Hurricane Katrina revealed the power of nature and the inadequate response of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under Michael Brown. The storm shredded the Gulf coast and breached the levees protecting New Orleans, leaving 1,883 people dead, 2 million homeless, and the city in chaos. It took the Joint Task Force Katrina under Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré to rescue the recovery efforts. The general has since retired from the military, but now leads a Green Army.
Here is a taste of the general in action. Starting at the 3:50 mark, he says that the environment is biggest challenge of the millennial generation and beyond. Not least because there is an expiration date on clean drinking water in his home-state Louisiana. He goes on to describe industry-fueled propaganda as psychological operations (about the 6:00 mark).
The catalyst for the general’s becoming a pollution fighter was the massive sinkhole that has swallowed most of Bayou Corne, Louisiana, courtesy of Texas Brine. Texas Brine, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, had been mining salt from a massive underground dome and then using the hollowed-out spaces to store oil, gas, or drilling wastes. The sinkhole opened up in August, 2012, bringing a toxic brew to the surface while swallowing acres of trees and the town. After a year of dithering by the company and state officials, Honoré became an advocate for area residents desperate for relief. Before long, the general helped forge a broad coalition of local and national organizations to help fight to reduce industrial air and water pollution in Louisiana. The Green Army was born.
The Green Army coalition is impressive. By January of 2014, the groups included Save Lake Peigneur, Baton Rouge Aquifer Protection, Concerned Citizens of Grand Bois, the Sierra Club, VAYLA New Orleans, Zion Travelers Cooperative Center, 350 NOLA, Ouachita Riverkeeper, Restore Louisiana Now, Save Charity Hospital, NOLA Trash Mob, Lower Ninth Ward Village, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper, Louisiana Progress, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Levees.org, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, the League of Women Voters, Global Green USA, Gulf Restoration Network, The Green Project, Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, Alliance for Affordable Energy and the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice.
Advocacy for the residents of Mossville was one of the first projects undertaken by the Green Army. In an interview with Kevin Knodell, Gen. Honoré used Mossville to illustrate why environmental and social justice are inextricably intertwined.
He tells the story of Mossville, Louisiana—a poor, predominantly black town surrounded by 14 chemical plants. Diseases like cancer and asthma are much more common there than other parts of the country. And chillingly, the once-rural town that depended on agriculture, fishing and hunting has no birds. But Honoré says many people there don’t have the money to move someplace healthier. He added that the poor and people of color are the ones who suffer most from pollution.
Walter Williams has produced a number of videos for the Green Army to show the scorched earth practices of the oil and gas industry in the southern Louisiana bayous. By dredging thousands of miles of canals to service drilling rigs and pipelines, the industry has allowed salt water incursion to destroy the wetlands. These coastal wetlands once absorbed the energy of hurricanes and tropical storms but their rapid disappearance now leaves New Orleans increasingly vulnerable.
So far, the Green Army has scored a few legislative and legal victories over the past 2 years. The industry has taken note and appears to be planning a counterattack. Ultimately though this is an issue of environmental justice and the General and his Green Army are making noise about environmental problems in a part of the country that is both crucial for the American fishing industry and oft-forgot by the rest of the country. As the General says, “But the fact is that it’s happening in a Southern bayou, in a place that people in the rest of America are just willing to write off.” If they succeed Louisiana may just see accountability for the oil and gas industry along with the rapid deployment of clean and sustainable forms of agriculture and energy. That’d be another victory for the General and his Army.
This article is a modified version of one that first appeared here where it was a guest post by DWG.
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.