Although former Govs. Buddy Roemer, Kathleen Blanco and Edwin Edwards have many political differences, all three agree that state officials — particularly the Legislature and the current governor — should not interfere with the local levee board's lawsuit against oil, gas and pipeline companies.
Last year, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) filed a lawsuit seeking to hold 97 energy companies responsible for decades of operations exacerbating coastal erosion that exposes inland residents to higher flood risks. The lawsuit quickly became a political issue, with Gov. Bobby Jindal first accusing the levee board of overstepping its authority, then removing some of its key members. Some state lawmakers are trying to change the laws — retroactively — that allowed the filing of the lawsuit.
On March 26, Roemer, Blanco and Edwards took the stage at Loyola University for a wide-ranging panel discussion on a number of issues, but a question from moderator Lee Zurik about the levee-board lawsuit drew emphatic support from all three. For Roemer, a Republican who ran for president in 2012 on a platform based largely on freeing politics from the influence of corporate money, support for the levee board was natural. The damage to the coastline from the oil and gas industry is plainly visible, Roemer said, and the oil companies are simply trying to maximize their profits by shirking the responsibility of repairing it.
"This ought to be a for-profit state, but those who abuse the privilege and don't pay for damaging the land and water and the air that we breathe ought to pay the cost of it," Roemer said.
Edwards traced the damage back decades to Gov. Huey Long in the 1920s and 1930s, and said the companies began moving offshore in the 1980s. "At the very least, we ought to go to court and find out who is responsible and to what extent," Edwards said.
Blanco agreed with both men that "the channels that were dug and not restored have contributed mightily to our land losses." But she also took exception with the political interference in the levee board itself by the Jindal administration's use of opposition to the lawsuit as a "litmus test" for approving board members. "I'm very proud to say that I created the independent levee board ... and designed it to be free from politics," Blanco said. "I'm rather concerned that it is going to be re-politicized."
If the lawsuit does survive, it is unlikely to be heard in court, Blanco said. Instead, she predicted that it would lead to a settlement that will still be a major benefit to the state.
The forum also aired the former governors' views on Blanco's handling of Hurricane Katrina (Roemer and Edwards rose to her defense), on the Affordable Care Act, on public education, on the Louisiana economy, and on upcoming political races. Judging by the audience's reactions, Edwards' legendary wit was one of the primary attractions.
Many of his laugh lines of the night came at the expense of Jindal. At one point, Edwards opined, "He's a strange person. He doesn't hunt. He doesn't gamble. He doesn't eat crawfish." The veracity of Edwards' crawfish allegation could not be immediately confirmed, though the governor's website does offer a recipe for "Grandma Jindal's Crawfish Pie."