Council authorizes investigation into Entergy 'astroturfing' power plant meeting

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Environmental groups are calling for the New Orleans City Council to go back to the drawing board when it comes to a new power plant in New Orleans East. They say allegations that Entergy paid actors to support the project at an approval meeting nearly three month ago should force the council to start all over again.

It was an opening that opponents of the new power plant in the East couldn't resist.

"We're all together in urging you to protect our rights to free meetings by withdrawing the previous council decision to approve the gas plant," said Monique Hardin with the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice.

With five new members attending their first regular meeting, the council faced a big agenda Thursday.

"I, too, share in your outrage and think it was unacceptable for paid actors to be part of this process," said Councilwoman Helena Moreno.

Council members want to know more about the allegations, and so do citizens.

"I can remember being shocked when so many people spoke out, and I knew none of them," said Dr. Beverly Wright with the Justice Center.

Council members approved two motions, including one authorizing a third-party investigation into the allegations regarding paid actors.

"We were shocked to see that a young man stood up and said, 'I was paid to be an actor to participate in that vote,'" said Gregory Manning of New Orleans.

A second resolution requests qualifications of parties interested in handling the investigation.

"I believe this gives us another chance to do what's right for our citizens," said Wright.

For now, council members will stick with the investigation rather than start the process all over.

"We are the regulators, you are the ratepayers, and we deserve to get to the bottom of this issue," said Moreno, prompting applause.

And the investigative process begins now.

Entergy released the following statement Thursday afternoon:

"We agree public discourse about important projects such as the New Orleans Power Station must be rooted in integrity and transparency, and we will cooperate with the New Orleans City Council in its investigation. We understand the concerns expressed by members of the City Council. As our internal investigation confirmed, Entergy did not authorize or direct any person or entity to pay individuals to attend or speak at City Council meetings. Those regrettable actions were taken by a subcontractor to a firm we hired to assist with local grassroots support, and the hiring of that subcontractor was in violation of our contract. We recognize that we are ultimately responsible for the actions of people working on our behalf, and we have outlined immediate steps we are taking to ensure that this situation does not happen again.

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