Let coastal suit get to court!

By By Jim Beam / American Press

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 jbeam@americanpress.com.