BATON ROUGE – For the third time in six years a bill that would change the way lands polluted by energy extraction that make the basis of so-called legacy lawsuits are handled has passed the state legislature.
SB 667, sponsored by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton and Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, initially passed the Senate with a 37-0 vote after an amendment was added that would not retroactively apply the changes to about 300 ongoing legacy lawsuit cases. That amendment was stripped in the House, which passed the bill 74-18 and returned it to the Senate for concurrence. After further debate in which some senators questioned the House’s version of the bill including the removal of the protection for ongoing cases, a final vote was taken and the measure passed with a 27-12 vote.
The bill next goes on for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s approval.
Sen. Adley previously said the legislation will act much in the manner that previous laws passed in 2010 and 2012 should have acted before they were overturned.
“By resolving conflicts resulting from judicial decisions in 2010 and 2013, this is a huge step in the process of ensuring land is protected while giving predictability to businesses activity in Louisiana,” he said. “All parties should be congratulated for putting Louisiana first.”
The bill contains several provisions that seek to ensure that lands forming the basis for the lawsuits have proof of actually being contaminated and will allow a responsible party to admit liability for the cleanup and in concert with the Department of Natural Resources develop a plan to remediate the land, rather than the process being left up to those who bring the lawsuits.
The bill also clarifies what “contamination” is comprised of, the types of damages that may be recovered and provide attorneys fees to parties who receive dismissals, such as in cases where lawsuits that are brought without hard evidence of contamination.
Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said the bill will go a long way towards fixing the exploitation of lawsuits.
“Our state’s history on legacy issues has been to sue first, and talk later. That model was flipped on its head today. This legislation will help speed up responsible remediation of property,” he said.