BATON ROUGE – A bill that would undo an historic lawsuit against nearly 100 oil companies for coastal land loss has passed the Louisiana State Senate.
SB553, sponsored by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, would disallow flood protection governmental bodies from hiring attorneys without the approval of the governor. In addition, that restriction would apply retroactively to a lawsuit brought against 97 oil and energy exploration companies by the South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E).
At issue is whether a sub-governmental agency should be allowed to enter into a contingency fee contract without additional oversight from the executive branch. After being delayed by a day, the bill passed the state senate Tuesday in a 23-15 vote. An amendment that would have taken out the retroactive portion of the bill failed 20-17.
Opponents say the bill is aimed at the SLFPA-E which made history last year when it filed a far reaching lawsuit against numerous energy extraction companies over coastal land loss. In the lawsuit attorneys hired by SLFPA-E on a contingency fee basis claim dredging, canal building and other construction projects taken on by the oil and gas industry have resulted in significant coastal erosion in the state equating to about 17 miles of coastal marshland per year that makes communities in the New Orleans area more vulnerable to flooding.
SB553 would require approval for such contracts with outside attorneys, even ones that have already been enacted such as SLFPA-E’s, which is something Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell ruled last year as not being needed.
Following Caldwell’s ruling, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA) filed a lawsuit against Caldwell questioning the legality of his ruling.
LOGA president Don Briggs has continued to be outspoken on the issue.
“The heart of the issue is contingency fees for a handful of private lawyers that could receive a future payday of hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions,” he previously said in an open letter to LOGA’s members.
Meanwhile, environmentalist and coastal protection groups lobbied their members to contact state senators prior to yesterday’s vote.
In an email to their membership, Levees.org asked the membership to call state senators and ask them to vote against the bill.
(Click here to read the text of the bill.)