Battle over legacy lawsuit reform continues this week; Contrasting bills to be introduced for debate in Senate

Kyle Barnett Apr. 30, 2012, 11:28am

BATON ROUGE – A battle pitting oil producers against landowners in the reform of high dollar environmental lawsuits linked to a stifling of energy exploration will continue in the Senate this week.

HB618, sponsored by Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, overwhelmingly passed the House last week.

The proposal has been praised by the energy industry as a solution to costly litigation it contends is weakening the industry. The legislation would provide a sequence for cleanup plans that would be introduced as evidence into court proceedings.

On the other side of the debate, a landowner-supported bill that provides damages above remediation costs passed the Senate Natural Resources Committee last week.

SB731, sponsored by Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, 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. SB731 is also expected to be introduced in the Senate sometime this week.

The competing interests for each type of reform have resulted in a strain on elected officials.

Most notably, U.S. Senator David Vitter has called out Governor Bobby Jindal for acquiescing to the desires of trial attorneys and landowners by staying neutral in the debate.

Jindal's hesitance to get involved is thought to be pursuant to his relationship with Jimmy Faircloth, his former executive counsel, who now represents one of the state's largest landowners.

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