NEW ORLEANS – Nineteen legal scholars from across the country have joined an original group of four whose warnings over the weekend helped delay Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signing of legislation to kill a controversial lawsuit against oil and gas companies.
Jindal’s office says the governor is still ready to sign the bill, Senate Bill 469 by Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, but wants to give Attorney General Buddy Caldwell more time to review it. That postponement came right after four law professors expressed concerns that the legislation would inadvertently compromise the state’s damage claims against BP for its 2010 oil spill.
The bill sitting on the governor’s desk would retroactively remove the New Orleans area levee board’s authority to sue 97 oil and gas companies for their role in destroying Louisiana’s coast and increasing flood-protection costs. But Loyola Law Professor Robert Verchick and Boston College Law Professor Zygmunt Plater sounded alarms over the weekend that the bill, if signed into law, could give BP an opening to argue that Louisiana and its parishes can no longer pursue claims for lost tax revenues and ecological damages, among others.
Jindal called a news conference Monday, at the very end of this year’s legislative session, to highlight SB 469 and another bill dealing with so-called “legacy lawsuits” against oil and gas companies by landowners. But Jindal ended up signing only the legacy lawsuit bill at the ceremony, saying that “out of an abundance of caution” he was giving Caldwell more time on the one to kill the levee board lawsuit.
On Tuesday, more legal scholars joined in the call for Jindal to veto SB 469, signing an updated letter. They include well-known environmental law professors such as Tulane’s Oliver Hauck, Loyola’s Blaine LeCesne, LSU Law School Chancellor Emeritus John Costonis, Seton Hall’s Marc Poirier, Berkeley’s Dan Farber and North Carolina’s Victor Flatt.
Jindal says the levee board’s lawsuit is “frivolous” and it never had the right to file it in the first place. But Caldwell approved the board’s right to sue last year, as well as the form of the suit and the levee authority’s right to hire outside lawyers. Ironically, it was the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association’s suit against Caldwell that was tossed by a Baton Rouge judge and officially declared “frivolous” by the court.
Caldwell’s office has not responded to requests for comment about SB 469.