Committee Advances Coastal Funding Bill That May Affect Lawsuits

(The Center Square) – A Louisiana Senate committee advanced legislation Wednesday that supporters said would ensure money collected for violations of coastal permits is dedicated to coastal restoration and protection.

An attorney for parishes that are suing oil companies over alleged environmental damage said the bill’s language could derail those lawsuits, though the bill’s author insisted that was not his intent.

Current law states civil damages related to coastal permits should be spent “for integrated coastal protection, including coastal restoration, hurricane protection, and improving the resiliency of the coastal area.” However, the 1978 law is outdated and dedicates money to funds that don’t exist, said Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin.

- Sponsors -

The lawsuits against the oil companies could be worth billions of dollars, though the companies say they acted within the law and the lawsuits are without merit. Either way, that’s between the litigants and the judge, Allain said.

“We’re the legislature,” he said. “What we do have responsibility for is appropriating the money.”

Attorney John Carmouche, who represents parishes that are plaintiffs in the lawsuits, said the legislation would give oil companies a new defense. Judges have ruled the parishes can sue over alleged violations of state permits, but Allain’s bill would change how the law is worded to suggest the local governments can sue over only local concerns, he said.

- Partner Content -

Entergy’s Energy Smart Program Brings Cost Conscious Innovation to New Orleans

Offering comprehensive energy efficiency at no cost to the consumer, Entergy’s Energy Smart program incentivizes Entergy New Orleans customers to perform energy-saving upgrades in...

“It’s another way to say the state is the only one that can bring the lawsuit,” Carmouche said Wednesday after the Senate’s Natural Resources Committee met.

One company, Freeport McMoRan, has agreed to a $100 million settlement, though some parishes involved in the original lawsuit have not signed off on the settlement and lawmakers have not yet set up the framework guiding how the distribution would work. The committee was scheduled Wednesday to take up Senate Bill 233, which would establish that framework, but pushed it back for a possible hearing next week, indicating the bill in its current form likely does not have the members’ support.

Carmouche said a major settlement is possible by next year and it would be a mistake to change the rules now. He also said spreading the settlement money around the state rather than letting the 12 plaintiff parishes use the money to address the damage they suffered could raise a constitutional issue.

- Sponsors -

“It’s time to let the court system work,” he said.

Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, who blames the coastal suits for chasing away energy investment in the state, said Carmouche has been saying for some time a settlement was right around the corner. Allain said he didn’t see why any settlement couldn’t be tailored to fit the new law.

“It makes more sense that you make a settlement fit the legislative intent than to try to come back and make the legislative intent fit a settlement,” Allain said.

The committee advanced SB 122 on a 6-1 vote, with only Sen. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, dissenting.


By David Jacobs of the Center Square

Digital Sponsors / Become a Sponsor

Follow the issues, companies and people that matter most to business in New Orleans.

Email Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter