This opinion piece appeared July 31 in The Advertiser.
The rulings have officially been passed down regarding just how much BP will pay as a result of the Macondo spill of 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. BP will pay out around $18.7 billion to the federal government, the State of Louisiana as well as four other Gulf states. Included in the Louisiana payout will be several southern parishes that were directly affected by the accident.
One of these parishes, Jefferson Parish to be specific, will receive $45 million from the settlement. The parish has, like many other Louisiana parishes, needs for infrastructure and road improvements, canals that need repairs, as well as coastal regions that need restored due to erosion.
However, a parish councilman has recommended 5 percent pay raises for parish employees. This 5 percent pay raise would be covered directly from the settlement money they are set to receive from BP. Interestingly enough, NOLA.com reported recently that Jefferson Parish employees already received 5 percent pay raises in the 2015 fiscal year. This particular pay raise caused a hiring freeze so that the current employees could receive the new raise.
In order for all of these details to make enough sense and for the hypocrisy to be magnified, it is important to rewind to the year 2013. Jefferson Parish filed seven lawsuits against the Louisiana oil and gas industry to help the parish pay for damage to wetlands and canals allegedly caused by exploration operations. One sentence from the lawsuit states that the alleged damage “has a direct and significant impact on the state coastal waters within Jefferson Parish.”
Common sense would say as the parish will now be recipients of $45 million, this would be an ideal time to repair said damaged canals, wetlands and roads. Right? However, a pay raise for parish employees is now proposed.
The point to be made is that the parish filed suits with one thing in mind — making off with a large sum of money from the Louisiana oil and gas industry. Again, the seven lawsuits filed by Jefferson Parish alleged damage to canals and a desire to repair canals and wetlands with money that would be potentially won in the suits.
Not to belabor the obvious point being made here, but these lawsuits are simple acts of greed. Jefferson Parish was not alone in filing suits though. Plaquemines Parish filed 21 suits and the South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed a suit against 97 oil and gas companies. Each of these suits alleges damage against an industry that has followed the law from the law’s inception.
As the BP settlement money is being shelled out around the Gulf region and praised as a life saver, it is important to read between the lines and see the obvious money grabs that are taking place all in the name of protecting our coast. If a pay raise can be slipped into the mix of things, why not give it a try.
Briggs is the president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association.