The Daily Advertiser’s questionable editorial policies are again in the spotlight. Last week we asked why its editors were asleep at the switch when the daily published a letter to the editor about the often maligned Chicago community organizer Saul Alinsky. The LTE was prominently displayed on its op-ed page written by an area resident and it was demonstrably false from beginning to end. We asked then why an outright, undeniable lie would grace the daily’s editorial page.

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Our question this week regards the Advertiser’s decision to place the chief lobbyist for Louisiana’s oil and gas industry as a citizen member of its editorial board. Its seemingly clever decision at the time to install Don Briggs, the president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, raised many eyebrows when it happened. But the wisdom of that move, or lack thereof, came vividly into focus over the past few days as the Advertiser found itself scrambling to report on and explain board member Briggs’ revealing and humiliating series of answers to questions put to him last week in a deposition from a lawsuit filed by him and LOGA against Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.

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Don Briggs

The lawsuit, filed in the 19th Judicial District in Baton Rouge, attacks the AG’s decision to allow the feisty Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - East to hire an outside law firm on a contingency basis. Caldwell has been adamant that he merely reviewed and approved the levee board's resolution to hire the private law firm, saying it passed legal muster; he did not approve the contract itself. The law firm, Jones, Swanson, Huddell & Garrison, is aggressively pursuing damages against 97 oil and gas companies the levee authority claims had a significant role in erosion damage to Louisiana’s vital coastal beaches and marshes.

As Gannett’s Mike Hasten and Advertiser business writer Lynda Edwards reported in a front page story in yesterday’s daily, Briggs acknowledges in the deposition that numerous claims he made in the lawsuit and statements he regularly makes about the impact of lawsuits against the industry are untrue and not based in fact. That’s putting it mildly.

Q: Do you have any evidence that any oil company considers Louisiana’s legal climate in deciding whether they will drill for oil and gas in Louisiana?
Briggs: No.

Q: Is it your opinion that oil and gas companies are leaving Louisiana because of the threat of lawsuits?
Briggs: Yes.

Q: Which oil companies have left Louisiana because of lawsuits?
Briggs: I don’t know.

Q: Do you have any facts or data to support your opinion?
Briggs: No.

Q:  Is it your belief that oil and gas companies are not coming to Louisiana because of the threat of lawsuits?
Briggs: Yes.

Q: Which oil companies have decided not to drill in Louisiana because of the threat of lawsuits?
Briggs: I don’t know.

Q: Do you have any facts or data to support your opinion?
Briggs: No.

Q: Do you know of any oil companies that specifically have not drilled because of the legal climate?
Briggs: No.

Q: Give us a name of an oil company that has refused to do business in Louisiana because of lawsuits.
Briggs: I don’t know any.

Q: You don’t have any facts or data anywhere else?
Briggs: No.

The deposition also reveals that Briggs, the state’s leading oil lobbyist and an EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER of the Advertiser, has not even read the levee board’s suit:

Q: Do you know whether the South (sic) Louisiana Flood Protection Authority in its petition asked for restoration of the land?
Briggs: Say that again.

Q: Do you know whether or not the South (sic) Louisiana Flood Protection Authority in its petition asked for relief that would include restoration of the land?
Briggs: I don’t know. I didn’t read the petition.

Q: You didn’t read the South (sic) Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East petition against 97 oil companies?
Briggs: No.

Q: And you haven’t as of today?
Briggs: No.

To read more of the extraordinary revelations opposing attorneys coaxed out of the hapless Briggs, click here.

Now let’s be clear. Without doubt oil and gas has played an enormous and highly beneficial role in building the economy of South Louisiana. We all benefit financially from its presence every day, yet its contributing role in the destruction of our coastal wetlands is undeniable. Even candid members of the industry acknowledge this. The purpose of the suit is not to heap all blame for damage on the industry, mainly because the industry’s behavior is NOT solely to blame. Informed citizens know other factors, like construction of Mississippi River levees, also played a large role.

State solons in the weeks ahead will gather in Baton Rouge to consider whether Mr. Briggs’ clients will succeed in pressuring our often spineless, ill-informed leges to kill the right of the levee board’s lawsuit to continue. All the while Briggs will be spending his energies hawking LOGA’s considerable interests at the Capitol and in his seat on the Advertiser’s editorial board.

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