Scott Angelle never left home

By Steven K. Landry

Scott Angelle, 47-year-old secretary of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, runs five miles every morning with his wife of 22 years, Dianne. But with his legendary energy and passion, you get the feeling he could just keep on running the 40-mile jaunt along Interstate 10 to Baton Rouge, where he works every day under Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Angelle was voted the first St. Martin Parish president after the parish switched from the police jury system to a parish council system, a switch in which Angelle had a heavy hand in orchestrating, both publicly and privately. He has served in the state DNR post since Gov. Kathleen Blanco hired him in 2004. Then Jindal, a Republican, thought enough of Angelle’s skills to retain the Democrat on his cabinet as his DNR secretary. Angelle still maintains close ties to his hometown parish and its government officials, though he downplays his policy influence on his close friends, Parish President Guy Cormier and Breaux Bridge Mayor Jack Dale Delhomme, the latter of whom displays a photo of Angelle on his desk.

The Teche News sat down with Angelle in a conference room at Breaux Bridge City Hall, where minutes before he held court with Cormier, Delhomme and several other officials in Delhomme’s office (an informal and jocular proceeding best left off the record).

I don’t have time to miss Breaux Bridge,” Angelle said as this interview began. “I’m home every night. I’ve never slept in Baton Rouge one time.”

TN: The majority of your job is oil-and-gas related, so let’s talk about that first. What about alternative fuels? We see today in the papers that BP Oil is backing a plan to build a plant in Jennings that uses sugar-cane bagasse.

Angelle: Alternatives have a place. It’s all economics. You can recycle plastics and newspapers when the economics work. And certainly, with the prices we’re paying today for oil and gas, we believe that alternatives work. We believe that sugar cane bagasse has a better value than, say, corn. This (alternative fuels) is where America’s going. But it has to work economically.

TN: But how do these alternative fuels jibe with your mission on oil and gas, which pretty much run Louisiana?

Angelle: The Department of Natural Resources has an energy mission. What the governor wants us to do is not only be a great oil-and-gas producer, but also a great alternative-energy producer. So, there is room at the table for every kind of potential. When it comes to energy, the state encourages alternatives.

TN: Is the guy’s job of going out to an oil platform going to go away eventually?

Angelle: The experts say we may be 50 years away from not using hydrocarbons as a possible fuel. But who knows what the number is? I mean, look: We use about 20 million barrels of oil a day in America and we only produce about nine. So, the gap is huge. Louisiana has a long and distinguished history in the oil-and-gas business. There’s going to be a need for petroleum products in this country for 40, 50, even 100 years from now. In fact, you will see oil-and-gas folks become energy folks. BP and Shell, all across the globe, all the majors are getting into alternatives. If we do not have a consistent domestic energy supply – and I use the word “energy” supply; I didn’t use the word “oil” supply – then we won’t have a strong America. I think America has gotten to the point where enough is enough. We have to have an energy policy in this country that’s as aggressive as our appetite.

TN: And one that doesn’t exclude the East Coast drilling or Florida drilling.

Angelle: We have to find a way to get that into the mix.

TN: That’s what’s happening now. The president and the candidates are flipping on that and saying drilling offshore should be an option. The last time we spoke you said it was very unfair that Louisiana is getting ravaged while the rest of the country uses our oil.

Angelle: It’s ridiculous. If we know there are resources there and we don’t go after them, then that’s like saying, “Well, we don’t want to grow our crops here in the most fertile land of America. We’ll just get our food from foreign countries.” If we had an agriculture policy like that, our food prices would be ridiculously high. I don’t understand why in America we’ve taken 95 percent of offshore America and our policy is “no drilling.” We have put all of our eggs in the Gulf of Mexico’s basket. It’s now having a drastic impact on our transportation costs, food costs, plastics, medicines. I realize that people say if we start drilling on the East Coast that won’t give us any real production for 10 years. Well, you know what? If we wait until next year, then that’ll be 11 years. It’s a self-defeatist attitude.

TN: You’ve been at your job five years now?

Angelle: Actually four-and-a-half.

TN: You love your job?

Angelle: Absolutely. I get up in the morning about 4:30. I run four or five miles with my wife.

TN: How do you balance the commute with your family life? The Basin Bridge is not the safest stretch.

Angelle: Well, I’ve never had a single issue (over the bridge). But this is the deal. I’ve chosen to devote my life to public service. The first time I got elected (as a police juror) I was 25 years old. I had one child when I was sworn in at 26. So, my family has been a part of this. My entire time I’ve been a parent, I have been involved in public service. My wife understands this. My kids understand this. The oldest is 21 down to 13 years old. It’s been a helluva run – busy in more ways than one.

TN: How do you feel things are getting done here in this parish?

Angelle: I think St. Martin has discovered itself. St. Martin, a half-century ago, was a rural place. And if you were born here, there was a high, high chance that your only option was to stay here and, quite frankly, not a whole lot of people from other areas were choosing to come here. I think our new parish government has helped. We see the benefits of Interstate 10, of Highway 90, and of our proximity to Lafayette, which is, to me, one of the greatest towns in Louisiana. Forty or 50 years ago, you were born here and you lived here.

TN: I know both Guy and Mayor Delhomme respect your opinion. Guy says you have an influence here. It’s not like Huey Long and O.K. Allen …

Angelle: [laughs] Right.

TN: … but you talk to these guys almost every day and we hear you even call during Breaux Bridge City Council meetings. How much of an influence are you exerting on policy?

Angelle: I’m very, very close to a lot of folks here. Often I am asked to help with an issue or vet a suggestion that somebody has. It runs the gamut from public works to finance to recreation to health issues. (They’ll call and say) “What’s your experience in this? Can you share with me?” But I think that’s the sign of a good leader, to get opinions. Folks here, at the leadership level, don’t care about the credit. If you can be in the governmental business and put the credit second, it’s amazing what you can accomplish. And that’s what has begun to evolve in the last decade here. Rep. Mills (for example) – I’m very, very close to Freddie. We grew up across the street from one another. Our families were in business next to each other. When my father was a state representative, his dad was the mayor (of Breaux Bridge). So, our families have been close in business and politics and in our personal lives.

TN: Name a couple of issues you’ve spoken to Coach Delhomme about. I know it’s your hometown, so …

Angelle: Right. We have a great rapport, but the mayor doesn’t call me and say, every day, “What do you think about this?” That’s not the kind of questions I get every day. A great deal of the time I’m trying to draw off of his lifetime experiences. I mean, here’s a guy who’s been a coach, won state championships, is a tremendous public speaker, and he’s one of the premier motivators in the state of Louisiana. And Guy has energy and passion. So, often the case is, it’s my turn to seek and to draw.

TN: But what do you talk about when you call him during those meetings?

Angelle: I have no idea when his meeting schedule is. I’m not calling him during a meeting. I’m calling him because it may be the time and the day I now have a break. I may be on the interstate coming home. If you ask me when the city council or the parish council meets, I don’t have a clue.

TN: You have your own schedule to deal with.

Angelle: Exactly. [Angelle points to his BlackBerry] Just since I’ve been here this morning, I’ve received a dozen e-mails and several phone calls. Make sure that (in this interview) it gets across that absolutely, positively when I’m visiting with these folks, I’m not calling about agenda items or whether you should run left or run right.

Next week: Angelle takes on that pesky run-for-governor rumor.

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