A lawsuit by a regional Louisiana flood protection authority seeks to force oil, gas and pipeline companies to fill in canals they've cut into the state's coastal wetlands and pay for the damage they've caused. The canals allow saltwater to intrude into marshes, killing off vegetation and contributing to land loss. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey)
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 11:08 AM
Of all the proposed bills flowing through the legislative process in the state Capitol this spring, S.B. 553 may be the most onerous.
The legislation by state Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, is a thinly veiled attempt to scuttle a lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against more than 90 oil companies for alleged damages the companies’ exploration activities caused to the Louisiana coastline and wetlands.
The SLFPAE suit contends that the oil companies’ failure to restore or remedy canals they dug through Louisiana’s wetlands to position oil and gas drilling rigs has led, in part, to catastrophic erosion that now threatens land in many of the parishes along the state’s coast.
Should the defendants in the suit lose, they’d be liable for billions of dollars in restitution.
The oil industry has found several sympathetic lawmakers who have filed an array of bills in an attempt to torpedo the SLFPAE’s suit. Oil industry spokesmen have characterized the suit as the handiwork of a handful of greedy lawyers who are trying to milk billions from the companies.
They’ve found an ally in Adley, whose bill would require that any board, commission or regional flood protection authority obtain the permission of the governor or the attorney general to retain outside counsel. The governor, attorney general and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget would also have the authority to determine how much the lawyers would be paid if their employment was approved.
The kicker in all of this is that Adley’s bill, if approved, would be retroactive, giving Gov. Bobby Jindal the ability to squelch the SLFPAE’s lawsuit.
The Senate has already approved S.B. 553 by a 23-15 vote. It now moves to the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure, a member of which is House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles. Hopefully, someone on the committee will have the wisdom to raise the question of the constitutionality of S.B. 553.
The first issue is giving a governor or attorney general of the state veto power over whether a board, commission or flood authority could hire outside counsel. In the case of the SLFPAE suit, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell approved the retention of outside counsel when the plaintiffs requested a legal opinion.
But the real legal question is whether the Legislature can pass bills that enforce retroactively, and, in this case, have the power to squelch filed lawsuits.
If the defendants in this case and their friends in the Legislature believe that this is all about a few “greedy lawyers,” let S.B. 553 become state law and the rush to the courthouse by attorneys to file suit based on the constitutionality of this red herring will make the Oklahoma Land Rush look like a casual stroll in the park.
Big Oil has found allies in the state Legislature. They’ll need a gusher of luck to find similar sympathies in the courthouse.
Posted By: Sandy Rosenthal On: 4/23/2014
Title: Founder of Levees.org
This is impressive language coming from the editorial board of Lake Charles's daily paper. Bravo!