NEW ORLEANS – Gov. Bobby Jindal had some of his harshest words for BP on Wednesday, calling the oil giant out for spending more money on glossy advertising than on restoring the coast damaged by its 2010 oil spill.
“Three and a half years later, BP is spending more money -- I want you to hear this -- they are spending more money on television commercials than they have on actually restoring the natural resources they impacted,” Jindal said at a meeting of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.
Jindal was specifically comparing BP’s advertising campaign, for which the company planned last year to spend $500 million, and the amount the oil giant has paid for Clean Water Act violations and damage to natural resources.
Just this week, BP shockingly argued in federal court that it shouldn’t face any fines for environmental negligence, which could be as high as $18 billion if they are found to have been grossly negligent.
And the company has “committed up to $1 billion” for natural resources damages, but it would not say how much it actually has paid to date. Jindal's Coastal Restoration Chief Garret Graves said the figure is less than $100 million.
Meanwhile, BP’s unrelenting advertising about its commitment to the Gulf has reached a fever pitch. It recently purchased full-page ads in major national newspapers attacking the lawyers who negotiated an economic damage settlement with BP.
And Wednesday morning, shortly before Jindal’s remarks, BP sponsored CNN’s morning show anchors’ walk across their studio from a news desk to a couch, with a glowing commercial playing and a BP logo hovering over the CNN set.
“BP needs to stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars on their public relations campaign telling us how great they are and start proving it by addressing their Clean Water Act and Natural Resource Damage liabilities today,” Jindal said. “Their responsibilities are not going away.”
Asked about Jindal’s comments, BP spokesman Geoff Morrell talked about the $26 billion the company has spent on cleanup and paying private loss claims. That was not what Jindal was talking about, and BP did not respond to our follow-up pointing that out.
But even as the governor talked tough against BP, he was being attacked by environmental groups who said he wasn’t doing enough to go after the whole oil and gas industry.
Led by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and the Sierra Club, the groups compiled a list of major oil industry donors to Jindal’s three gubernatorial campaigns, saying that their contributions exceeded $1 million. They said that’s the reason Jindal is opposing a recent lawsuit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, the levee board that was reconstituted after Hurricane Katrina to insulate it from politics.
The levee district’s lawsuit alleges that oil companies contributed greatly to the destruction of the Louisiana coast by dredging access canals and laying pipelines through the marsh – something that hasn’t been disputed – and should therefore have to pay its fair share to restore that lost land.
“Because he’s received a million dollars, he’s willing to let our state be literally washed down the drain,” said Bucket Brigade founder Anne Rolfes as fellow activist Jonathan Henderson, dressed in a seersucker suit covered in oil-company logos, made a marionette with a Jindal mask dance.
Jindal spokesman Sean Lansing said the environmentalists’ news conference was "just another tactic to draw attention to a lawsuit that the attorney general already said interferes with the public's best interest and conflicts with other legal efforts in Louisiana."
The “other legal efforts” Lansing referred to include the state’s negotiations with BP for a natural resources damage settlement.
"This lawsuit is nothing but a potential billion dollar plus windfall for a handful of trial lawyers,” Lansing said. “It boils down to trial lawyers who see dollar signs in their future and who are taking advantage of people who want to restore Louisiana's coast.”
The Jindal administration said the levee district should allow the coastal master plan to work, and that it’s been making progress toward restoring the coast.
But last week levee district Vice President John Barry spoke to the Baton Rouge Press Club and said that's precisely what the lawsuit is all about.
"Nothing we do is at variance with the Master Plan. We want to carry out the Master Plan. (But) the Master Plan has no funding,” he said.