A bill working its way through the Louisiana legislature would hand more control of coastal issues to the state, and potentially nullify a handful of lawsuits against oil and gas companies.
Senate Bill 359 amends the Coastal Zone Management Act. It is sponsored by a handful of Republican legislators.
Director of the Tulane University Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy Mark Davis said the intention of the bill is to cancel lawsuits filed by seven parishes against hundreds of oil and gas companies.
“Clearly this legislation is aimed squarely at making these lawsuits harder to bring,” Davis said.
Much of Louisiana’s land loss has been caused by oil and gas activity. Canals carved through the wetlands have eroded over time and turned to open water. The parishes want the companies to pay for that damage.
One of those suits was settled last year. Freeport McMoRan is paying $100 million to 12 parishes in which it has operated. The other suits continue to wind their way through the courts.
Grow Louisiana, an industry group, issued a statement saying it supports the bill:
“This bill will help oil and gas businesses in Louisiana recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, instead of forcing them to spend resources on senseless lawsuits that have yet to provide a dollar for our coast or economy in more than seven years.”
Davis said the changes would strip parishes of local control.
“Fundamentally I think the question is, are we well-served by taking more authority away from local governments at a time when we’re asking them to do more?” he said.
Local parishes are largely responsible for executing restoration projects to bolster the Coastal Master Plan, he added.
The bill heads next to the Senate floor again after being considered by the senate finance committee.
Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.