Last Modified: Monday, May 05, 2014 10:19 AM
Gov. Bobby Jindal and two Republican state senators are pulling out all the stops in their efforts to kill a lawsuit filed against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies. Sens. Robert Adley and Bret Allain have demonstrated they are more than willing to do the governor’s bidding. They also make no apologies about their last-minute desperate move last week to protect the industry.
Adley, who hails from Benton, the parish seat of Bossier Parish, has anointed himself as the chief defender of an industry in which he has been heavily involved. Allain, a large landowner from Franklin, makes no bones about the fact he wants to protect people like him from lawsuits.
The lawsuit they want to derail was filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. The authority claims the oil, gas and pipeline industries are responsible for some 30 percent of the coastal erosion caused by canals the companies dug for their exploration and drilling activities. Some in the industry also admit they are responsible for part of the coastal damage.
Many of the companies being sued have made billions of dollars off Louisiana’s mineral riches. So having the industry help restore the coast is certainly not out of line.
Adley filed a half-dozen bills in his effort to protect the companies from having to pay damages. Two of them have been approved by the Senate with the help of Southwest Louisiana’s three senators — Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur; Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings; and John Smith, R-Leesville. Both measures are awaiting hearings by the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure.
Three of Adley’s bills are sitting in Senate committees, and their future is uncertain. One of them clearly kills the levee authority lawsuit. Allain has a bill that does the same thing, but he doesn’t have the votes to get it out of the Senate Judiciary A Committee.
The session has only four weeks to go, and the two senators knew time was of the essence. They got their heads together and pulled off one of the oldest legislative maneuvers in the book. Adley had a non-controversial bill awaiting action in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. The two senators amended it at the last minute to make it identical to the bill that Allain couldn’t get out of the Judiciary A Committee.
The amended bill was written by Jimmy Faircloth, Jindal’s former executive counsel. And attorney Stafford Palmieri of the governor’s office defended it before the committee.
Language in the bill is clear. It says, with some exceptions, that no state or local governmental entity has the authority to file suit against any coastal activity that was approved and permitted by state agencies, “regardless of the date such use or activity occurred.” Governing authorities in Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes have already filed suits against the oil and gas companies, so they are two of the exceptions.
Although there are still some questions, it is believed the hastily written law won’t permit other coastal parishes to sue the companies.
Rewriting a proposed bill is not the issue at this point. It is the last-minute way it was done. Gladstone Jones, the lead lawyer on the levee authority lawsuit, said it best.
“They didn’t have the facts. They didn’t have the votes. They didn’t have the support of the public,” Jones said. “So now they’re manipulating the system. And they’re hoping nobody is watching.”
Jones did get to testify at the hearing, but others who wanted to didn’t have that opportunity. He said he received a copy of the amendment at 6:38 p.m. Wednesday, about 18 hours before he began his testimony the next day, according to a report in The Advocate.
Morrish is a member of the Natural Resources Committee and he tried unsuccessfully to get a week’s delay on hearing the rewritten bill. It was later approved without objection.
Sen. Gerald Long, R-Natchitoches, is chairman of the committee. He said there was plenty of time for the opposition to be heard. Actually, that is often not the case.
Once a bill gets out of a committee in either the House or Senate, it’s pretty much easy sailing from then on. The Senate usually votes with the Jindal administration, and the odds are it will do so again.
If the Senate approves the rewritten House Bill 469, the one last hope for the opposition will come when the legislation is expected to be heard by the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee. The bill needs a broader public airing than it got last week.
The House is often called the people’s house because its members are more representative of the folks back home. Since surveys have shown a large majority of the citizens in this state don’t want the Legislature interfering with this lawsuit, the question is whether the House will respect their wishes.
The people of this state, particularly those who live along the coast, want to stop the erosion and repair the damage that has already been done. It won’t happen unless all who are responsible pay their fair share of the cost of doing both.
Once that lawsuit was filed, it should have been allowed to have its day in court. The efforts of Jindal, Adley, Allain and others to subvert the process discredits them and the government institutions they represent.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted By: Paul Ringo On: 5/5/2014
This is typical of people that want to legislate for special interests rather than for the public good. The Senators involved have demonstrated a consistent lack of public interest and favor big money interests with little respect for the public. They should all be held publicly responsible for their lack of concern and manipulation. None of them deserve to represent the people of a New Louisiana that wants legitimate open representation.