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
“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.”