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Briggs' pathetic performance

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Legendary bank robber Willie Sutton reportedly was once asked why he robbed banks, to which he allegedly replied: "Because that's where the money is."

  If Sutton had been an oilman, he no doubt would have plied his craft in south Louisiana. Because that's where the oil is. And the gas.

  Sutton also would have felt right at home in the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA). Mind you, there's nothing criminal about prudently extracting oil and gas from the marshes of south Louisiana and piping it through miles of man-made canals, as long as you have the drilling rights and valid permits.

  But there is something inherently wrong, and possibly illegal, about ruining the environment in the process, particularly when state permits require restoring the marshes afterward — or at least maintaining the canals so they don't degrade the marshes around them.

  That's the central question in the landmark environmental lawsuit filed last July by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies. The suit claims the defendants failed to honor obligations imposed by their state permits and, as a result, contributed significantly to coastal land loss and the increased risk of flooding in southeast Louisiana.

  The energy industry and LOGA are scared to death of this lawsuit. They, along with Gov. Bobby Jindal and others, have called it a money grab by greedy trial lawyers, said it was based on "bad science" and predicted it would chase oil and gas companies out of Louisiana.

  LOGA took it a step further and filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of SLFPA-E's contract with its legal counsel. The contract includes a handsome contingency fee. LOGA's lawsuit specifically claims the SLFPA-E suit would cause "irreparable injury" to LOGA members and have a "chilling effect on the exploration, production, development and transportation" of oil and gas in Louisiana.

  That claim is a favorite meme of LOGA's longtime president Don Briggs, who prides himself on being the scourge of environmental trial lawyers. Given the enmity Briggs has for environmental lawsuits, one would think that he'd be well prepared for any questions opposing counsel might ask him in a deposition relating to the LOGA suit.

  Think again.

  For example, Briggs was asked in a Feb. 20 deposition if he had "any facts or information" to back up his opinion that oil and gas exploration did not contribute to coastal land loss. He answered, "No. ... Nothing."

  That was just the start. Consider the following exchanges in Briggs' deposition:

  Question: Is it your opinion that oil and gas companies are leaving Louisiana because of the threat of lawsuits?

  Briggs: Yes.

  Question: Which oil companies have left Louisiana because of lawsuits?

  Briggs: I don't know.

  Question: Do you have any facts or data to support your opinion?

  Briggs: No.

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

  Briggs: Yes.

  Question: Which oil companies have decided not to drill in Louisiana because of the threat of lawsuits?

  Briggs: I don't know.

  Question: Do you have any facts or data to support your opinion?

  Briggs: No.

  Briggs' deposition contains many more admissions, including one that he hadn't even read the SLFPA-E lawsuit.

  After that pathetic performance, Briggs' lawyers claimed he was too ill to appear in court just four days later, when LOGA's suit was scheduled to be heard. That suit was continued until March 10 — the same day lawmakers convene for their annual session. Briggs' cohorts will pull out all the stops to kill the SLFPA-E lawsuit legislatively — based, no doubt, on the same specious claims that Briggs was totally unable to substantiate under oath.

  Which brings me back to Willie Sutton. Briggs' testimony proves that Louisiana is where the oil is — and the gas — and no lawsuit will keep Big Oil from coming here to get it.

  The only question remaining is, will Louisiana make Big Oil pay for the damage it has done to our coastline?

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