BATON ROUGE, La. -- The tide appears to be turning in the push to convince Gov. Bobby Jindal to veto one of his own signature bills.
Just days after expressing support for a bill that would retroactively kill the New Orleans area levee board’s lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies, Jefferson Parish President John Young sent a letter to Jindal today asking him to veto it.
Young joins the Jefferson Parish Council, which had previously opposed the bill; the New Orleans City Council, which also sent a letter to Jindal today signed by all seven members; and a growing legion of legal scholars from around the country who first sounded the alarm last weekend warning that the bill could inadvertently compromise state and local government claims against BP for damages in the 2010 oil spill.
“Despite all good efforts and intentions, there remains substantial disagreement among legal scholars regarding the meaning and impact of this legislation,” Young wrote. “Such confusion so early in the life of this legislation justifies further legislative analysis in order to avoid any unintended consequences.”
Still, Jindal issued a statement that indicates he is sticking to his guns in supporting the bill, although he hasn't signed it yet.
"We don't want to do anything to impede the rights of our people to pursue BP claims," the governor's statement said. "Our attorneys are comfortable with the legislation and that it has no impact on BP litigation. All BP claims arise out of an event that happened in federal waters outside the purview of this legislation. For this reason, BP claims plainly are not impacted by the bill."
Jefferson Parish has its own lawsuit against oil and gas companies alleging those companies caused damage over decades with their access canals, pipelines and other operations. The parish also has its own claims for lost revenues and ecological damage caused by the 2010 BP oil spill.
The bill to kill the levee board lawsuit was carefully crafted to protect the parishes' rights to bring suit, and Young was involved in the process. Jindal had said the levee board's suit was frivolous because it didn't have standing to file it, but the parishes did. And earlier this week, Young told The New Orleans Advocate that his lawyers were fine with the bill.
"Based on our counsel’s review of the memo and their analysis, we’ve been advised by our legal counsel that all the parish’s rights have been preserved under 469,” Young told The Advocate. “Fully preserved.”
But he changed his tune in the letter he sent today, even saying there could be problems for his parish to get compensation for future near-shore spills.
"Lawyers representing local governments in the Macondo well blowout (BP) advise that this bill poses a risk to local government claims under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990," Young wrote. "Specifically the retroactivity provision may adversely impact BP litigation. In addition, the preemption language limits local governments' rights of recovery for future spills within the Coastal Zone."
Meanwhile, another 58 law professors from around the country signed on to a letter that 23 scholars sent to Jindal earlier in the week. Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has also urged Jindal to veto the bill, citing the same concerns as the law professors about the possibility that local and state claims under the federal Oil Pollution Act could be compromised.
But the governor’s top legal adviser, Thomas Enright, said he disagreed with the attorney general’s concerns. Sen. Robert Adley, a former gas company owner and key supporter of the bill, said there was no way state legislation involving a state issue would have any impact on the BP oil spill claims governed by federal law and disputed in federal court.
And yet, Jindal shied away at the last moment from signing the bill on Tuesday, even after planning a news conference to announce it. He said he only wanted to give the attorney general some more time, but since then the wave of veto calls have grown and he has yet to sign it.