baton Rouge.

Environmental groups build coalition on Louisiana issues

Saltwater intrusion in the aquifer that serves Baton Rouge, the sinkhole at Bayou Corne, Louisiana coastal erosion and concerns about additional drilling of more underground natural gas storage caverns at Lake Peigneur are issues that got environmental leaders from south Louisiana together in Baton Rouge on Friday to talk about common goals.

Affectionately calling itself the “Green Army,” this loose network of environmental groups being led by former Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré (U.S. Army Retired) will bring together the many groups working on local issues into collaboration on larger goals.

Honoré said he got involved first when earlier this year residents of Bayou Corne asked him to speak at an event because they were frustrated with the lack of action. Residents evacuated about 150 homes in the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities after a cavern’s sidewall collapsed and created a sinkhole that is now about 26 acres. A series of things since, from a levee board lawsuit to water quality issues, convinced him that something more needs to be done.

“I’m not running for office and I’m not getting paid,” he said. Instead, it’s a concern that if Louisiana keeps on the road it’s on, the state will not be the same in 20 years.

“The more I learned, the more concerned I got,” he said. “I’m an advocate for this industry, oil and gas, but I’m also an advocate for if you break it, you fix it.”

John Barry, former member of the South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, announced the formation of a new nonprofit “Restore Louisiana Now” with a goal of heading off legislative intervention in a lawsuit the flood protection authority filed against oil and gas companies earlier this year.

The authority filed the lawsuit asking for nearly 100 oil companies to pay for the damage caused through the digging of canals through Louisiana’s wetlands which led to a portion of the coastal erosion issues the state faces.

Barry, who was one of the main public faces of the lawsuit, was not reappointed to the board amid condemnation from the state, the governor and other levee boards in the state about the lawsuit.

Recently, the two parishes of Plaquemines and Jefferson filed a similar lawsuit against oil and gas companies.

Barry, now president of the group Restore Louisiana Now, said an official launch announcement of the organization, new website and a poll about Louisiana residents’ support for the lawsuit will be made on Tuesday.

“We are all here about survival,” he told the 40 people at the meeting.

In what was a “get to know the issues” two-hour meeting, environmental groups and concerned residents talked about the issues they face in their part of the state.

The answer, Honoré said, is through policy changes and to that end the groups are planning a showing of support on the State Capitol steps the week before the legislative session opens and to spend the next couple months putting together proposed legislation for the session.

There isn’t a final list, but it’s expected the bills will include things like reducing the amount of subsidies to oil and gas activities, better disclosure of the risk associated with salt dome storage of hydrocarbons and allowing residents of the state to put propositions on the ballot for vote, instead of depending solely on legislative action.