Last Modified: Sunday, May 18, 2014 1:29 PM
The citizens of Louisiana deserve some straight answers about the all-out war being waged by Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature against oil, gas and pipeline lawsuits. The people are constantly being told the lawsuits are damaging to the state’s business climate, but the governor has been telling a different story when it suits his political ambitions.
A dozen anti-lawsuit bills have been filed during the current session, and the most far-reaching one comes up for a hearing this week before the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee. Senate Bill 469 by Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, would reach back in time and kill a lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against 97 of those energy companies.
SB 469 was created with a legislative maneuver occasionally used when a bill is in trouble. Allain couldn’t get his original bill out of a Senate judiciary committee, so he attached its provisions to an unrelated measure in a committee more favorable to his cause. The Senate passed it after an amendment killing its retroactive feature lost by one vote.
A majority of the bills attacking oil and gas lawsuits were filed by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton. Thankfully, most didn’t get too far. Adley is the fellow who said failure to pass Allain’s bill would mean businesses would quit coming to Louisiana. His fiery defense of oil and gas companies was entertaining, but his arguments were weak.
Adley said oil and gas companies followed the law and regulations that were in place years ago and shouldn’t have to help pay for restoration of our coastline. What he conveniently overlooks is the fact that state agencies like the Department of Natural Resources failed to hold those companies fully accountable. Even today, state and federal agencies often get too chummy with those they regulate.
Most of what Adley said during debate on Allain’s bill is the opposite of what Gov. Jindal said a couple of weeks ago in an op-ed piece appearing in this section of our newspaper. The governor talked about his ethics and education reforms, his no-tax stand and workforce development.
“... Thanks to these and other reforms, targeted state investments and aggressive business development efforts, Louisiana now ranks higher in nearly every national business-climate ranking than it ever did prior to 2008 (the year he took office),” Jindal said.
The governor added, “... According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Louisiana’s private-sector job growth since January 2008 ranks second best in the South and sixth best in the U.S. At 4.5 percent, our unemployment rate is the lowest in the South... Louisiana now has more people working and higher per-capita income levels than ever before. Additionally, the U.S. Census recently reported that after decades of out-migration, Louisiana has experienced six consecutive years of population in-migration, as more people have been moving into our state than leaving because of job opportunities available here.”
The Jindal administration will argue that all of these great economic gains came despite those lawsuits because it has been really aggressive in enticing new business and industry to the state. And it has done a commendable job in that area. However, that isn’t the full story.
Give the people of Louisiana the credit they deserve. They know what really brings business and industry here. Oil, gas, pipeline and petro-chemical companies are coming to this state and expanding because this is where the action is. This state has an abundance of natural resources, great ports, interstate highways, accessible waterways and a great workforce.
What better testimony to all of that is there than the some $60 billion in capital investments planned by oil and gas and related industries in Southwest Louisiana? Why else are companies chomping at the bit to come in here and develop LNG exporting facilities?
No one is asking the oil and gas companies to foot the entire coastal restoration bill. Even the industry acknowledges it is responsible for some 30 percent of the coastal erosion caused by the canals they dug and other drilling and exploration activities. Some spokesmen even said companies are willing to go to the negotiating table.
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East represents an area of the state that has been hit the hardest by coastal erosion and land loss. If something isn’t done to stop erosion and repair the damage, some of those areas will disappear into the Gulf of Mexico in the not-too-distant future. That is why the authority’s lawsuit deserves to survive. The goal is to protect the one million people the authority represents.
John Barry, a former member of the authority who was instrumental in filing the suit, said he hoped it never had to get to court. He and others just wanted to get the industry to come to the negotiating table. Passage of Allain’s bill will stymie that effort. Allain said individual parishes could still pursue lawsuits, but they won’t be as effective as the big one filed down east.
The sad fact in all of this is the state’s failure to take the lead in pursuing legal or other avenues to get oil, gas and pipeline companies to pay for the coastal damages they have caused. The governor and Legislature have decided instead to pull out all the stops in order to give the industry almost total immunity from its legal responsibilities. It is a sad commentary on the current state of our political leadership.
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: 5/19/2014
The simple principle from Civics is that there is a separation between the legislative branch and the judicial branch. If the oil and gas business doesn't like what the judicial branch is doing, the answer is 'tough'. Using feckless politicians to try to jump the gap is unconscionable. Unless they can fork out the bucks to buy judges, the oil and gas interes will just have to settle for buying the politicians (including locals who are unable to truly represent the public) that are part of the 'old' Louisiana. Jindal may liike to pretend that he represents something different but the simple truth is that he has not demonstrated it in the least. There is a new Louisiana rising that will not put up with corrupt politicians locally or statewide. Let them rise NOW to stop the greed.