BATON ROUGE — Following a court ruling that allowed a wetlands damage lawsuit filed by Jefferson Parish to go to trial, the battle between Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry rages on.
In a reversal of his decision made in August this year, Judge Stephen Enright Jr. of the 24th Judicial District Court gave the green light for Jefferson Parish to move forward with its complaint against nine oil and gas companies. According to the decision, the attempts of the parish and Louisiana to simply demand compliance to permit provisions would not be sufficient to curb and resolve the damages caused by the companies.
The result of this trial is anticipated to set a precedent to the other parishes across the state. In addition, the cost of the hearings and investigation are expected to reach a huge number. However, the parishes' victory could result in billions of dollars for the coastal restoration program in Louisiana courtesy of the oil and gas companies named in the lawsuit.
For their part, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA) and the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association (LMOGA) stated that the reversal of the earlier decision was the result of Edwards’ tactics to squeeze more funds to add to the state's budget. In particular, the organizations questioned the claims made by officials regarding the shortage of financial support and staff to implement the programs intended for affected Louisiana coastal areas.
"Judge Enright's reversal is based entirely on assertions made by Gov. Edwards and DNR officials that the state doesn't have the staff, the funding or the capability to address permit violations alleged in the coastal lawsuits," LOGA and LMOGA said in a joint statement via the Times-Picayune. "Governor Edwards' and DNR's claim that they are incapable of addressing the alleged violations through the state's well-established administrative enforcement process is absurd. DNR manages an annual budget of $69 million and employs hundreds of scientists and inspectors."
Prior to this ruling, Edwards had gone head to head against the attorney general. According to Landry, the decision of the governor to pursue multiple lawsuits to achieve the same result was a waste of time and money not only for the government but also the people. Landry also accused Edwards of seeking this opportunity to benefit his connections in the legal profession.
"The only thing additional lawsuits do is raise the cost of litigation, keeping the legal meter running unnecessarily," shared Landry in a written statement published in a separate Times-Picayune report. "I believe our citizens will demand that we find a way to balance the tremendous benefits of the oil and gas industry with a solution to our coastal crisis, and the attorney general, who has strong ties to oil and gas companies and has taken significant political contributions from them over the years.”
While Enright's decision to grant a new trial for the parish could not be submitted for appeal, the office of the attorney general aims to look into other procedural matters before the actual hearing. With this in mind, Landry and his staff insist that the necessity pushed by Edwards for more filings from other parishes is unfounded.
“Which is why we have stated that there is no need for the further filing of lawsuits in other jurisdictions until all of these preliminary issues have been resolved,” said Landry’s spokesperson, Ruth Wisher, via WWLTV.