Don Briggs, President of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association
BATON ROUGE – A compromise legacy lawsuit reform bill is headed to the Senate floor only a day after an agreement was reached between landowners and oil producers.
SB555, sponsored by Sen. Robert Adley, R–Benton, is being expedited through the lawmaking process after Governor Bobby Jindal's office came out in support of the compromise last night.
SB555 would allow for the Department of Natural Resources to create environmental remediation plans for lands polluted by past oil drilling activities.
Additional oversight and commentary on clean-up plans would be provided by the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality and the Commissioner of Agriculture. The clean up plans and comments would then be entered as evidence into court proceedings.
A statement released by the governor's office last night said in addition to laying out an environmental remediation plan the bill will accelerate clean-up by allowing a party to admit responsibility for environmental damage without having to admit liability for private damages, guarantee transparency by disallowing communication between the developers of the plan and interested parties and ensures that any party admitting responsibility will waive the right to enforce contractual rights to indemnification for punitive damages caused by the responsible party's acts or omission.
Don Briggs, President of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, said the bill treats the major problem with legacy lawsuits and will likely keep damages awarded in those cases in line with the actual cost to clean up polluted lands.
"At least this way they'll have a plan, say the plan is $500,000, to clean it up," he said. "So when they go to court that is admissible to the court. That's very important. That's the biggest problem we had. We wanted the plan to be admissible to the jury.
"Why are they going to be asking for $500 million or $50 million or $25 million in private claims when you only have a $500,000 cleanup?"
Briggs said the bill is headed in the right direction, but still has a few hurdles to clear before becoming law.
"We are certainly pleased to see the administration working with us," Briggs said.
"We still have nine steps to go through the legislative process to make all of this work and get to the governor's desk. So we just want to remain very diligent in our efforts to move forward and pass this legislation. It's not over until it is signed by the governor."