Gov. Piyush Jindal has done it again.
Just when you think he can’t get any more arrogant, he responds by flexing his string bean Barney Fife-like muscles at President Obama over—you guessed it—federal funds.
It all started with an Aug. 26 request from Jindal to Obama for reimbursement “for all emergency protective measures” against the threat of tropical storm and soon-to-be hurricane Isaac.
What the state got instead was a federal declaration of emergency that provided only for direct federal assistance. “Unfortunately, your limited declaration does not provide for reimbursement of expenses that the state is taking to prepare for the storm,” Jindal said.
Remember, this is the governor who eschews federal grants on the grounds that federal money means federal interference and control.
Now it appears that he wants to cherry pick what he does and does not want in the way of federal funds.
Jindal’s response was all too typical of his wanting everything his way—whether it involves public education, higher education, health care, or oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico.
Everything, that is, except that Bayou Corne sinkhole in Assumption Parish. The sinkhole, the size of three football fields and 380 feet deep, is only 1500 feet from a butane-filled cavern. That’s one place Jindal has never shown his face despite–or maybe because of–the lingering threat of a major explosion.
That could be because on Jan. 21, 2011, Texas Brine Co. notified the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) by letter of a “failed mechanical integrity test (MIT) of the company’s subject brine production well. At the time, Texas Brine was in the process of sectioning out a portion of the lower cemented casing to allow additional salt extraction. Testing indicated the well lacked sufficient integrity for continued production.
DNR apparently concealed documents showing that the cavern may have had problems since 2010.
In an earlier letter dated Aug. 25, 1995, Texas Brine notified DNR that low levels of naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM). DNR responded that it had “no objection” to Texas Brine’s “returning the NORM along with otherwise uncontaminated soil to the salt dome cavern.”
Last week, a non-government group, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, said radiation levels at the sinkhole were 15 times higher than the state limit.
Former DNR Secretary Scott Angelle resigned in the middle of the crisis, ostensibly to seek a seat on the Louisiana Public Service Commission in a move some regarded as a callous disregard for the safety of the residents around the sinkhole.
Considering the fact that the Bayou Corne crisis came about on Jindal’s watch and considering there was no one else to blame (BP, a hurricane or the federal government), Piyush has kept a conspicuously low profile in this ongoing saga.
It would seem, therefore, that Jindal only shows up at a crisis when there might be political points to be gained.
Following is the text of Jindal’s Aug. 27 letter to Obama:
Dear Mr. President:
I have received your approval of a limited federal declaration of emergency for Tropical Storm Isaac for the State of Louisiana. We appreciate your response to our request and your approval. However, the State’s original request for federal assistance dated August 26, 2012 included a request for reimbursement for all emergency protective measures. The federal declaration of emergency only provides for direct federal assistance.
In a release issued by the White House today, it said “the declaration builds on resources already deployed by FEMA and makes Federal funding available for certain emergency activities undertaken by the state to prepare for and respond to the storm.” Unfortunately, your limited declaration does not provide for reimbursement of expenses that the state is taking to prepare for the storm.
As of 5 p.m. Central time today, the National Weather Service forecasts this storm to strengthen to a Category 2 hurricane and squarely impact the State of Louisiana. The increased urgency of the situation necessitates that we re-emphasize the request for full federal assistance for the State.
The projected path of the storm has continued to shift westward and now threatens the entire State of Louisiana. The rapidity of the path’s westward movement has increased the potential impact of this storm from a slight chance of affecting southeastern Louisiana to now threatening the entire state. The speed with which this threat developed has necessitated extraordinary emergency protective measures at the State and local government level.
Since the State of Louisiana is faced with a rapidly developing situation that threatens a large percentage of our population, please consider the following developments as a supplement to the request submitted yesterday.
At this time 34 parishes have declared a state of emergency:
Acadia, Allen, Ascension, Assumption, Avoyelles, Cameron, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Franklin, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, Lafourche, Livingston, Morehouse, Natchitoches, Orleans, Ouachita, Plaquemines, Pointe Coupee, Rapides, St Bernard, St Charles, St Helena, St James, St John, St Martin, St Mary, St Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne, Washington, West Baton Rouge.
We request that you expand the designations to include all of these parishes. We expect more parishes to declare a state of emergency.
There are currently nine areas covered by mandatory evacuation orders:
Jefferson – Grand Isle
Jefferson –Town of Jean Lafitte
Jefferson – Crown Pointe
Jefferson – Barataria
Lafourche – Low lying parishes
Plaquemines – From Braithwaite to White Ditch on the East Bank
Plaquemines – From Ironton South to Venice
St Charles – Parish Wide Evacuation
Tangipahoa – Town of Winnsboro, Lee’s Landing, and low-lying areas
As of this morning, I have activated 4,126 Louisiana National Guardsmen, an emergency contract for over 300 commercial buses, and over 5,000 shelter spaces to respond to the wide ranging projected path of this storm, move our citizens out of harm’s way and provide them with shelter. The school districts in the path of the storm have cancelled school until this dangerous storm passes.
All of these actions are appropriate and necessary responses to the threat of this storm. While Tropical Storm Isaac has yet to strike the state, it has necessitated significant amounts of State and local government expenditures. The State’s expenditures for emergency protective measures are already approximately $8,000,000 and exceed the State of Louisiana’s threshold when making a request for a major disaster declaration.
Given the extraordinary developments of this storm and its approaching impact on the State of Louisiana, I ask that you exercise your discretion to approve the State’s pending request for all emergency protective measures. Further, I ask that you consider a cost-share adjustment to eliminate the State’s non-federal share of the costs for this event. When threatened with extraordinary disasters, states depend upon the availability of the full spectrum of assistance available under the Stafford Act.
Finally, a core responsibility of the federal government is to protect the lives and property of its citizens when threatened. This disaster declaration will help ensure that we best protect life and property in our state.
Could it be that Obama was concerned that Jindal might use federal funds to construct another $250 million disposable berm?
Or perhaps he just wants Piyush to do more with less.
Could it also be, as one reader pointed out, that Piyush spends so little time in Louisiana that he does not know that the Winnsboro he alluded to in his letter to Obama is in Franklin Parish in north Louisiana, not Tangipahoa? We assume he meant Waynesboro but a little closer proofreading of a letter to the President would seem to be in order here.