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Senator Astray

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With friends like U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, the good people of Louisiana don't need enemies. The allegiance of this Louisiana Democrat lawmaker is clearly first and foremost to the oil industry that has contributed more than a half million dollars to her political campaigns over the years.

If her primary loyalty were to the general public and environmental health of the Gulf Coast region, she would be more concerned about the dire ecological threats posed by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico than playing down the impact of the incident. Instead of directly confronting those eco-threats with a sense of urgency, she chose to concentrate on being an apologist for an industry instrumental in the destruction of half of her state's coastal wetlands prior to the BP spill. Loss of those wetlands has left many of her constituents without a significant buffer against hurricanes roaring out of the Gulf. And if the BP oil slick infiltrates and kills off the remaining marshes, as it threatens to do, Louisiana residents along the coast will be totally at the mercy of the elements.

In the weeks following the April 20th BP blowout, there was hardly a word from Landrieu about the importance of phasing out our reliance on fossil fuel in favor of wind, solar, biomass, and other clean, renewable sources of energy. Rather, we heard token support for renewable alternatives that she dismissed in the next breath as insufficiently advanced to play a significant role for the foreseeable future.

Landrieu recently has spent much of her time reassuring her constituents that the environmental impact of the BP spill will not be as bad as they think. While insisting that the guilty parties be held fully accountable for the damage inflicted, she has stressed that once the cause and resolution of the mishap have been identified, drilling should not only be resumed but expanded. She argues that Louisiana cannot afford to lose the jobs and revenues generated by the energy industry. (But how desirable are jobs that have the ultimate effect of eroding the ground beneath one's feet?)

Landrieu rose on the Senate floor eight days after the spill to assert that fears of ecological devastation were overblown. She declared reassuringly that "97 percent of the BP spill was an extremely thin sheen of relatively light oil on the surface" that should dissipate rapidly and not present a significant environmental problem Tell that to residents of her home state who have been witnessing thick goo washing up on their shores! And what about the giant underwater plume that scientists fear may devastate marine life?

The senator asserted that "natural seeps introduce as much as 150 times more oil into oceans than offshore drilling." (But somehow, those natural leaks have not seemed to disrupt Gulf tourist beaches or the fishing industry.) She sought to defend BP by claiming that it was riskier to import oil from tankers than to drill offshore. (Seems like it would normally be easier to plug a single leaking tanker than a mile-deep well on the ocean floor.)

Finally, Landrieu warned that if we don't drill, we will export the process "to countries less equipped and less inclined to prevent this kind of disaster." It's touching that she is concerned about the conditions of foreign waters, but what about her own back yard?

Perhaps to assuage her conscience, the senator has pushed for easing restrictions on government loans to spill victims as well as for money to restore coastal wetlands Where was she when for years, the energy industry was carving destructive channels through the Louisiana marshlands?

But she won't set things right until she accepts the fundamental truth that money from offshore drilling cannot offset the long term environmental damage from a spill of BP's magnitude -- -and acts accordingly.


Edward Flattau is an environmental columnist residing in Washington D.C. and the author of the forthcoming book, Green Morality, scheduled for publication at the end of the summer.

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