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A report from Louisiana by Willie Fontenot: Big Oil Versus Democratic Rights and the Environment

May 12, 2010

Editor’s Note: Willie Fontenot, an environmental leader from Baton Rouge sent in the following alert along with some encouraging thoughts. His photo appears below and bio following the article.

Willie Fontenot

While hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil from the BP’s gusher into the Gulf, oil companies have been waging a nasty campaign to pass legislation that would close the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic and similar clinics around the state. The Bill is being pushed by the oil and chemical industry. There is an excellent article in today’s The Times-Picayune by reporter James Gill: Here is the intro: “Although the bill was conceived as revenge against Tulane, its animus extends to every university law clinic in the state. Students at the clinics provide free legal services to the poor across the legal spectrum. Yet because Tulane has provoked the ire of polluting industries, all the other clinics would be forced to close, or operate under severe constraints. The bill would put the kibosh on four of Tulane’s clinics, according to Law School dean Stephen Griffin.

It would forbid clinics to ‘file a petition, motion or suit’ against any government agency or to seek monetary damages for any client. Clinics, except in criminal cases, would not be allowed to raise “state constitutional challenges in state or federal court.”

Willie continues: Two months ago I would have given the bill a 90 percent chance of passing. Today the chances are probably below 10 percent. Just the number of people who responded to the article this morning is a pretty good example of how the public is taking a new look at everything that government does and does not do. The BP disaster has definitely changed many things. This morning on CNN they were doing a story which compared the EXXON Valdez disaster in Alaska 21 years ago and how the waters and wetlands of Alaska have not yet recovered from that oil spill. We now have something which is giving the news media an unusual opportunity they have not had in twenty years.

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Willie Fontenot has been involved in environmental and social justice issues for forty years. He served in the Environmental Section of the Louisiana Attorney General’s office for twenty seven years. Over the last 40 years he has helped to organize more than 500 community groups throughout Louisiana and more than 30 other states on a wide variety of environmental and social justice issues and problems.

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