Numerous 'legacy lawsuit' reform bills expected to be introduced in House this week

Kyle Barnett Apr. 16, 2012, 5:21am


BATON ROUGE - Legacy lawsuit reform is expected to be hotly discussed this week in committee meetings throughout the capital.

Legacy lawsuits are ones filed by landowners who claim past drilling activities polluted their land.

The energy industry claims the lawsuits retard economic development resulting in billions of dollars lost by the state, while some landowners claim oil companies are trying to get away with past pollution.

Lawmakers are pushing several bills that would change the way the courts handle these large environmental suits.

A compromise bill was talked about earlier in the session, but negotiation talks between the energy industry and landowners are reported to have broken down last week resulting in a flurry of bills have being slated for re-introduction.

The legacy lawsuit discussion was introduced into the debate again this year largely due to a report released by LSU researcher Dr. David Dismukes who claims the economic loss of the sometimes multi-million dollar settlements was nearly an accumulative seven billion dollars over the past eight years.

Dismukes has been subpoenaed by plaintiffs' attorneys who claim the release of the study was funded by the oil industry and the timing of its release meant to influence forthcoming legislation.

Industry lobbyists are supporting several measures, including those that would limit the liability for energy companies who formerly polluted land. A number of other reforms, opposed by the industry, would provide landowners with an expanded basis to negotiate damages.

Past efforts by the energy industry on the issue have been successful.

In 2006, a law was passed that directed the Department of Natural Resources to handle cleanup at affected sites.

Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, said legislators are likely to "have to make some tough decisions" over which side they take.

The battle over opposing views has already revealed some strain within the GOP.

Last week U.S. Senator David Vitter said Governor Bobby Jindal needs to show more leadership on the issue.

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