Oil group sues La. AG over industry lawsuit
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — An oil and gas association has filed a lawsuit against Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, accusing him of illegally approving a New Orleans-area flood protection board’s contract with lawyers suing the industry over coastal wetlands loss.
The lawsuit against the industry on behalf of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East was filed in July. It says the erosion of wetlands is diminishing a natural hurricane protection buffer for New Orleans.
Now, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association has asked a state court in Baton Rouge to declare that Caldwell had no authority to OK the flood board’s contract with attorneys led by Gladstone Jones of New Orleans. If it stands, the LOGA suit says, it will have “a chilling effect on the exploration, production, development and transportation” of Louisiana’s oil and gas.
Caldwell has said his office’s role was to review the contract, and to make sure that the lawyers are qualified to practice in Louisiana and that fees charged are “within the parameters normally paid by Louisiana agencies under similar circumstances.” In a July letter to the board, he said they were.
Neither Caldwell’s nor Jones’ offices immediately returned a call for comment Monday.
The SLFPAE’s lawsuit drew immediate fire from the industry when it was filed in July. Gov. Bobby Jindal blasted the suit as a windfall for trial lawyers and his coastal protection chief, Garret Graves, said the suit would undermine the state’s work with the industry to address coastal issued. An association of state levee districts voted to oppose the suit.
Since then, however, two coastal parishes heavily dependent on the industry have filed lawsuits of their own raising similar issues.
LOGA’s suit says that because the flood board is a state governmental subdivision, the contingency fees in the flood board’s contract with the Jones legal team would be deducted from money due to the state. LOGA says Caldwell approved the contract and thereby unconstitutionally usurped the Legislature’s authority to appropriate state money.
The LOGA lawsuit also says the flood board failed to provide sufficient reason for hiring outside lawyers when it should rely on the attorney general in the first place.
“Caldwell acted outside his authority in approving the resolution,” LOGA president Don Briggs said in a news release. “The law expressly names the Attorney General as counsel for that specific levee board, and the Legislature has never granted any authority to the board to hire its own counsel.”
Louisiana has lost an estimated 1,500 square miles of coastal wetlands since 1930 and is losing an estimated 30 square miles annually. Proposed fixes, including river diversion projects meant to replenish the wetlands with silt, are estimated to cost in the tens of billions of dollars.
There is little dispute that oil and gas activity has contributed to the loss — with canals for navigation and pipelines and other industry-related activity allowing the salty Gulf to encroach and weaken wetlands.
But estimates vary on how much of the damage is attributable to such activity. Also blamed are federal levee and river control projects that keep the Mississippi River from changing course — and, as a consequence, keep it from replenishing the wetlands with silt.