Jindal denounces lawsuit targeting oil and gas firms

Gov. Bobby Jindal denounced a lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - East on Wednesday morning that targets 100 oil and gas companies, calling on the board to drop the case in a sharply worded prepared statement.

The statement was issued just a few hours after the levee board filed the suit, which charges that the energy industry’s nearly century-long history of digging wells, canals and pipelines through Louisiana’s marshes has led to severe coastal erosion that has put the state at a higher risk of catastrophic storm surge.

Jindal says the levee board “overstepped its authority” by getting involved in coastal issues through the suit, an area overseen by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, Jindal said in an emailed statement that refers to the suit as “nothing but a windfall for a handful of trial lawyers.”

“We’re not going to allow a single levee board that has been hijacked by a group of trial lawyers to determine flood protection, coastal restoration and economic repercussions for the entire state of Louisiana,” Jindal said.

In the statement, Jindal also called the contract between the flood protection authority and its lead counsel, Jones, Swanson, Huddell and Garrison, into question, arguing the board should have sought administration approval before hiring the firm.

State law calls for any special counsels used by a state board or commission be hired only after “written approval of the governor and the attorney general.” While Attorney General Buddy Caldwell approved the hiring of the firm, the governor’s office did not.

According to John Barry, the flood protection authority’s vice president, Jindal is wrongly citing a law that deals with state boards and commissions, rather than the law that applies to the authority.

Barry sent out a response to Jindal late Wednsday that praised the governor for “real leadership on coastal issues,” commending Jindal’s coastal czar, Garret Graves, and adding that “it pains me personally to be at odds with them over this.”

But he disputed nearly every one of Jindal’s contentions, in particular the governor’s claim that the authority had been “hijacked” by greedy trial lawyers.

“No one hijacked this board,” Barry wrote. “Before anyone ever approached a lawyer, the board discussed whether we wanted to do this. We agreed -- and we were unanimous -- that we did. We couldn’t afford to finance the lawsuit. I asked a couple of major environmental groups to do it pro bono. They couldn’t.”

Meanwhile, in a statement emailed Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu suggested officials should use a wide range of tools to reverse coastal erosion, including bills she’s pushed that would increase the amount of federal oil and gas revenue that would flow back to Louisiana. However, she stopped short of directly endorsing or condemning the suit.

“We need justice for the coast, our people and our communities,” Landrieu said. “Some of our local officials believe this suit has merit, and time will tell.”

Staff in Sen. David Vitter’s office said the senator had not yet had a chance to read the suit and could not yet comment on it.