LAFAYETTE -- The Lafayette Parish School Board recently passed a resolution declaring its opposition to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ demands for more lawsuits.
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) called a “shakedown.”
Edwards' call for lawsuits 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 Lafayette Parish School Board responded with a statement of support, noting the board has long recognized the need for increased hurricane protection, flood control and coastal restoration to protect Louisiana families, workers, businesses and communities, and that the solution to the complex challenges facing the coast is collaboration, not litigation.
The board wrote, “The oil and gas industry is already the state's No. 1 private investor in Louisiana's environment and coast, having contributed more than $4 billion to the state for coastal projects since 2009, and many of these industry-supported projects are already underway to help make us safer and stronger.”
“The oil and gas industry plays a major role in funding for local government," Gifford Briggs, vice president of LOGA told the Louisiana Record. "The biggest area funded is the education system. A huge portion of sales and property taxes collected by the schools is generated from the oil and gas industry. The Lafayette Parish School board looked at the impact of the threat of the lawsuits potentially driving more investments out of the state and they’re concerned about how it’s going to affect their ability to educate children.”
Briggs expressed appreciation toward the school board for recognizing the importance of the oil and gas industry, as well as the potential harm the lawsuits pose.
“We appreciate their suppor,t as well as the local governments and all the other organizations throughout coastal Louisiana that are taking a stand with the industry against the unnecessary and abusive lawsuit the state seems to want to pursue," he said.
The board’s statement said that beginning in 2017, the oil and gas industry will invest up to $200 million a year to support additional coastal projects across Louisiana and lawsuits will only take more resources away from the industry’s ongoing support of Louisiana’s coastal restoration efforts.
The board concluded its resolve, writing, “We should be working together with our industry partners to develop policies that encourage, not hinder, long-term coastal sustainability and economic growth.”
"The industry has been collaborating with local government and the state for quite some time," Briggs said. "Different committees, along with the oil and gas industry, have taken a seat in meetings to identify master plans and areas where restoration should happen. No one knows the coast probably as well as the industry does.”
He said the industry has collaborated with local government for decades and they plant millions of trees, volunteer, carry out restoration project planning and they do it by working together. Briggs said the lawsuits would stop those partnerships and the conversations needed to continue efforts to restore the coast in a collaborative effort.
“If there is a violation, issue a compliance order. If there is a problem, let us know about it. That is the fastest way to deal with issues. This approach is basically suing us first and then telling us what we did wrong later,” Briggs said, “We want an opportunity to correct the problem when they see the problem rather than filing a lawsuit. We’ve become a lawsuit first state.”
Briggs said decades ago, there was a need for oil for the war and they drilled for it in coastal Louisiana.
“The industry did what the state said. Then 40 years later, they want to sue us. They’re changing the rules now. If they did it incorrectly, or if the state feels it shouldn’t have carried out the need a different way, they shouldn’t make people pay for it now. It’s like making a speed limit 55 and then realizing it should have been 50. You don’t go back and issue everyone a ticket who went 55,” Briggs said. "You can’t have these conversations in the middle of a lawsuit. The attorneys will stop it. Instead of progress, we will face litigation that will last not a couple of years but probably 15 years. A lot of progress will be lost because of litigation.”