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Bidness as usual



There's nothing subtle about Big Oil. Nuances are a foreign concept, like pearls before swine. So it makes perfect sense that one of the state lawmakers leading the charge to derail the local flood protection authority's environmental lawsuit against 97 energy companies is in the "awl-n-gas bidness."

  In fact, state Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, is a big dog in the bidness. He's a principal in Pelican Gas Management Co., based in his hometown. He also serves on the United States Energy Council and the Southern States Energy Board.

  Adley also chairs the Senate Transportation, Highways and Public Works Committee, which has dominion over levee boards, flood and drainage projects, waterways and more. His opinion on things like the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) lawsuit against Big Oil matters a lot.

  Not long after SLFPA-E filed its lawsuit in July, Adley sprang into action. He summoned authority members and their attorney, Glad Jones, to Baton Rouge for a joint meeting of the House and Senate transportation committees and read them the riot act. No doubt his compatriots in the awl-n-gas bidness were pleased.

  But Adley was just getting started. Since then, he has filed Senate Bill 79, which would help Gov. Bobby Jindal fulfill his promise to fire as many SLFPA-E members as possible, as quickly as possible, to pull down the suit before it ever gets heard. Adley promises to file more legislation going directly at the suit.

  Nothing subtle about that, which kinda makes you wonder: What is Big Oil so worried about? From his perch as committee chairman, Adley denounced the lawsuit as based on "bad science" and "not ... for the benefit of the people of Louisiana."

  If that's true, why not let the suit run its course? Isn't that why we have courts, judges and juries?

  Of course, if the lawsuit has merit — if it proves the energy industry has contributed mightily to coastal land loss and substantially higher risks (and costs) of flooding in southeast Louisiana — then Adley's buddies in the oil patch are on the hook for some big damages.

  Ah, there's the rub. Maybe, just maybe, the lawsuit has exposed Big Oil's flank — as if we don't already know that carving up the marshes with thousands of miles of pipeline canals hasn't accelerated coastal erosion. In fact, the energy industry already has admitted as much.

  Truth is, the suit represents the first significant effort by any Louisiana public agency to hold the awl-n-gas bidness accountable for coastal land loss. If successful, it could do to the energy industry what the tobacco litigation did to cigarette companies: unmask decades of lies and misdeeds — and change the rules forever.

  No wonder Big Oil is pulling out all the stops to bury the lawsuit before it ever gets a chance to be heard. That's the same tactic Big Tobacco used (unsuccessfully) in the tobacco litigation.

  But Big Oil is even bigger, and more politically powerful, than Big Tobacco. Few if any Louisiana lawmakers are in the tobacco business, but many are deeply embedded in the awl-n-gas bidness, which makes the industry's efforts to kill the lawsuit just another example of bidness as usual.

  SLFPA-E members and other supporters of the litigation have one thing going for them, however: More than 90 percent of voters across south Louisiana don't want lawmakers to kill the suit. One would think that the people's elected representatives would pay attention to a number like that, but one should never underestimate Big Oil.

  The legislative session begins in two weeks, on March 10. If the people of Louisiana care about coastal land loss as much as they say they do, now is the time for them to speak up in defense of the lawsuit. As former SLFPA-E member John Barry recently told Gambit, "Think for a second about the idea of legislatively killing a lawsuit that's already been filed. That means you're saying that the industry is above the law. That ... should offend every person in America."

  Everyone, that is, except Big Oil — and legislators who are in the bidness.

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