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8 Jun, 2014 14:01

Louisiana Gov. signs bill killing lawsuits against oil and gas companies

Louisiana Gov. signs bill killing lawsuits against oil and gas companies

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has flouted the advice of his own attorney general and scores of legal scholars by signing a bill which blocks a levee board’s lawsuit against oil and gas companies, who are accused of destroying the state’s coast.

"This bill will help stop frivolous lawsuits and create a more fair and predictable legal environment, and I am proud to sign it into law," Jindal said in a written statement Friday.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (AFP Photo / Justin Sullivan)

The law, SB 469, has thwarted a levee district in New Orleans’ East Bank – the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) – from pushing forward with a lawsuit introduced last July against 97 oil and gas companies for damage done to the state’s wetlands. According to the suit, the firms exposed New Orleans to catastrophic damage from hurricanes Rita and Katrina by dredging and cutting thousands of miles of pipes and canals through barrier islands and wetlands which, left intact, would have protected the coastal city, The Times-Picayune Newspaper reports.

An oil rig that broke loose during Hurricane Katrina 29 August 2005 (AFP Photo / Stan Honda)

“We are looking to the industry to fix the part of the problem that they created,” SLFPA-E vice president John Barry told the tri-weekly last year. “We’re not asking them to fix everything. We only want them to address the part of the problem that they created.”

Local republicans and energy heavyweights, however, viewed the lawsuit as frivolous and “illegal.”

"This bill keeps a rogue agency from misrepresenting this State and trying to raise money through illegal actions," said Senators Robert Adley and Bret Allain, who sponsored the legislation Jindal approved this week.

Adley, who has owned Pelican Gas Management Co. since 1993, was president of ABCO Petroleum from 1972 to 1993, is affiliated with the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, and has been the recipient of an estimated $597,950 in campaign contributions from companies, political action committees and individuals affiliated with, or controlled by, oil and gas interests, was incredulous at claims the industry had harmed the state.

"I think it's absurd to say that the oil and gas industry has damaged the coast," Republican Adley said. "They did what they were told to do, and a lot of what they have done has helped us, not hurt us."

Jindal himself is no stranger to oil and gas money, having received at least $545,000 in industry contributions “and most probably more,” according to the Louisiana Voice. Last year, environmental groups claimed that figure was nearly twice as high, saying oil and gas companies had donated $1,019,777 to his campaigns between 2003 and 2013.

Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association, called the move a “huge victory for the oil and gas industry,” according to a statement released by the governor’s office.

Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (AFP Photo / Karen Bleier)

Louisiana in deep waters

The victory for the oil and gas industry could be much more far-reaching in the years ahead. Critics fear the slipshod language in SB 469 will not only kill the flood authority’s lawsuit, but potentially scuttle other attempts to litigate against the energy industry.

Topping that list are government claims against BP, whose Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, killing 11 people and spilling 210 million gallons of oil in the worst marine oil spill in history.

On Tuesday, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell wrote Jindal imploring him to veto the measure, saying the “very broad and all-encompassing language” of the bill “may have other potential serious unintended consequences."

“No one can currently quantify or identify all of the causes of action which will be swept away if this bill becomes law,” the letter warns.

“In the coming years perhaps the proponents of the bill can tailor legislation more narrowly drawn which does not portend such a broad and vague attack on the abilities of the State, and most importantly, local governmental entities to protect their citizens.”

Seventy-nine law school professors also warned bill could interfere with state and local government claims against BP.

A seven-page legal assessment of the legislation cautioning Jindal not to sign SB 469 because it could have “adverse consequences” was compiled by Loyola Law School Robert Verchick and received the endorsement of legal scholars from California to Maryland, The Times (Shreveport) reported.

Steve Murchie, campaign director for the Gulf Restoration Network, said: “This legislation is governance at its worst: poorly written, for the worst of reasons, with no public benefit, and having potentially staggering unintended consequences. Governor Jindal, in his zeal to please the oil and gas industry and further his political ambitions, has abandoned the hundreds of thousands of Louisianans facing another hurricane season with inadequate storm protection and a disappearing coast.”

But Jindal’s executive counsel, Thomas Enright, said their arguments did not hold water.

“We are satisfied that the concerns expressed by your office are the same as those offered by the opponents of the bill during the session and that those concerns were properly considered and publicly debated at length,” he said.