BATON ROUGE – In a news conference Sept. 21, Gov. John Bel Edwards encouraged all coastal parishes to sue the oil and gas industry for its contributions to the coastal loss, a statement the president of Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA) calls a “shakedown.”
Just a day after Attorney General Jeff Landry refused to approve Gov. Edwards’ illegal contingency-fee contracts with purported campaign supporter and litigator Taylor Townsend, on Sept. 7, the New Orleans area levee authorities decided against reappointing former levee chairman Tim Doody and co-chairman John Barry.
These announcements came a month after the 24th Judicial District of Louisiana ruled in favor of the oil and gas companies in its dismissal of a case filed by Jefferson Parish because it failed to pursue all administrative remedies before filing the lawsuit.
The latest statements by Gov. Edwards added fuel to a fire between the state and the oil and gas industry that has burned for the majority of the year.
“The governor’s actions today declared war on the oil and gas industry," Don Briggs, president of LOGA, told the Louisiana Record. "He is calling for all the parishes in the Gulf Coast to file lawsuits against the industry. That pretty much takes care of any recovery we may have hoped for in the Gulf Coast because the industry is not going to invest into a climate like that.”
Briggs referred to the Jefferson Parish dismissal and said the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has a process in place where it reviews coastal issues and oil and gas permits.
“If the industry violated those permits, because [DNR] regulates them, they should then notify those companies and address it through that plan.
“There is an administrative process they have to go through and they haven’t done that. We haven’t violated any permit and they’re suing us for it,” Briggs said.
The Louisiana coastline has lost approximately 1,900 square miles of coast since the 1930s; it’s one of the state’s most dire problems, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Although the facts provided by the USGS indicate the cause of coastal land loss is a culmination of natural and unnatural factors, Gov. Edwards continues to target the oil and gas industries to pay for nearly 100 years’ of damage in the making.
Several lawsuits filed by four coastal parishes against oil and gas companies in Louisiana claim that canals and pipelines dug by the industry are at least partly responsible for the loss of land.
On Wednesday, Gov. Edwards said in an interview with reporters, “If we are going to ask Congress for more money to restore our coast, I think it's incumbent upon us to do what we can do here locally."
Edwards said during the interview the state will join the four parishes that have already filed suit for compensation from the oil and gas industry. He also encouraged every coastal parish in Louisiana to take legal action against the industry, stating if they don’t, the state will do so on their behalf.
In response to the governor’s news conference, LOGA and Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association (LMOGA) issued a joint statement writing: “The governor’s comments today are an obvious attempt to deflect from the very serious conflict of interest issues that have been raised by the media in recent weeks.”
The two associations said the lawsuits will not protect the coast and are not a funding mechanism for state or local government budgets. They said the litigation diverts critical time and resources away from the industry’s support of Louisiana’s coastal restoration efforts. Louisiana’s oil and natural gas industry is the largest private investor in our state’s coast and LOGA and LMOGA said efforts would be stronger and more effective through collaboration rather than litigation.
The statement says numerous editorials and articles published in Louisiana have called on Gov. Edwards to “make good on his ethics pledge and stop the system of good ol’ boy government” that it believes seems to be flourishing under his administration.
“Rather than working to address these issues, it seems the governor is doubling down on this flawed attempt to hire private lawyers to attack Louisiana’s energy industry. That’s alarming, particularly given that the first two lawsuits to proceed to major decisions have been dismissed by federal and state courts,” the statement reads.
LOGA and LMOGA said in the statement that the administration already has every tool it needs to protect the coast through its pre-established processes, “But issuing fines and penalties for alleged violations, as the department is required to do by state law, doesn’t produce billions in legal fees.”
“This is a shakedown in the largest proportions to help [Gov. Edwards’] friends who contributed to him,” Briggs said.