Saturday, December 24, 2005

I really don't hate everyone associated with the Times Picayune; I actually like Jarvis DeBerry and don't fault him for the fact that the T/P was so slow to respond to the idea that an evacuation order should have been issued 72hrs before Katrina made landfall. If I didn't respect Stephanie Grace's opinions, I wouldn't have gotten so worked up about what I thought was an incredibly stupid comment about the governor's request for aid. Still, I couldn't have been the only reader who was appalled by Ron Thibodeaux's piece in today's paper. The conduct that he descibes by Southeastern Louisiana Water and Sewer Co. of Mandeville is certainly appalling:

The utility repeatedly violated the discharge limits of its federal and state permits, operated some plants without permits altogether, failed to report violations to the state and even falsified reports to the state, investigators said.

And Thibodeaux begins his report with a tone of outrage that would make Ralph nader proud:

A dastardly criminal activity based in St. Tammany Parish was exposed this week at federal court in New Orleans. It was a dirty, rotten crime that gets us where we live, a crime so abhorrent that residents throughout the New Orleans area should be livid.

Unfortunately, that seems to be about the limit of Thibodeaux's indignation. Thibodeaux acknowledges that the company's actions were bad enough to merit the largest environmental fine in La. history, but he finds the size of the fine ($2.1M) unremarkable. If Thibodeaux thinks that $2.1M is an adequate fine for a company that knowingly polluted local waterways, ignored stop orders from state officials and lied about it for over a decade, he must be in the same time warp as Dr. Evil.

A day later, I still find it hard to believe that I'm reading this:

In environmentally conscious St. Tammany, this was unconscionable. Our fresh air, our neighborhoods, our creeks and bayous and our lake belong to all of us. For those to be intentionally despoiled to make a buck is indeed a crime of the first order.

We can only hope company Chief Executive Officer Jared Riecke is accurate when he says the utility has corrected all of the violations turned up in the investigation, although we're not rushing to pat him on the back for it

In the pollution case, Jean Champagne, the utility's longtime vice president and general counsel, is also a member of the Mandeville Planning and Zoning Commission

Utility matters aside, Champagne has been a pillar of the community, serving with distinction in recent years on all manner of civic and governmental boards and committees. But the criminal activity perpetrated by Southeastern Louisiana Water and Sewer Co. on his watch will cast a long shadow across Mandeville City Hall if he remains on the Planning and Zoning Commission in the aftermath of the company's guilty plea this week.

To paraphrase Thibodeaux: "S.E. La. Water and Sewer did some bad things, but the people that run it are our neighbors and they did agree to pay a fine. But I suppose I should (implicitly) call on Champagne to resign his public office." If they're so environmentally conscious in St. Tammany, why isn't Thibodeaux calling for criminal prosecution or at least a meaningful fine? As Bill Bennett might say, where is the real outrage?

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