Published: May 27, 2020
By: Maria Marsh / LSU Manship School News Service
A committee on Wednesday pushed a bill to the House floor that seeks to invalidate environmental lawsuits filed by coastal parishes against oil and gas companies.
The House Natural Resources and Environment Committee voted 9-3 to advance Senate Bill 440, by Sen. Michael “Big Mike” Fesi, R-Houma. Advocates say the bill requires the money that the parishes would have spent on the lawsuits to go to coastal restoration efforts.
“If we’re going to believe that these lawsuits are about restoring our coasts, then we need to put the money where our coast needs to be restored,” Archie Chaisson, Lafourche parish President, said in support of the bill.
The committee voted to add amendments by Rep. Philip Devillier, R-Eunice, that would give the Department of Natural Resources, and Attorney General Jeff Landry sole discretion over the lawsuits instead of the parishes.
“In one of largest disasters–this global pandemic–in the history of the world, and I have to be here, fighting for our right, St. Bernard Parish, to sue a company that polluted our parish,” Guy McInnis, St. Bernard Parish president, said.
The amendment mirrored parts of a bill that Sen. Bob Hensgens, R-Cameron, withdrew last week. That bill was designed to get the lawsuits out of the hands of private trial lawyers who have been representing the parishes in the suit.
Opponents say that neither the Natural Resources Department nor the Attorney General’s office have the money to cover the full cost of the lawsuits. Last week, the department estimated the cost of each of the 42 cases at about $4.3 million, or an aggregate of over $180 million.
Fesi’s bill narrowly passed in the Senate by a 20-15 vote last week after debate over the bill’s purpose. If the bill is passed in the House, it will move to a Senate committee because today’s amendment was not part of the bill when the Senate passed it.
The committee also approved a resolution by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, that calls on local governments to drop the lawsuits against oil and gas companies.
Read more at KALB