For hardcore politics, look no further than the Legislature’s ‘legacy’ lawsuit debate.
The last few years have seen state Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, introduce one measure after another to smother the flames created by so-called legacy lawsuits in Louisiana. Legacy lawsuits arise from old — sometimes decades-old — contamination of land by oil and gas drillers. The litigation gets its name because subsequent drillers on contaminated lands “inherit” the liability created by previous, often defunct companies.
As Adley has carried the legislative ball for Big Oil, which constantly seeks to limit its exposure to environmental litigation, landowners and environmentalists have likewise ramped up their opposition campaigns.
With the Legislature beginning the latest incarnation of the ongoing debate, Adley, a licensed Christian minister, is serving as the Upper Chamber’s Jeremiah, telling all what’s to come. “You need to be prepared,” he says. “I’m telling you, they’ll start running TV. They’ll run radio.”
A high-dollar political consultant — Roy Fletcher of Baton Rouge — was perhaps too effective in attacking Adley’s message in a previous battle. “I ended up hiring him for my next campaign,” Adley recalls.
The legacy issue is complicated. Contaminated lands require mitigation, and lawsuits have led to huge judgments — which may or may not lead to cleanups. This issue is not your typical business-versus-trial lawyers scrap. In many lawsuits, both sides are millionaires. That makes it tough for lawmakers to choose sides.
Landowners argue that the current system gives too much leverage to Big Oil. Big Oil argues that trial lawyers are milking the issue to line their pockets. Environmentalists say the state Department of Natural Resources inevitably backs Big Oil.
How should liability be addressed? Who should mediate? How should the fields be restored? There are no easy answers.
During last year’s legislative debate, opponents unleashed robocalls in the districts of lawmakers on a key House committee. The calls stirred up voters and prompted them to press “1” to be connected directly to their lawmaker.
Rep. Truck Gisclair, D-Larose, who has a bill this year to regulate robocalls, says his office was “swamped with hundreds of calls, about 400 to 500 in a three-hour period” last year.
For those who can’t afford robocalls, there are always mass emails. House Civil Law Chairman Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, said someone recently threatened him with a “firestorm” if he moved forward with his legacy bill, which is backed by Big Oil.
Last week, the night before a committee vote on Abramson’s bill, New Orleans political consultant Cheron Brylski issued a statement accusing Abramson of having a “conflict of interest” in authoring a legacy bill because his law firm represents oil companies. Brylski asked in the email, “Is Neil Abramson working for himself, his law firm, and his big oil clients while serving as a state representative and committee chairman?”
Abramson practices law at the New Orleans firm of Liskow & Lewis. According to the firm’s Web site, he represents “oil and gas companies in legacy suits involving claims of property and groundwater contamination.”
Abramson says he has handled only a “few matters” involving legacy cases. He said the conflict of interest claim is a lie, adding that lawmakers file bills in regard to their professions all the time. “That’s how the process works,” he said, calling Brylski’s attack “totally out of bounds and inappropriate.”
Part of Brylski’s criticism was based on Abramson’s decision to move forward on the bill while negotiations continued between landowners and Big Oil. Opponents of the bills felt betrayed because they believed no bills would move forward while the two sides were trying to forge a compromise.
Additionally, attorney Don Carmouche, who is aligned with Jimmy Faircloth, Gov. Jindal’s former legal council and attorney for landowners, has filed an ethics complaint to the Louisiana Ethics Board against Abramson stating the same charges.
Abramson’s House Bill 618 won committee approval last week. It allows the courts to admit as evidence cleanup plans submitted by DNR. The provision was backed by the oil industry and opposed by landowners, who claim Big Oil virtually owns DNR.
The bill has a long way to go, but already it’s clear that both sides of this fight have money and political muscle to spare.
Business organizations opposed the proposal, saying it would lead to job losses and higher prices for goods and services.
An attempt to repeal a six-year-old law that permits public school science teachers to use material outside a classroom's adopted textbook has been rejected by the Senate Education Committee.
New York Times poll shows Obama, Jindal have identical approval and disapproval ratings in the state.
See which events are taking place during INNOV8 Lafayette this Friday, April 25.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Lisa Boudreaux come and get your goodies.
OK, so they’re bentgrass, the type used on golf course greens. But grass is grass.
Jefferson Street restaurant and pub debuts during Festival with limited menu.
The Senate Finance Committee approved the bill Wednesday, despite opponents who argued it would shut down the storefront lenders.
A measure to allow the state to implement its own, less stringent plan for limiting carbon dioxide emissions unanimously passed the Senate.
FDA to regulate e-cigarettes, Jodie Foster gets married, Vermont to require labels on genetically-modified food, and more news for today, April 24, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
A push to expand Louisiana's Medicaid program as allowed under the federal health care has been overwhelmingly rejected by the Senate health committee.
See which events are taking place during INNOV8 Lafayette this Thursday.
It’s on, y’all. Fest fIND, our annual Festival International de Louisiana reader contest, is now accepting photo submissions.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Louisiana welfare recipients would be prohibited in state law from spending the federal assistance at lingerie shops, tattoo parlors, nail salons and jewelry stores, under a bill that received the support Wednesday of a House committee.
Senators will consider whether to prohibit private businesses in Louisiana from paying unequal wages to employees of different genders for the same job.
Rep. Joel Robideaux has delayed bill hearings and said unless a compromise can be reached, he won't bring up the legislation this session.
Once again, Lafayette Parish School Board President Hunter Beasley is focused on an issue that has nothing to do with the educational well-being of our public school children.
Fashion and music make great bedfellows
Producers, manufacturers, restaurants and chefs host roundtable and tasting
After exhausting his appeals all the way to the state Supreme Court, the owner of the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete has no legal remedy left save one: do an end run around the high court via a bill that would grandfather his “right” to keep a 550-pound tiger enclosed in a pin at his roadside business.
Louisiana poet Darrell Bourque has won the 2014 Louisiana Writer Award, given annually to recognize outstanding contributions to Louisiana's literary and intellectual life.
Drivers would have to secure dogs riding in truck beds while on interstate highways, if the Senate agrees to a bill backed by the House.
The easy one-piece way to style
Comfy feet for long days
Newsy bits for the whole fam
Don't forget: our annual Festival International contest begins Thursday! Win. Cool. Stuff.
An effort to prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity was shelved Tuesday for the legislative session.