THINK504 Editorial Board
Think 504, today requested from Entergy New Orleans and the New Orleans City Council the names of the persons Entergy has paid as consultants during the past eight years and the work they performed for the company. Paid consultants became an issue when Entergy cancelled a check to WBOK radio, a black owned AM station in New Orleans. The check was cancelled after the station interviewed opponents of the proposed power plant. The issue is whether Entergy uses its money to buy support and stifle dissent.
Entergy’s paid consultants becomes more important as an issue when one considers the actors paid by Entergy’s contractors to influence the City Council to pass approval of a new gas fired electric plant in New Orleans East. Are our political leaders informed about true public opinion? Or did Entergy misrepresent perceived public support to influence the City Council. Entergy has every right to try to influence legislators, but deception and distorting reality are out of bounds.
The next meeting of the City Council is today at 10 am. Think 504 encourages all citizens of New Orleans to attend and express any concerns they may have. The next meeting of the City Council’s Utility Committee is on June 14 at 10 am. Both of these meetings should have broad public engagement.
The Think 504 request seeks to discover whether the Fortune 500 company has used its economic might to not only influence but to corrupt the political process. Rumors abound. Have current members of the new City Council and their colleagues been paid large sums of money for doing little that can be documented?
For its part, the New Orleans City Council sent its letter demanding information from Entergy. A local media outlet requested documents relating to Entergy’s claim that Entergy did not know that a Virginia public relations company Entergy hired, the Hawthorn Agency, hired paid actors to flood City Council hearings and testify in support of Entergy’s proposed electric plant. The paid actors caused an open meetings law suit to be filed by several public interest non-governmental organizations that say Entergy and the actors corrupted the public decision-making process by quieting community opposition to the plant.
There are other key issues we must also consider. First the $210 million is an estimate which Entergy has given the City Council. The price of construction could be substantially higher without penalties for deays. Second, Entergy says the plant is only needed to back up the city’s grid in case a hurricane or some other natural disaster would sever New Orleans from the national grid. But the connection to the national grid is extremely secure and easy to fix in the event of a disruption. Also, some plant opponents say that Entergy should supplement power in such circumstances with environmentally friendly power from alternative sources like solar, wind and power from the Mississippi River. Third, the plant would be located at the site of the old utility plant near Bayou Savage, National Refuge, and a large community of Vietnamese, African-American, and Latinos. Fourth, the environmental consequences for the plant built in the wetlands, opponents say would be disastrous for New Orleans and would increase flooding risks.
Complicating City Council consideration of all issues is the fact that many of the new council members may have now or in the recent past had financial relations with Entergy; thereby jeopardizing their objectivity.
Entergy gives millions of dollars to non-profit organizations in New Orleans. Many of these groups mobilize their members on Entergy’s behalf on important issues. An unbiased City Council needs to be aware whether groups and individuals, like the paid actors, who come before the council also are paid for their opinions.