Gov. Bobby Jindal’s efforts to scuttle the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East’s (SLFPA-E) lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies gained traction today (Thursday, Nov. 21) from the SLFPA-E board itself, thanks to new members appointed by Jindal — and to board president Tim Doody.
Board members deferred a motion to affirm their commitment to the suit. The board also voted to submit the contract to the Legislative Auditor for review, but that’s no big deal. The auditor cannot render legal opinions anyway.
The vote to defer affirmation of the lawsuit came after Doody did not even invite the board’s own lawyer in the case, Glad Jones, into executive session to discuss the suit. That’s a sure sign that Doody has shifted sides and now opposes the suit — an interesting development considering how quickly Doody’s native St. Bernard Parish is going to wash away in coming years.
The SLFPA-E suit seeks to make energy companies pay their share for restoring southeast Louisiana’s vanishing coastal wetlands — which have disappeared largely though not exclusively because of Big Oil’s many miles of pipeline canals — as well as the higher costs of flood protection in metro New Orleans.
Attorney Joe Hassinger, whom Jindal recently named to the SLFPA-E board to replace historian John Barry, had planned to push a motion to suspend the lawsuit for 90 days. Barry has been the suit’s most vocal supporter. After reports that Hassinger may have a conflict of interest, he deferred his motion pending an opinion from the state Ethics Board. Hassinger is a “director” at the firm of Galloway Johnson, which has a robust energy law practice and an even bigger insurance defense practice. Hassinger did not let questions about his potential conflict stop him from voting on the two critical motions, however.
Team Jindal, hoping to fend off questions about Hassinger’s potential conflict, noted that Galloway Johnson does not represent any of the suit’s 97 named defendants. That does not address the equally sticky issue of whether the firm represents any of the defendants’ many insurers.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s efforts to scuttle the Southeast Louisiana Flood Authority-East’s (SLFPA-E) lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies fizzled today (Thursday, Nov. 21) when the authority’s board deferred a motion to suspend the suit.
The SLFPA-E suit seeks to make energy companies pay their share of the cost of restoring southeast Louisiana’s vanishing coastal wetlands — which have disappeared largely though not exclusively because of the industry’s many miles of pipeline canals — as well as the higher costs of flood protection in metro New Orleans. The suit claims that coastal land loss makes local hurricane protection levees significantly more expensive — and vulnerable.
Attorney Joe Hassinger, whom Jindal recently named to the SLFPA-E board to replace historian John Barry, who has been the suit’s most vocal supporter, had planned to push a motion to suspend the lawsuit for 90 days. However, after reports that he may have a conflict of interest, Hassinger deferred his motion pending an opinion from the state Ethics Board. Hassinger is a “director” (read: partner) at the firm of Galloway Johnson, which has a robust energy law practice — and an even bigger insurance defense practice.
Team Jindal, hoping to fend off questions about Hassinger’s potential conflict of interest, issued a statement that Galloway Johnson does not represent any of the suit’s 97 named defendants. That does not address the equally sticky issue of whether the firm represents any of the defendants’ many insurers. If the firm does represent any of those insurers, state law should disqualify Hassinger from even discussing the suit, let alone making or voting on a motion to suspend it.
A formal ethics opinion could take several months, if the Ethics Commission does a thorough job of investigating all of Hassinger’s potential conflicts. Meanwhile, Hassinger’s attempt to derail the suit, which clearly is inspired by Jindal, will become moot if the board votes later today (the board was still meeting as this was being written) to affirm the litigation.
The SLFPA-E filed its suit in July after a unanimous vote of support from its nine-member board, whose members serve staggered terms to minimize political interference. At today's meeting, actor, social commentator and frequent New Orleans resident Harry Shearer blasted attempts to sidetrack the suit, calling them a “grotesque” example of the kind of political interference the board was created to avoid.
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) meets this Thursday morning to consider scuttling — or doubling down on — its environmental lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies. One of Gov. Bobby Jindal's new appointees, lawyer Joe Hassinger, has said he plans to introduce a motion to suspend the suit. It didn't take him long to pass his "litmus test" for Jindal and "coastal czar" Garret Graves.
But Hassinger may have a conflict of interest that will prevent him from even participating in the debate, let alone making or voting on the motion to suspend the lawsuit. That's because he works at a law firm — Galloway Johnson — that boasts of its big-shot clients in the energy industry. Hassinger is a "director" (read: partner) in the Galloway firm, which means that any conflicts that the firm may have are legally imputed to him. The firm's web site lists Hassinger's areas of practice; they include "environment."
Hassinger's potential conflict doesn't end there. His brother, Tim Hassinger, also is a firm director at Galloway — and Tim practices in the area of energy law.
Under state law, an "appointed member of a board or commission who recuses himself from voting pursuant to [state ethics laws] shall be prohibited from participating in discussion and debate concerning the matter. See La.R.S. 42:1120.4(B). A related section of state law (R.S.42:1112) provides that conflicts of interest extend to matters that involve immediate family members and entities in which the appointed official is "an officer, director, trustee, partner, or employee."
WWL-TV's Paul Murphy had the jump on this story today at 5PM. You can see it HERE.
Team Jindal claims that Galloway does not represent any of the 97 energy companies named as defendants in the SLFPA-E lawsuit, which begs the question on several counts:
• Even if Galloway does not represent any of those companies at present, did it ever represent any of them?
• If, as claimed on its web site, Galloway is a major player in the legal representation of energy companies, it's hard to imagine that the firm did not ever rep any of the major players named in the suit — or that the firm won't one day seek to represent such companies.
• What about other energy companies that may have partnered with any of the defendants named in the suit. It's common practice in the Oil Patch for companies that might otherwise compete with one another to joint venture or partner up. There's that much money to be made.
The recent environmental lawsuits filed by Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes against dozens of energy companies could not come at a better time for supporters of an earlier suit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E). But that doesn’t mean Gov. Bobby Jindal won’t still try to kill flood authority’s suit.
Lawyers and politicos note that while the suits share some of the same defendants, they are based on different theories of recovery. The parishes’ claims fall under the category of “legacy lawsuits,” which have flummoxed the energy industry in recent years. The flood authority’s suit seeks not only coastal restoration but also billions for enhanced flood protection.
Among those drawing distinctions between the lawsuits is Jindal. He went ballistic over the SLFPA-E suit, but he has taken a kinder, gentler stance on the parishes’ lawsuits. Why? His “coastal czar” Garret Graves talked about the parishes’ suits being filed by elected rather than appointed officials, and noting that they are narrower in focus, but that's what lawyers dismissively call a distinction without a difference. To Big Oil, the suits all look the same: they all potentially end with energy companies paying billions.
It’s quite interesting that Graves now talks about the parishes’ suit bringing Big Oil to the negotiating table. Graves, after all, was the heavy-handed battering ram for Jindal against the SLFPA-E lawsuit. He practically ordered the “independent nominating committee” that vets potential SLFPA-E members not to re-nominate John Barry, the flood board’s former vice chairman and the leading proponent of its suit, after Barry’s term expired. Now, apparently, Graves thinks it’s fine to sue oil companies to get them to negotiate.
Why the about-face?
Count me among the many in southeast Louisiana who were disappointed (but not surprised) that Gov. Bobby Jindal succeeded in ousting historian John Barry from the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E). If there’s a silver lining to Barry’s removal, it’s that Jindal has once again been exposed as a sellout — along with some of the “reformers” who pushed for levee board reform after Hurricane Katrina.
There’s another silver lining, for Barry: he’s now free to say what he really thinks.
“The governor has put the interests of the oil and gas industry ahead of his obligation to protect our coastal lands from destruction and our people from catastrophic flooding,” the author of Rising Tide said in a statement the day Jindal named his replacement. “This is exactly why the people of Louisiana voted overwhelmingly to keep politics out of flood protection, when they stood up after Katrina to demand an independent flood protection authority unfettered by the constraints of political favoritism. Now that process, and the intent of the voters, has been betrayed by raw politics.”
Anyone who has read Barry’s award-winning book, Rising Tide, appreciates his ability to pull back the curtain and expose the self-dealing and hypocrisy of New Orleans’ ruling class, which orchestrated the needless flooding of much of Plaquemines Parish during the 1927 flood and then used its legal and political clout to deny promised reparations to landowners who lost everything.
Funny how history repeats itself — and tragically ironic that Barry, a historian, stands in the vortex of this latest example. He was the darling of the silk-stocking swells who anointed themselves as experts on flood control after Katrina — until he took his oath of office and the notion of political independence seriously. Now they’ve discarded him as easily as their predecessors-in-interest casually dismissed the fur trappers swept away by the dynamiting of the Mississippi River levee at Caernarvon in 1927.
Fortunately, Barry has something those trappers didn’t have: the means to fight back and the will to carry his fight to a national audience. He plans to start a non-profit to advocate for SLFPA-E’s environmental lawsuit against 97 energy companies, and his national credibility on flood protection issues gives him a very large audience.
In The Earl of Louisiana, A.J. Liebling wrote that “reform” in the Bayou State means moving the fat hogs away from the trough so that the lean hogs can move in and get their fill. My late friend Jim Carvin, the dean of Louisiana political consultants, had a similar take. “In Louisiana,” he said, “reform means cutting out somebody else's piece of the pie.”
Both men were right.
I was reminded of their sage observations when the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) nominating committee decided not to re-nominate author John Barry for another term on the regional flood protection board. Barry, who literally wrote the book (Rising Tide) on flooding in Louisiana — and who is recognized nationally as an authority on levees and flood protection — has served on SLFPA-E’s board since its creation after Hurricane Katrina. Until recently, he was the darling of the “reformers” who convinced us to toss the corrupt old levee boards — or at least, some of them — and replace them with experts vetted and nominated by (drumroll, please) the reformers.
It’s ironic but hardly surprising that Barry’s demise as a levee board commissioner comes at the hand of some of the very do-gooders who once were his biggest supporters.
What happened? Did Barry suddenly become a crook?
No, he did something much worse. Barry’s sin was political blasphemy: he espoused the notion that the energy industry ought to pay for its role in destroying thousands of acres of protective wetlands in southeast Louisiana.
Somebody get the net. The man is obviously insane.
Sometimes I can’t write about just one topic because there’s so much going on at once. This is one of those times.
In state politics, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) has a new leader — one with close ties to Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Locally, the “nominating committee” charged with vetting applicants to serve on the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) appears, sadly, to be towing the governor’s line against the reappointment of John Barry.
And if you ever doubt that one person can make a difference, check out blogger C.B. Forgotston (forgotston.com), who has made state funding for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) a hot-button issue.
LABI’s New Leader — When LaPolitics Weekly broke the news that former Jindal aide Stephen Waguespack had the inside track to succeed Dan Juneau as LABI president, it raised eyebrows. LABI under Juneau was the most influential lobby in the Capitol.
There were times when the business group had more stroke than the governor. LABI’s opposition to Jindal’s “tax swap” plan (to replace the state income tax with the highest combined sales tax rate in the nation) effectively killed the controversial proposal.
Environmental groups slammed "Million Dollar Man" Gov. Bobby Jindal for what they call his "aggressive stance" against the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East lawsuit, which targets 97 oil and gas companies for their role in wetlands loss. The groups — Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, Global Green, League of Women Voters, Levees.org, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Sierra Club and Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans — revealed on Aug. 28 more than $1 million in campaign contributions that Jindal received from oil and gas companies.
The groups showed a list of contributors to his gubernatorial campaigns beginning in 2003 with his first push for governor. The list did not include contributions to his congressional campaign. It's no secret that the oil and gas industry — among the state's largest — backs Louisiana political campaigns. The issue here, according to the groups, is Jindal's contributions fuel his opposition to the lawsuit.
"There is absolutely no other reason why Bobby Jindal refuses to make the oil industry pay for the coast it acknowledges it destroyed," said Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. "There's no other explanation other than the fact he has received over $1 million in contributions."
Among the 230 contributions the group showed, Jindal received an average of $4,000 beginning in 2003, according to campaign filings with the state Board of Ethics. Helis Oil and Gas contributed $25,000 alone.
What the group didn't show: based on filings with the Federal Election Commission, in his 2004 campaign for Louisiana's first congressional district seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Jindal received thousands of dollars from oil and gas companies, including $16,000 from Magnum Producing and $13,000 from Oil & Gas Rental Services Inc. His contributions from oil and gas in his tenure total $251,000. (Oil and gas comes in second only to the health industry, which contributed $324,794 to his campaigns.)
It’s more than a tad ironic that Gov. Bobby Jindal penned a syrupy paean to New Orleans last week — hailing us as “America’s Comeback City” — when he’s doing everything he can to make sure that New Orleans will be surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico by the end of this century.
Jindal is moving heaven and earth, politically, to derail the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East’s (SLFPA-E) lawsuit against energy companies for their role in accelerating coastal land loss. If he succeeds, New Orleans will more aptly be dubbed “America’s Washed Away City.”
No one should be surprised by Jindal’s duplicity. He has never let irony, or truth, or even a fundamental sense of right and wrong stand in the way of his ambition. And right now his ambition tells him to do whatever he can to ingratiate himself to the energy companies that he hopes will help bankroll his future political moves.
In late July, SLFPA-E sued 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies that have carved up Louisiana’s coast for the past eight decades, seeking to make them pay their fair share of the costs of repairing the marshes and protecting southeast Louisiana against the increased risks of flooding. Ever since, Jindal and his wetlands czar Garret Graves have been trying to put the kibosh on the lawsuit.
They tried to intimidate commissioners, who voted unanimously to file the lawsuit, into changing their minds. That didn’t work. Jindal now hopes to replace commissioners whose terms have expired, particularly historian John Barry, who has been outspoken in favor of the litigation. Barry, who wrote Rising Tide, is one of the nation’s leading authorities on flood control policy.
Garret Graves, who chairs the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and advises Gov. Bobby Jindal on coastal issues, took to Twitter in recent days to continue his boss’s campaign to scuttle the lawsuit filed against oil and gas companies by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E). The flood authority sued 97 energy companies, seeking damages and reparations for decades of coastal land loss. Jindal and Graves were the first to take up Big Oil’s case.
Graves, tweeting as @garretgraves, blasted the flood authority’s lead counsel in the lawsuit, local environmental lawyer Glad Jones, on July 23. “For atty Gladstone Jones to say the Corps’ funding of Katrina levee repairs absolves them of coastal loss liability is ignorant,” Graves tweeted.
Later that same day, he took another shot at Jones: “Gladstone Jones is so out of his league. Has no business litigating coastal issues with such irresponsible statements.”
Actually, Jones is one of the most successful environmental lawyers in the state. He previously won the state’s largest coastal loss case, collecting more than $100 million in damages from Exxon and Noble Energy on behalf of client Bill Dore, who was oilman of the year on several occasions while serving as the founder and largest shareholder of Global Industries, a publically held oil service company located in Sulphur, La.
Jones also successfully sued Exxon on behalf of residents of the tiny town of Grand Bois in the 1990s. Since then, he has litigated environmental cases across the country. Jones’ other environmental clients include former Gov. Mike Foster, who is no friend of trial lawyers. Foster filed a legacy lawsuit for damage to his property in St. Mary Parish.
God's speed, Rodrigue
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