BATON ROUGE — Gov. John Bel Edward's appointment of a former attorney general -- rather than a scientist -- as a Louisiana commissioner of conservation is unprecedented in the state, Melissa Landry, executive director of the Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, said recently.
Richard Ieyoub, the state’s attorney general from 1992 to 2004, was named as the new commissioner of conservation on Jan. 29.
Ieyoub, and his new office, are charged with conserving and regulating oil and gas resources in Louisiana, a key position in the state. He replaces James Welsh, who is a geologist, Landry said.
“The one thing I will say is I think it is certainly noteworthy that the governor appointed a lawyer, a trial lawyer, to this position rather than a scientist,” Landry said. “Traditionally that position has been held by individuals who have a scientific background and particular expertise in those fields."
The Office of Conservation has statutory responsibility to regulate the exploration and production of oil, gas, and other hydrocarbons and lignite.
It also controls and allocates energy supplies and distribution, and is charged with protecting public safety and the environment from oilfield waste. It is part of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.
"There is no question that the position of commissioner is critical to the development and regulations of natural resources in the state," Landry said. "It is of paramount importance.”
Baton Rouge-based political analyst Jeremy Alford, in a Web post on the appointment, described the position as the most critical for the business and energy lobbies.
Alford said Ieyoub remains very popular in Democratic circles and has strong ties to Louisiana’s legal community.
“His appointment is being cheered by environmental advocates, but it’s also being met with concern by industry,” Alford said.
Alford also said Ieyoub is labeled by some in the state as the father of the modern contingency-fee contract.
In 1996, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that it was illegal for then-Attorney General Richard Ieyoub to pay contingency fees to outside lawyers.
Ieyoub had contracts with 14 law firms to investigate polluters in the state, offering 25 percent of whatever court damages came from their work.
The Louisiana Independent Oil and Gas Association and other parties filed suit to revoke those contracts. The court ruling left room, however, for the legislature to weigh in on contingency-fee contracts.
Ieyoub was elected three times to the position of attorney general. He lost two bids for a higher office, finishing third in a primary race for the U.S. Senate and third in the 2003 gubernatorial race for governor.
After leaving the attorney general’s office, Ieyoub worked for Baton Rouge-based law firm, Couhig Partners.
He is a 2016 inductee in to the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame.