Were this rate of land loss applied to New York, Central Park would disappear in a month. Manhattan would vanish within a year and a half. The last of Brooklyn would dissolve four years later. New Yorkers would notice this kind of land loss. The world would notice this kind of land loss. But the hemorrhaging of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands has gone largely unremarked upon beyond state borders.Following the suit, Barry was not nominated for another term on the board, and Gov. Bobby Jindal led legislation to kill the lawsuit. Jindal declined comment on the New York Times story. Barry — as Clancy DuBos had predicted — spoke freely with Rich about the genesis of the lawsuit during his time on the board and Jindal's plan to ensure the lawsuit's (and Barry's) failure:
During [the 2014 Louisiana Legislative session], about 70 lobbyists from the oil and gas industry were in the legislative chambers. They worked in concert with the governor’s staff to secure support for a bill that would void the lawsuit. “They turned on the fire hose,” one veteran energy lobbyist said. “It was the best organized effort I have ever seen,” another said.Rich also asked state Sen. Robert Adley, a longtime oil and gas employee who opposed the lawsuit, whether his position was a conflict of interest, and Adley put that on his voters: "They know what industry I’m in. They choose to send me there." He later added that the lawsuit and Barry's fight are merely for Barry's upcoming book.
When Louisiana voters overwhelmingly supported a 2006 constitutional amendment intended to depoliticize area levee boards, they had in mind something very different than what’s been going on lately with the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) nominating process.
Under the old regime, area state senators nominated their political pals for levee board seats, and board members did not have to meet any professional standards. The 2006 amendment regionalized levee boards in southeast Louisiana and required most board members to have specific professional qualifications.
Prospective board members also must be vetted now by a “blue ribbon” nominating committee of business, civic, academic and professional leaders. Nominating committee members are presumed to be above politics.
Apparently they were only kidding about that part.
Ever since SLFPA-E members voted unanimously in July 2013 to sue 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies for destroying coastal wetlands and increasing the risk of flooding, the so-called “independent” nominating committee has been steeped in politics, conflicts of interest and official arrogance. Plus ça change.
The politicization started right after the suit was filed. Gov. Bobby Jindal vowed to kill the suit by any means necessary. He supported a half-baked state law designed to retroactively kill the lawsuit, but that law was so hastily written that it may not accomplish its stated purpose. The federal judge who is hearing the SLFPA-E lawsuit has been asked to rule on the law’s constitutionality and applicability.
Jindal also has pressured the nominating committee, which was created to remove politics from the nominating process, into sending him nominees who promise to withdraw the lawsuit as soon as possible. Until the committee's latest meeting on Sept. 18, the committee obliged Jindal at every turn.
This afternoon, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law Senate Bill 469, which will kill the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East's (SLFPA-E) lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies for for their role in coastal damage.
Earlier this week, attorney general Buddy Caldwell asked Jindal to veto the measure. Yesterday, New Orleans City Council also sent a letter to Jindal asking for a veto.)
In a statement, Jindal said, "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. It further improves Louisiana’s legal environment by reducing unnecessary claims that burden businesses so that we can bring even more jobs to our state. The bill will also send future recovered dollars from CZMA litigation to coastal projects, allowing us to ensure Louisiana coastal lands are preserved and that our communities are protected.”
NOTE: This post, originally titled "The Dirty Dozen," has been updated to include the names of ALL area lawmakers who voted for Senate Bill 469, which is designed to kill the regional flood authority's environmental lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies. In this update report, I include all metro area lawmakers, not just those whose districts lie in the geographic boundaries of the flood protection authority.
LATER UPDATE: After playing phone tag for more than a day, state Sen. JP Morrell and I spoke and he explained that he was always AGAINST SB 469. He voted against it the first time it was considered by the full Senate. When it returned from the House for concurrence in the House amendment, Morrell said, he was not in the Senate Chamber. However, someone voted his machine in his absence, casting a vote FOR the bill. "I went to the mic to speak against the bill when it came up the first time," Morrell said. "Had I been in the Senate when it came back, I would have voted against it again." It is not unusual for lawmakers' machines to be "voted" for them in their absence, and occasionally it leads to mistaken votes such as Morrell's on SB 469. The story below has been revised to account for Morrell's explanation of his second vote.
Twenty-one state lawmakers from flood-prone southeast Louisiana parishes (Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, St. Charles, St. John, Tangipahoa and St. Tammany) voted for a bill to retroactively kill a lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies. Voters in those areas overwhelmingly oppose legislative attempts to kill the lawsuit, which means those local lawmakers put the interests of Big Oil ahead of their constituents’ interests.
Eighteen area legislators voted against the bill to kill the lawsuit, and four area House members were absent for the final vote. Being absent for a floor vote is equivalent to voting "no" because bills require 20 "yes" votes in the Senate and 53 "yes" votes in the House regardless of how many lawmakers are present.
Worst of all, the area lawmakers who voted for the bill more than made the difference in its passage in both the Senate and the House. Seven area state senators voted for the bill, which passed by a margin 25-11. In the House, 15 area representatives voted for the bill, which passed by a margin of 59-39.
The current geographic boundaries of SLFPA-E's jurisdiction include the East Bank of Orleans and Jefferson parishes, plus St. Bernard, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa. Lawmakers recently passed, and Gov. Bobby Jindal signed, a bill creating a separate St. Tammany Levee District outside the jurisdiction of SLFPA-E, but hurricanes and storm surges don't respect political boundaries or acts of the Louisiana Legislature.
The SLFPA-E lawsuit seeks to hold the named energy defendants responsible for their share of damages to coastal wetlands. Contrary to the meme put forth by Big Oil and its political lackeys (Gov. Jindal chief among them), the suit was never intended to make the energy industry solely accountable for coastal land loss. From Day One, supporters of the lawsuit and attorneys for SLFPA-E stated that several factors contributed to coastal erosion. The lawsuit was simply aimed at getting the energy industry to pay its fair share.
Thanks to a slick procedural maneuver in the state Senate — and support from some local lawmakers — that lawsuit now appears doomed, unless a constitutional challenge can restore some sense of fairness and equity to Louisiana’s judicial system. The maneuver was a bait-and-switch that allowed the original version of Senate Bill 469, by Sen. Robert Adley, a Republican from the north Louisiana town of Benton, to be gutted in a Senate committee and reconstituted as a bill to kill the lawsuit. Adley, who is an oil-and-gas businessman, ranks among the leading opponents of the floor authority lawsuit.
The showdown between Big Oil and those who seek to defend the constitutional right of citizens and their leaders hold miscreants accountable is coming next week in the state Capitol. It’s a true David-versus-Goliath story.
David in this case is the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E), which sued 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies last July. The lawsuit aims to make the energy companies pay their fair share — and only their fair share — of the costs of coastal land loss caused by oil and gas activity in southeast Louisiana.
Promoters of the lawsuit consistently acknowledge that the energy industry is not the sole source of coastal erosion — just as industry’s own experts have long admitted that digging of thousands of miles of canals has contributed to the problem.
State and federal permits require energy companies to restore the marsh as much as possible. The companies sought those permits and agreed to those terms. That makes them a contract, enforceable at law.
This being Louisiana, and our political leaders being reluctant to offend those who fund their campaigns, those contracts were never really enforced. The old joke that the flag of Texaco flies over the state Capitol was never really a joke, either.
Last summer, someone finally mustered the courage to challenge Big Oil. The SLFPA-E lawsuit was the first stone in David’s sling. Judging by the intensity of the industry’s response — and the rush by some politicians to rally behind Big Oil — that stone clearly hit the mark.
No one has licked Goliath’s boots more eagerly than Gov. Bobby Jindal, but he’s hardly alone. Lawmakers are considering a half-dozen bills to scuttle the lawsuit. The measures range from gutting the independence of the SLFPA-E itself to retroactively de-authorizing the suit.
In the ongoing political battle over whether to allow the local levee board to sue oil and gas companies for accelerating wetland loss and increasing the risk of flooding in southeast Louisiana, one of the energy industry’s favorite memes is that the lawsuit will chase jobs out of our state.
Such a statement is preposterous on its face. So much so that even the president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA), who is among the loudest proponents of Big Oil’s Big Lie, was utterly unable, when questioned under oath, to cite a single oil well that shut down or did not get drilled, or a single energy company that moved away or refused to drill in Louisiana, because of environmental lawsuits. Not one.
The reason, of course, is simple: this is where the oil is. The energy industry has to be here to take the oil and gas out of the ground or from beneath our waters.
But the Big Lie persists, because the energy industry’s political toadies, like Gov. Bobby Jindal and some lawmakers, know that if they keep saying it over and over some folks will believe it.
As people learn the facts, however, the Big Lie loses its impact.
Last week, the lie was dealt another blow. Dr. Tim Ryan, former UNO chancellor and an economist with decades of expertise in the field of economic analysis, released a study showing that the total economic impact of implementing the Master Plan for restoring Louisiana’s coast would be somewhere between $12.5 billion and $24.3 billion a year for 50 years.
Walter Williams, the New Orleans-born creator of Saturday Night Live's "Mr. Bill" and a tireless advocate for restoring coastal Louisiana, has created another Mr. Bill episode — this one focusing on the effort to stop lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal from killing the levee board lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies.
Williams, who also served as the king of Krewe du Vieux in 2006, emailed the 30-second video to friends with the tagline, "Governor Jindal Squashes Mr. Bill." The vimeo opens with Mr. Bill going to the Louisiana Legislature with a sign reading "Fix the Coast" and, well, he meets his usual fate.
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