BATON ROUGE—Gov. John Bel Edwards’ attempt during a May meeting to push gas and oil companies to pay for coastline restoration, with no proof of permit violations, is getting pushback from those being pushed.
Chris John, president of Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association (LMOGA), and Don Briggs, president of Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA), recently sent a letter to the governor refusing his attempts to negotiate a settlement. The letter questions the governor’s motives in circumventing the state’s own regulatory process that’s in place to “identify and establish any violations of Coastal Use Permits.”
Briggs and John also addressed the governor’s focus on holding the oil and gas industries financially responsible with no intention of inviting other stakeholders to the discussion. The letter states, “The messages in today’s meeting were discouraging and disappointing,” and goes on to say that Louisiana’s current legal climate threatens jobs at a time when the state cannot afford an economic setback.
“Sue and ask questions later is the M.O. of our state,” Briggs told the Louisiana Record.
The governor’s actions are at odds with a statement made by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Executive Counsel Blake Canfield. During questioning by state Rep. Pat Connick in 2014, Canfield said, “We do not have any evidence of the coastal permits having been violated or haven’t been addressed.”
Despite his video-recorded testimony, Canfield signed a motion to intervene in the lawsuits for Cameron, Plaquemines and Jefferson parishes.
These developments are causing consternation and frustration with oil and gas company officials.
“The governor and his staff have made it clear from day one that a settlement was their desire,” Briggs said. “The justification in his eyes is that he has a group of attorneys that have experience with suing hundreds of our companies, and this is the easiest route to a large sum of money for the state and the coast.”
Muddying the waters is the fact that John Carmouche, a trial attorney who files approximately 50 percent of the legacy lawsuits in Louisiana, gave $1.1 million to Edwards’ gubernatorial campaign. The donation was made via the Louisiana Water Coalition PAC, which registers Carmouche as its only donor, to defeat David Vittner in his bid for governor. A settlement with the oil and gas companies will financially benefit Carmouche and his clients as well as the state.
The election of Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Jeff Hughes also received Carmouche’s support. He raised $750,000 from a handful of trial lawyers and donated it to Citizens for Clean Water and Land PAC, which he also controls. The PAC spent more than $500,000 on Hughes’ campaign.
Carmouche is a serious player in Louisiana politics. No one knows that better than Melissa Landry, executive director of legal watchdog group Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch.
“He has significant resources and he has demonstrated that he will do whatever it takes to protect and advance his pro-lawsuit agenda," Landry told the Louisiana Record.
The oil and gas associations appear to be equally dedicated to their own agenda.
“We stand by what Blake Canfield said, that DNR has no evidence of coastal permits being violated," LMOGA President Chris John told the Louisiana Record. "Nothing has changed other than the politics involved.”