Lawsuit seeks Jindal adviser’s correspondence with oil and gas industry

Anne Rolfes.
Anne Rolfes.

A New Orleans environmental activist is suing the state for copies of correspondence she says could shed light on conversations between Gov. Bobby Jindal’s top coastal-protection adviser and the energy industry about a local flood-protection board’s decision to file a massive lawsuit against dozens of oil and gas companies.

The suit comes in the wake of the state’s denial of a public-records request by Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, seeking all correspondence to and from Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Chairman Garret Graves since December.

That’s when Graves was first told the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East was contemplating a lawsuit against nearly 100 oil and gas companies alleging that their dredging and pipeline work in coastal marshes has been a significant contributor to coastal erosion that has increased the risk of catastrophic flooding in the New Orleans area.

Graves has led the Jindal administration’s opposition to the suit since it was filed in July, accusing the flood protection authority of exceeding its mandate and interfering with other coastal restoration efforts.

Rolfes, who filed the request and the suit on her own and not on behalf of her organization, said she was hoping that getting letters and emails Graves sent after learning of the suit might provide a clearer picture of why the administration has launched such a harsh offensive against the levee board.

“At the moment our governor and Garret Graves are acting in the interest of the oil and gas industry,” Rolfes said.

“It’s important to understand why, and I think the emails will shed some light on that.”

Jindal administration officials, including Graves, did not respond to requests for comment on the public-records lawsuit Friday.

The suit has its origins in a public-records request Rolfes filed in late August with the Division of Administration, seeking all communication sent or received by Graves during the previous eight months.

That request was denied on the grounds that it was “overbroad and unduly burdensome,” according to a response from the division.

“The search for responsive records would likely result in the production of hundreds of documents between multiple offices within the division,” according to the response.

But Rolfes’ suit, filed Thursday in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, argues that by focusing on the correspondence of one public official over a set period of time, the request falls within the scope of the public-records law.

“The notion that production of these records is overbroad and unduly burdensome is contrary to law and violative of the Louisiana Public Records Act,” according to the suit, which was filed by New Orleans attorney Jane Booth.

The suit seeks to force the division to turn over the records and pay all attorney fees and costs.

The public-records fight comes as the battle over the flood protection authority’s lawsuit is heating up.

Graves has said the administration will not reappoint authority President Tim Doody and Vice President John Barry, who have been the most vocal proponents of the suit and whose terms expired in July, and will use support for the case as a “litmus test” for potential new members.

Graves has also suggested that legislation could be filed next year that would “gut” the board, which unanimously supports the suit, or prevent the case from moving forward.