In July 2013, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed a lawsuit against more than 80 oil, natural gas, and pipeline companies for damage to the state’s wetlands and coastline, the Times-Picayune reported.
The lawsuit called for the court to require companies including BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and Koch Industries, to begin immediately repairing the damage from their operations and provide compensation for past damage.
“We are looking to the industry to fix part of the problem that they’ve created,” said then-levee authority Vice President John Barry. “We’re not asking them to fix everything. We only want them to address the part of the problem that they created.”
A 1996 US Geological Survey and Gas Research Institute study found that nearly 40 percent of southeastern Louisiana’s wetland loss from 1932 to 1990 was cased both directly and indirectly by the oil and gas industries. That percentage has only continued to increase according to newer studies.
Despite the damage it has done to his state — and the billions of dollars repairs will cost, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is a Republican, and therefore has to appease and protect the fossil fuel industry in every situation.
In less than 12 months, legislation that would void the authority’s lawsuit made it through both houses of Louisiana’s GOP-controlled Congress and was signed by Jindal, despite opposition from local city and parish governments, legal experts, and state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.
The bill’s critics, aside from wanting to hold oil and gas companies accountable for their actions, feared that the law would have unexpected and unintended consequences on litigation involving the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon explosion. Naturally, Jindal’s camp denied this and said the law would simply “stop frivolous lawsuits and create a more fair and predictable legal environment.”
By October 2014, however, a state judge ruled that the law, Act 544, didn’t actually prevent the levee authority from filing its lawsuit.
According to the Picayune:
Attorneys for the levee authority argued that Act 544 doesn’t apply because it uses the language “state or local governmental agency” in describing who is prohibited from filing wetland damage lawsuits. Attorney Lori Mince said the levee authority is neither a state agency nor a local governmental agency under the definitions for both contained in state law and in the state Constitution.
Judge Janice Clark agreed with the levee authority and ruled the law did not apply. She had previously ruled in March that “the authority is an independent political subdivision,” and therefore allowed to bring the suit against the oil and gas companies.
Gov. Jindal was obviously not pleased with Clark’s decision. While repeatedly calling it “frivolous,” Jindal’s office said they would appeal any ruling that allowed the authority’s lawsuit to go forward.
Judge Clark also ruled later that Act 544 was unconstitutional:
“With respect to Act 544, this court finds that it is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of power under Article II, Section 2 of the Louisiana Constitution because it seeks retroactively to advocate this court’s previous determination of (the levee authority’s) unambiguous status as an independent political subdivision and treads upon the duty of the judiciary to interpret the law … The court also finds that the public trust doctrine under … Article IX, Section 1 pursuant to which the state may not take away claims from governmental entities that enable them to redress issues with coastal restoration particularly insofar as those related to hurricane protection.”
Of course, Jindal – and, by extension, the fossil fuel industry – didn’t accept the ruling and filed papers challenging it with the state Supreme Court in January of this year. The case is currently pending with the Court.
“We are pleased that the ruling has been appealed and the constitutionality of the statue is being defended,” said the governor’s office.
Lead attorney for the levee authority Gladstone Jones, however, is confident that the Supreme Court will also find Act 544 “inapplicable and an unconstitutional overreach.”
“This entire effort to derail this lawsuit and making oil companies fix what they broke is driven by the governor’s frivolous presidential aspirations to please his potential donors – the oil industry,” said Jones.
Because of the oil and natural gas industry’s role in Louisiana’s economy — and the millions of dollars in donations it gives to the GOP, the state’s politicians are often hesitant to speak out against it. Gov. Jindal’s actions, however, go above and beyond simply keeping criticisms to himself. He has put the wants and needs of fossil fuel corporations over those of his constituents.
Jindal is not only allowing these companies to destroy his state with rigs and drills and pipelines; he is determined to pass along the cost of fixing their destruction to the taxpayers.