3 Former Louisiana Governors Agree: Lawsuit Against 97 Oil And Gas Companies Should Proceed

A cypress tree waits to take root in new land created by Mississippi River Diversion in West Bay near Venice, La., in 2011. CREDIT: AP/SEAN GARDNER
A cypress tree waits to take root in new land created by Mississippi River Diversion in West Bay near Venice, La., in 2011. CREDIT: AP/SEAN GARDNER

Louisiana has given a lot to oil and gas companies, mostly in the form of natural resources. The generosity is not always reciprocated. While the industry brings economic gains and employment to the state, when it comes to environmental costs or socioeconomic strife the exchange is not so smooth. Last summer, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East took matters into their own hands by filing a lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies claiming they have caused the loss of hundreds of thousands of acres of coastal wetlands, which increases flood danger. The suit asks the companies to restore damaged wetlands or offer financial compensation for areas beyond repair, money that could be used for levee maintenance or construction.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was quick to brush off the legitimacy of the claims, demanding that the lawsuit be pulled and asserting that the board is improperly taking over the state’s role in coastal policy. The oil and gas companies — the perpetrators of all the digging and dredging of pipeline canals along the coast among other damaging activities — have sided with Jindal, who has already appointed three replacements to the board who see more eye-to-eye with him and share his opposition to the lawsuit after others terms ended.

On Wednesday, three former Louisiana governors took opposition to Jindal and the oil and gas industry. During a panel discussion at Loyola University, Buddy Roemer, Kathleen Blanco, and Edwin Edwards agreed that “no state officials — neither the legislature nor the current governor — should interfere with the local levee board’s lawsuit against oil companies,” according to UptownMessenger.com, a local New Orleans news source.

“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,” said Roemer, a Republican who ran for president in 2012. Roemer also stated that the industry is simply trying to maximize their profits by shirking the responsibility of repairing the coastline.

Edwards and Blanco focused more on the lawsuit itself, with Edwards saying that at the very least it ought to be allowed to go to court to find out who is responsible and for what. Blanco agreed, citing the loss of land due to channel digging, and saying that she helped design the independent levee board to be free of politics. “I’m rather concerned that it is going to be re-politicized,” she added.

The editorial board of the New Orleans Times-Picayune calls the levee boards one of the most positive changes to the area after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “Residents demanded that the old crony-laden boards be consolidated and that board members have autonomy and the technical expertise to hold the Army Corps of Engineers accountable for its work,” wrote the board in February. “The new flood protection authorities are vastly better watchdogs than the old boards.”

The column was written in protest of State Sen. Robert Adley’s bill that would let the governor reject nominations to the board until he finds someone he likes, rather than appoint a nominee from the board’s original submissions. Gov. Jindal requested the bill be filed.

Ninety-four percent of New Orleans voters approved the constitutional amendment creating the new levee authorities in October 2006. According to the Times-Picayune, “it would be a betrayal of them to insert politics back into the process.”