The showdown between Big Oil and those who seek to defend the constitutional right of citizens and their leaders and to hold miscreants accountable is coming this week in the state Capitol. It's a true David-versus-Goliath story.
David in this case is the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E), which sued 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies last July. The lawsuit aims to make the energy companies pay their fair share — and only their fair share — of the costs of coastal land loss caused by oil and gas activity in southeast Louisiana.
Promoters of the lawsuit have consistently acknowledged that the energy industry is not the sole source of coastal erosion — just as the industry's own experts have long admitted that digging thousands of miles of canals has contributed to the problem.
State and federal permits require energy companies to restore the marsh as much as possible. The companies sought those permits and agreed to those terms. That makes them a contract, enforceable by law.
This being Louisiana, and our political leaders being reluctant to offend those who fund their campaigns, those contracts were never really enforced. The old joke that the flag of Texaco flies over the state Capitol never really was a joke, either.
Last summer, someone finally mustered the courage to challenge Big Oil. The SLFPA-E lawsuit was the first stone in David's sling. Judging by the intensity of the industry's response — and the rush by some politicians to rally behind Big Oil — that stone clearly hit the mark.
No one has licked Goliath's boots more eagerly than Gov. Bobby Jindal, but he's hardly alone. Lawmakers are considering a half-dozen bills to scuttle the lawsuit. The measures range from gutting the independence of the SLFPA-E itself to retroactively deauthorizing the suit.
What's been pleasantly surprising is the number of lawmakers — Democrat and Republican — who see those bills for what they are: a profoundly un-American attempt to prevent citizens and their leaders from petitioning the government for redress of grievances. Lest Jindal and Big Oil forget, that is a fundamental right guaranteed by the First Amendment. In fact, the bills under consideration this week violate several constitutional provisions, but that's no big deal to Big Oil and its allies.
More than 80 percent of the voters across coastal Louisiana do not want their legislators to snuff out the SLFPA-E lawsuit. Regrettably, some coastal lawmakers are buying (and parroting) Big Oil's big lies. Those lawmakers have forgotten the folks they are supposed
to represent. I believe the voters will not forget that next election season — but by then it may be too late.
Here's the gist of the offending bills — followed by the switchboard numbers in the House and Senate. If you care about saving Louisiana's coast, the time to call is now.
Because, frankly, most of the time Goliath still wins.
• SB79 by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, lets the governor fire sitting levee board members virtually at will. This bill would gut post-Katrina reforms, which were approved by more than 80 percent of Louisiana voters. Adley is in the energy business.
• SB531 by Sen. Bret Allain II, R-Franklin, removes SLPFA-E's authority to sue to enforce terms of a federal or state permit. More than 64 percent of the voters in Allain's coastal district support the SLFPA-E suit — and 70 percent say they would be less likely to vote for a lawmaker who tries to let Big Oil off the hook for environmental damages.
• SB546 by Adley removes SLPFA-E's authority to sue over "lawful activities of an oil and gas permittee" — and it applies retroactively, despite express constitutional prohibitions to the contrary.
• SB547 by Adley nullifies SLPFA-E's contract with its lawyers — retroactively.
• SB553 by Adley puts SLPFA-E under the governor's thumb and retroactively requires the governor's approval before the board can hire an attorney.
• SB629 by Adley also puts SLFPA-E under the governor's thumb, effectively neutering post-Katrina reforms.
To call the House, dial 225-342-6945. To call the Senate, dial 225-342-2040. To find your senator and representative, go to http://legis.la.gov/legis/findmylegislators.aspx.
Coastal erosion happens silently. To stop it, you have to make noise — now.