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Senate Opposition to Levee Board Lawsuits Gets Makeover
A new bill that would dismantle controversial levee board lawsuits passed a state senate committee Thursday after heated testimony.
The lawsuits, which have been brought against 97 oil and gas companies by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East (SFLPA-E), gained the attention of Senator Robert Adley, R- Benton, who filed numerous bills to dismantle the lawsuits and become the face of legislative opposition to the bills. His previous ownership of a natural gas company and present job as consultant for the industry have raised questions about his ties to the industry, the Lens reported. None of his six bills have successfully been sent to the Governor’s desk after passage.
Governor Jindal, however, has made it clear that he is in favor of legislation to deal with the levee board lawsuits. Jindal sent an executive aid, Stafford Palmieri, as well as his previous executive counsel, Jimmy Faircloth, to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources today to testify.
Adley announced today that he had fused his bill into another by Senator Bret Allain, R- Jeanerette, and surrendered authorship. The amalgamated bill, which was written in part by Jimmy Faircloth, restricts the ability of the SFLPA-E to bring forth lawsuits, citing the Coastal Zone Management Act.
Faircloth told the committee that the levee board’s suits represent “a fringe cause of action,” and said, “In the Coastal Zone Management Act, you don’t need a fringe cause of action. There’s authority for enforcing the Coastal Zone Management Act in the books.”
John Barry, in an email to NoDef, said in response, “If it were a fringe cause of action, then the industry and Jindal wouldn't be so worried about it. I support the parish lawsuits, but the fact is the levee board's lawsuit has much broader scope and is also more likely to be successful in court.”
“For the same reasons,” he said, “it is much more of a threat to the industry.” Barry was removed from the SFLPA-E levee board but testified before the committee with his non-profit, Restore Louisiana Now.
Faircloth's sentiment was echoed by Stafford Palmieri, who said, “This lawsuit is about one levee board that doesn’t want to play in the sandbox with everyone else. And everyone else is holding hands and moving forward on a coordinated effort of coastal restoration, and this lawsuit threatens that work. And for that reason, this levee board does not have the authority under the law to file the lawsuit, and it also threatens our ability to implement the Master Plan.”
Palmieri added, “Since 2008 we’ve spent $1.8 billion in state dollars and $2.5 billion, including federal money, and that’s not including the $50 billion that is laid out in the Master Plan.”
That plan has yet to find funding.
Adley contended that the SFLPA-E has had plenty of funds to fill its coffers. “They’ve secured about seventeen billion dollars of state and federal money that we have spent there…and for 2014, another 540 million.”
Glad Jones, an attorney hired by the SFLPA-E, said that “the money is not there” for the levee board’s operation and maintenance of existing protections. He also said that the authority was given jurisdiction by the post-Katrina amendment that created the board “to sue and be sued.” He asked the senators “Are you prepared to say, ‘We gave you the right to sue anyone but oil companies?’”
Senator Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, in what became a heated exchange, asked Senator Bret Allain, R-Jeanerette, about the oil industry’s connection to his bill. Allain said that he sponsored the bill on behalf of Louisiana landowners. Since some landowners asked oil and gas companies not to fill in dredged canals, he worries that they might also incur liability in the fray of the levee board’s coastal lawsuits.
“Brett Allain is in no way, shape, or form connected with the oil companies,” Allain said.
“So your motivation is to protect a possible future claim of action that has never been done but that might be done?” Amadee asked, in an increasingly heated exchange.
“The cause of action is being asserted right now against the oil companies which are our lessees,” Allain said. “And, against us, if you look at it and if you bring it to fruition.”
Allain said that among others, he was representing the Louisiana Landowners Association with his bill. In response, Amadee said, “When you look at the executive committee and the board of directors… almost all of these people either work for oil companies, they own land companies, (or are) land men, and oil and gas attorneys.”
The bill passed with no objection and now moves to the full senate.
This story was updated at 9 a.m. on 5/2/14 to include comments from John Barry.
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