Letter from Baton Rouge — From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

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One Monday evening this March, I had a remarkably forthright two-hour conversation with Ginger Sawyer, one of the most powerful lobbyists in Louisiana. As we sat across a table at a TJ Ribs in Baton Rouge, Sawyer filled me in on the oil-and-gas industry’s goals for the 2013 state legislative session. She’d retired the previous year, following a bout with cancer and the death of her longtime partner in a freak accident, but had been called back in on a one-year contract by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry in part because the state’s petroleum companies were facing major challenges. For one, Republican governor Bobby Jindal had proposed eliminating Louisiana’s personal and corporate income taxes and replacing the lost revenue by jacking up its sales tax, which Sawyer worried would anger the public. “If that happens, the legislature might close some of the exemptions for the oil-and-gas industry,” she said. “I helped win a lot of those exemptions in the Eighties and Nineties, so I’ve got the institutional knowledge and history.”

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is a former Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine and a former investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

 

is a photographer based in New York City and Lagos.

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