Leave coastal lawsuit alone

By By Jim Beam / American Press

Louisiana’s coastline is disappearing

while Gov. Bobby Jindal and some members of the Legislature are trying

to destroy the

credibility of one of this nation’s foremost authorities on what

it will take to stop the destruction and repair the damage.

He’s John Barry, an accomplished author and authority on

water-related issues.

Barry’s best-known work is his 1997

book, “Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It

Changed America.” The

National Academies of Sciences in 2006 invited him to give the

Abel Wolman Distinguished Lecture on Water Resources, the only

non-scientist ever to give that lecture.

Jindal and a number of state

legislators are trying to discredit Barry because he was a member of a

state levee board when

it sued 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies for exploration and

drilling practices that led to coastal erosion. The governor

struck the first blow when he refused to reappoint Barry to the

Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.

The filing of the suit was the last straw for that board when the governor, his coastal adviser, the state Department of Natural

Resources and those 97 companies refused to sit down and negotiate a reasonable settlement for the damage they did to the

coast.

The industry isn’t the only cause of

erosion, but is responsible for a significant part of the land loss

because of the 10,000

miles that were dredged for canals and pipelines, Barry said. That

allowed salt water to intrude and weaken and destroy the

landscape, he said.

Barry said the levee board’s goal all along has been to get the industry to sit down and help resolve the issue and the role

it should play. He said the companies should fix that part of the problem they caused.

Unfortunately, there has been zero

leadership from the governor’s office. It was a golden opportunity for

Jindal to demonstrate

he is a caring and competent chief executive. He could have gotten

all of the parties together and worked out a settlement,

but he is choosing instead to try and derail the levee board’s

effort to find a way to save the coast.

Jindal said the board didn’t have authority to sue the 97 companies. However, state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell disagreed

and talked about the suit last week when he was a guest on the Jim Engster Show on WRKF-FM in Baton Rouge.

Caldwell said he told the levee board

as a political subdivision it had the right to hire its own attorney and

execute a contract.

The courts upheld his opinion, he said.

The oil and gas companies agreed when they signed leases and executed contracts with landowners that they would clean up when

the jobs were completed, Caldwell said.

“And basically speaking, they never really did that,” he said.

There are some legitimate interests in the oil and gas companies that want to get the issue resolved, Caldwell said.

“Of course, the only reason that they

would move is that you get sued, you get a trial date, and you have to

do something

about it,” he said. “But I have faith in the oil and gas industry

that they are going to finally do something because it is

in their best economic interest to do so, and now.”

Meanwhile, the Legislature is moving in the opposite direction. Nearly a dozen measures have been filed that are designed

to derail the suit. If they succeed, the oil and gas companies won’t have a reason to sit down and work out a settlement.

Those who are defending the oil and gas companies have seized upon a favorite target in situations like these that always

resonates with John Q. Public. It’s those greedy lawyers.

The attorneys representing the levee

board were hired on a contingency basis, which means they would get part

of any court

award or financial settlement and nothing if there weren’t a

settlement. Barry said the levee board didn’t want to sue, but

when it became a last resort the members had no other choice.

Levee board attorneys have since

offered to waive fees they are owed if the oil and gas companies agree

to pay “mutually agreeable

attorneys’ fees.” The industry said that doesn’t go far enough.

I have never been a fan of contingency

fee contracts, and have criticized them on numerous occasions. Anyone

who doubts that

need only ask some of the local attorneys who became overnight

millionaires after the state settled with the tobacco companies.

This time, the potential benefits to our coastline that could result from this suit or a settlement with the companies far

outweigh the attorney issue. This isn’t a situation like climate change. We know our coast is disappearing because we can

see it slipping away.

I have met with John Barry and am

convinced he truly has his state’s best interests at heart. He stands to

gain nothing from

any of this. However, those of us who love this state will reap

the rewards if Barry, his supporters, the state and the oil

and gas companies are successful at stopping the erosion and

restoring out coastline.

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 jbeam@americanpress.com.