BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Another bill pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration to undermine a lawsuit filed by a south Louisiana flood protection board against oil and gas companies started advancing Thursday in the state Senate.
The proposal by Republican Sen. Bret Allain of Franklin won support from the Senate Natural Resources Committee without objection. It moves next to the full Senate for consideration.
The bill strikes at the lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East alleging that the drilling activities of 97 oil and gas companies damaged Louisiana's coast and vulnerable wetlands.
Backers of the lawsuit say the industry hasn't sufficiently been held accountable for damage done by dredging for canals and pipelines. Jindal and industry leaders say the lawsuit is an unfair attack on a valuable industry and a windfall for trial lawyers.
Allain's proposal would define which governmental entities can bring legal claims about management of Louisiana's coastal zones to the designated entities in the Coastal Zone Management Act. The levee boards aren't on the list.
"This bill deals with the right of action and what entity can bring a claim," said Jimmy Faircloth, a former Jindal administration lawyer who worked on the bill.
While the bill wouldn't void the levee board lawsuit outright, it could offer a legal argument for someone seeking to have the lawsuit thrown out.
"Somebody would take this statute, I assume, and file a motion to dismiss the suit," Faircloth said.
Allain said the proposal wouldn't affect similar lawsuits filed by Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes against oil and gas companies.
Supporters of the levee board lawsuit said Allain's bill would inappropriately meddle in a lawsuit trying to protect people who are more vulnerable to flooding because of the environmental damage, in an effort to protect the oil and gas industry.
"This is unfair. It's a disgrace frankly," said Gladstone Jones, lead attorney for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.
The measure also would dictate how any money received from a successful claim by a state or local government agency alleging environmental violations in Louisiana's coastal zones should be spent. It would be earmarked for coastal restoration and hurricane protection.