Count me among the many in southeast Louisiana who were disappointed (but not surprised) that Gov. Bobby Jindal succeeded in ousting historian John Barry from the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E). If there’s a silver lining to Barry’s removal, it’s that Jindal has once again been exposed as a sellout — along with some of the “reformers” who pushed for levee board reform after Hurricane Katrina.
There’s another silver lining, for Barry: he’s now free to say what he really thinks.
“The governor has put the interests of the oil and gas industry ahead of his obligation to protect our coastal lands from destruction and our people from catastrophic flooding,” the author of Rising Tide said in a statement the day Jindal named his replacement. “This is exactly why the people of Louisiana voted overwhelmingly to keep politics out of flood protection, when they stood up after Katrina to demand an independent flood protection authority unfettered by the constraints of political favoritism. Now that process, and the intent of the voters, has been betrayed by raw politics.”
Anyone who has read Barry’s award-winning book, Rising Tide, appreciates his ability to pull back the curtain and expose the self-dealing and hypocrisy of New Orleans’ ruling class, which orchestrated the needless flooding of much of Plaquemines Parish during the 1927 flood and then used its legal and political clout to deny promised reparations to landowners who lost everything.
Funny how history repeats itself — and tragically ironic that Barry, a historian, stands in the vortex of this latest example. He was the darling of the silk-stocking swells who anointed themselves as experts on flood control after Katrina — until he took his oath of office and the notion of political independence seriously. Now they’ve discarded him as easily as their predecessors-in-interest casually dismissed the fur trappers swept away by the dynamiting of the Mississippi River levee at Caernarvon in 1927.
Fortunately, Barry has something those trappers didn’t have: the means to fight back and the will to carry his fight to a national audience. He plans to start a non-profit to advocate for SLFPA-E’s environmental lawsuit against 97 energy companies, and his national credibility on flood protection issues gives him a very large audience.
In his statement, Barry told a truth that a growing number of people have come to recognize for its significance. “The master plan has no funding,” he said, referring to the much-ballyhooed blueprint for restoring Louisiana’s coast.
Without funding, the coastal master plan is not a master plan at all. I’m not saying it’s a bad plan; I think it’s an excellent plan — but it’s not really a master plan. A real master plan has a start date and a completion date. It also has a budget, a specific revenue source, and realistic price tag. This plan has none of those. It’s more a strategic plan — which is important to have as a starting point — but it is not a true master plan.
Whatever the cost, how will Louisiana pay its 35 percent share of implementing that plan? Let’s start by acknowledging that we will have to pay that much — at a minimum. There will be no federal bailout. We must put up a local match.
So where will that money come from, if not at least in part from the energy industry — an industry that even Jindal’s coastal “czar” Garret Graves admits is partially responsible?
“This anti-tax governor wants to fund it by making taxpayers pay to fix damage which his own administration acknowledges was caused by the oil and gas industry, the most profitable industry in the history of the world,” Barry says. “That is bad policy and dream-land politics, given that the fight in Washington over the budget put us [on the brink of] the first default by the U.S. government in history. In this environment, he expects his anti-tax friends in Washington to send us billions and billions of dollars?”
I’m sad that Barry is no longer on the SLFPA-E board, but I’m already enjoying his newfound freedom to speak truth to power once again.