Standing in the heart of the bucolic, green Louisiana State Univeristy campus, where Paul Templet taught environmental science for more than 20 years, it’s hard to imagine that the worst ecologic disaster perhaps ever is ongoing just a couple hours away.
It’s from this landmark that he took a four-year leave of absence in the 1980s to run the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) during the reign of “the last good governor we had” (Buddy Roemer), he recalls.
Templet is pointed in his accusations that those years may have been the last time that real rules and regulations were enforced on the oil industry. “Today they write most of them,” he says.
Retired from the university but still living in the town where he was born consulting on environmental and coastal concerns, Templet is nearly used up any optimism he might have once had regarding his state and environmental controls. He organized the first Earth Day event near where we are talking, forty years ago.
“Certainly I’ve lost hope that the Louisiana state government will ever change," he says. "The oil companies run this state, without question. They control most of the agencies, own most of the legislators and run the governor’s office.”
His only hope is that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will affect change inside the federal government agencies that have a hand in overseeing oil production and environmental protection in the Gulf.
“When you’ve got such loose oversight by the Mineral Management Service and the Department of Interior, combined with endemic corruption in the state, I guess none of us are surprised by the spill," he says.
Corruption and Louisiana are like oil and oil. Templet suggests that the federal government has also been looking the other direction for a number of years.
"Remember those secret meetings [Former Vice-President Dick] Cheney had early in the administration with oil company executives that he’d never release information about? It was during those meetings where things were decided that would help save the oil industry money, including not requiring things like backup spill preventers."
His biggest concerns about the spill are that while it may now seem like the worst ever, it may not be the last and that it won’t affect real change.