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Jindal Signs Bill to Kill Big Oil Suit
Gov. Bobby Jindal's concerns about a bill that would kill a New Orleans levee board's lawsuit against Big Oil didn't last into the weekend. Going against the objections from the state Attorney General and other legal experts, the gov signed SB 469 into law Friday. Jindal's ink paves the way to end the South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East's unprecedented lawsuit, which the governor called "frivolous."
“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 statement issued Friday afternoon.
The massive lawsuit is seeking payments from 97 oil and gas companies for decades of environmental damages caused by industry drilling and infrastructure construction. The Authority says it needs money to fund operations.
In Baton Rouge this spring, a group of state legislators led an effort to kill the lawsuit in the legislature. The final bill, authored by Sen. Bret Allain, excludes local levee authorities from bringing legal claims under the Coastal Zone Management Act. As a result of the bill, only parishes and the state can bring legal action. Both the state House of Representatives and Senate passed the bill last week.
Having passed the legislature last week, Jindal appeared set to sign the bill Monday. But during a signing ceremony, the gov announced that he wanted to give Attorney General Buddy Caldwell more time to study the bill out of an "abundance of caution" over the bill's potential to interfere with the rights of people to bring legal claims against BP for Deepwater Horizon oil disaster damages.
Caldwell advised the governor to veto the bill, saying the language was "vaguely broad" in the way that it limited entities from bringing legal action.
"In the coming year, perhaps the proponents of the bill can tailor legislation more narrowly drawn which does not portend such a vague and broad attack on the abilities of the state and, most importantly, local government entities, to protect their citizens," Caldwell wrote.
Meanwhile, Loyola University law professor sent a memorandum to Jindal urging a veto of the bill, which also criticized the bill's sweeping and vague language. As of Friday morning, 88 legal experts signed onto the memorandum, according to Verchick.
Jindal's lawyers swiftly announced that they disagreed with Caldwell's assessment, leading to the governor's signature Friday. In a memo issued by the governor Friday, Jindal Executive Counsel Thomas Enright wrote that the bill does not affect Deepwater Horizon claims because the explosion and oil disaster occurred offshore rather than in the Coastal Zone. He then lays out reasons that the bill does not affect state or parish legal claims.
Jindal's signature brought a swift rebuke from the Gulf Restoration Network.
"Not only has (Jindal) refused to ask the oil and gas industry to live up to their legal obligations, or contribute to coastal restoration in any meaningful way, he has actively blocked others from simply enforcing the law," said GRN Campaign Director Steve Murchie.
Meanwhile, the oil industry celebrated. In a statement released by the governor's office, Louisiana Oil and Gas Association president Don Briggs called the end of the lawsuit a "huge victory" for the industry.
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