Landowner-backed legacy lawsuit reform clears Senate committee

Kyle Barnett Apr. 26, 2012, 12:35pm

Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin

NEW ORLEANS – Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, passed a bill through the Senate Natural Resources Committee that opponents are saying would benefit the landowner's side of the legacy lawsuit issue.

Proponents claim SB731 would allow landowners the right to challenge, at both discovery and trial, environmental remediation plans approved by the state.

The bill would also leave intact rights of landowners to pursue all damages against energy companies they claim polluted their land during energy extraction, even if those damages do not relate to a pollution cleanup effort.

Proponents claim the bill was also amended to benefit small energy contractors who bought mineral rights to lands from those who polluted them and have found themselves caught up in legacy cases.

Opponents said the bill is meant to slow down remediation efforts and tie up litigation in a "bureaucratic quagmire" that would see cleanup plans needing approval from up to seven agencies before being applied.

Some senators are staying neutral on the issue, as is the official position of Governor Bobby Jindal.

Sen. Gary Smith, D–Norco, said after industry-backed HB618 passed the House yesterday he was still uncertain of where his support might land.

"It is an important issue for both sides and something we've discussed over the years," Smith said. "We've all hoped that they would come to a resolution. We'll wait to see what amendments get put on that, and we'll evaluate from there."

Chairing the Senate Natural Resources Committee was Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, who has sponsored his own legislation that energy producers claim is meant to benefit landowners.

Long has been connected to Jimmy Faircloth, Jindal's former executive counsel, who is now representing Roy O. Martin, one of the state's largest landowners.

Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, said the fact that SB731 made its way through committee only a day after an energy industry-backed bill passed through the House was no coincidence.

"If the goal is to prolong the process of developing a remediation plan as long as possible, for the purpose of dragging out litigation and forcing settlements to extract as much money from defendants as possible -- which is the situation we already have in Louisiana today -- it seems this Senate bill will certainly ensure that the legacy abuse will continue," Landry said. "If the goal is to expedite the process and get our land cleaned up more quickly -- it is clear, the Senate bill is not the solution."

More News