Last Modified: Sunday, May 25, 2014 7:18 AM
Gov. Bobby Jindal and a majority of state legislators have left no stone unturned during the current session in their efforts to protect 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies from a lawsuit filed by a New Orleans flood control authority. The suit is asking those companies to pay for the 36 percent of the coastal damage that some of them acknowledge was caused by their drilling and exploration activities.
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed the suit in state district court in New Orleans. The 97 defendants had it moved to federal court. Arguments seeking to remand (send it back to state court) were heard in December, but no decision has been announced.
Senate Bill 469 by Sens. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, and Robert Adley, R-Benton, danced around its purpose in the beginning, but the truth emerged last week. Allain amended the bill at a House committee hearing and said emphatically that their goal, pure and simple, is to kill that lawsuit.
The legislation cleared the Senate 24-13, but only after an amendment to make it apply to future court actions lost by one vote. The bill then was sent to the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee that voted 13-6 to send it to the House floor. The measure will come up for final action sometime between now and 6 p.m. Monday, June 2, when the Legislature has to adjourn.
The House committee spent 3 1/2 hours debating the bill, but it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that it would be approved easily. Rep. Gordon Dove, R-Houma and chairman of the committee, asked most of the questions and spent his time praising the Jindal administration and laying the blame for coastal erosion elsewhere.
“Did the oil companies build the levees on the Mississippi River?” Dove asked.
Levees are responsible for some of the coastal land losses, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can’t be sued. However, that doesn’t mean other parties that may be responsible shouldn’t own up to their responsibilities. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear the entire financial burden of stopping erosion and restoring our coastline.
Those who want to kill the lawsuit and protect the energy companies love to direct the issue elsewhere, but it’s really very simple. The flood authority filed the suit on behalf of the 1.2 million people it represents in the New Orleans area. The Times-Picayune in an editorial stated it simply for all to understand.
“All the flood protection authority has asked is: Why shouldn’t oil and gas companies, which admit they contributed to the damage, pay part of the cost to repair it?” the newspaper asked.
Jimmy Faircloth, Jindal’s former attorney and the architect of the Allain-Adley bill, kept insisting the flood authority had no right to sue. A Baton Rouge state court judge ruled it does have that right and that its contract with outside attorneys is proper. State Attorney General Buddy Caldwell had already approved the contract.
Rep. Eddie Lambert, R-Prairieville and an attorney, opposes the bill. He got Faircloth to say the lawsuit would probably lose in court. And Lambert followed that up with a logical reply.
“You say you think the court is going to throw it out,” Lambert said. “So we don’t really need this bill... If the flood authority is not the proper plaintiff (person filing the suit), the court will weigh in on that.”
It is obvious the supporters of this legislation don’t want to take that gamble. They want the Legislature to usurp that judicial decision.
Faircloth also said the authority isn’t protected from the legislation reaching back and killing a suit that has already been filed (retroactivity). He used a decision in a New Orleans gun case to back up his contention, but other attorneys believe he’s wrong.
The flood authority doesn’t enjoy the same constitutional protection given to individuals and private landowners, Faircloth said. He added that the state Supreme Court ruled the Legislature can alter the rights of a governmental entity (the flood authority).
Attorneys for the flood authority said the contract they have with the authority gives the case the constitutional protection afforded private parties that Faircloth is talking about.
This is another legal issue that should be resolved in the courts, not in the Legislature. Whatever happens in the Legislature isn’t going to end this lawsuit. Either side that loses at the state Capitol is going to take this issue back to the courts, where it belonged from the start.
Some of the defendant companies in this suit have made it clear they aren’t going to negotiate a settlement under any circumstances, unless they are forced to do so. And the governor and Legislature want to make it as easy as possible for them to avoid any consequences of their past actions.
The state should have taken the lead on this issue and held the parties causing coastal damage responsible. The flood protection authority wouldn’t have had to be involved. However, someone has to protect the interests of the people of this state, not just the interests of the 97 companies involved.
Attorneys and others who have followed this case believe there are three questions that need to be answered in a court of law: Is there coastal damage? What is the cost of that damage? Who caused it?
The Legislature has been dealing with some 18 bills during the current session that are all aimed at keeping this lawsuit and others like it from ever going to trial. And the irony is the issue is going to end up in court anyway.
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: Rachel On: 5/29/2014
My sympathies to the people of Louisiana for having such a Governor sell you out. I hope people are paying attention come election time....
Posted By: Sandra Slifer, President, League of Women Voters of Louisiana On: 5/26/2014
Title: Let the Courts Decide!
We couldn't agree with you more, Mr. Beam. The Legislature and the Governor are interfering in a court case. After listening to legislator after legislator proclaim that this bill, and many other similar instruments that have been filed this session, is unconstitutional, most of the legislators are voting to protect the interests of oil and gas instead of their constituents. We urge members of the Louisiana House to kill SB 469. According to the La. Attorney General's Office, there has been talk about a settlement. Where will these talks lead if the legislature kills the lawsuit? How much longer will we watch football field-size areas of land disappear from our coast while we figure out how to squeeze money out of the public and allow oil and gas companies to skirt their responsibilities?
Posted By: Sandy Rosenthal On: 5/26/2014
Title: Levees.org Founder
I watched the Committee meeting with my own eyes and watched Jimmy Faircloth say that the purpose of the bill is to kill the lawsuit. At least they are not beating around the brush.