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Archive for the ‘Geography’ Category

As expected, the Louisiana Senate voted 25-11 on Friday to accept the House amendment to SB 459, which made the prohibition against governmental entities’ ability to seek redress from 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies for the damages inflicted on Louisiana’s erstwhile freshwater marshlands, effectively sealing the fate of efforts by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) to hold the companies accountable for their actions.

The amendment, passed earlier by the House in a 59-39 vote made SB 469 retroactive, which is tantamount to killing the SLFPA-E litigation, prompting Ret. Gen. Russel Honeré to observe, “The flag of the oil companies still flies over the Louisiana Capitol.”

But in passing SB 469, which Gov. Bobby Jindal is almost certain to sign into law, given his backing of the bill, the Louisiana Legislature may have pulled the proverbial rug from under Louisiana coastal city and parish governments, according to a five-page analysis of the bill by Robert R.M. Verchick of the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law.

Also participating in drafting the report on the potential repercussions of the bill were Zygmunt J.B. Plater, professor, Boston College Law School and former Chairman of the State of Alaska Oil Spill Commission’s Legal Task Force; William Andreen, professor of law, University of Alabama School of Law, and Christine A. Klein, professor and director, LL.M. Program in Environmental & Land Use Law, Levin College of Law, University of Florida.

Among other the bill by Sens. Bret Allain and Robert Adley (who have received $632,000 in contributions from oil and gas interests—$597,950 for Adley and $34,140 for Allain), provides:

  • Except as provided in this Subpart [the state coastal zone management law], no state or local governmental entity shall have, nor may pursue, any right or cause of action arising from any activity subject to permitting under R.S. 49:214.21 et seq. [the state coastal zone management law], 33 U.S.C. 1344 [§ 404 dredge or fill permitting under the Clean Water Act][,] or 33 U.S.C. 408 [the Rivers and Harbors Act] in the coastal area as defined by R.S. 49:214.2, or arising from or related to any use as defined by R.S. 49:214.23(13), regardless of the date such use or activity occurred (emphasis theirs).

That provision of the bill would appear to again place the state at odds with federal statutes, specifically the congressional Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) which says, in part:

  • Notwithstanding any other provision or rule of law, and subject to the provisions of this Act, each responsible party for a vessel or a facility from which oil is discharged, or which poses the substantial threat of a discharge of oil, into or upon the navigable waters or adjoining shorelines or the exclusive economic zone is liable for the removal costs and damages…

Moreover, federal statute says that the list of recoverable costs and damages includes economic losses and natural resource damages incurred by state and local governments. Damages under the federal statute shall include:

  • Damages for injury to, destruction of, loss of, or loss of use of, natural resources, including the reasonable costs of assessing the damage, which shall be recoverable by a United States trustee, a state trustee, an Indian tribe trustee, or a foreign trustee;
  • Damages equal to the net loss of taxes, royalties, rents, fees, or net profit shares due to the injury, destruction, or loss of real property, personal property, or natural resources, which shall be recoverable by the Government of the United States, a State, or a political subdivision thereof.
  • Damages for net costs of providing increased or additional public services during or after removal activities, including protection from fire, safety, or health hazards, caused by a discharge of oil, which shall be recoverable by a State, or a political subdivision of a State.

So what does all that have to do with local governmental entities?

Simply this: because SB 469 would limit the types of claims that state and local governmental entities may pursue, the report says. This means if BP should raise defenses of claims from the BP spill of 2010 based on SB 469 and even only partially succeed, “the results would needlessly deprive Louisiana and its communities of precious revenue and cause considerable embarrassment of state leaders” because it specifically excludes economic or natural resource damage claims under OPA, according to the report which was signed by Verchick.

Economic damages and damages from the loss of natural resources comprise the very basis of pending claims against BP, Verchick says.

In its OPA suit against BP, for example, Jefferson Parish has claimed that it has suffered, among other things:

  • Ecological damage;
  • Damage to the quality of life of its citizens;
  • Loss of sales tax revenues, use tax revenues, parish tax revenues, inventory tax revenues, hotel and motel tax revenues, severance tax revenues, royalties, rents and fees;
  • Increased costs of providing services to the citizens of Jefferson Parish;
  • Damage to the natural resources of Jefferson parish;
  • Increased costs for the monitoring of the health of its citizens and the treatment of physical and emotional problems related to the oil spill;
  • Increased costs for debt service;
  • Loss of fees for permits and licenses;
  • Loss of fines and forfeitures income;
  • Increased administrative costs.

State senators who represent Jefferson Parish who voted for SB 469 in its amended form and the amount of campaign contributions they have received from oil and gas interests (in parentheses) are:

  • John Alario, Senate President: $124,400;
  • David Heitmeier: $44,300
  • Jean-Paul Morrell: $87,800;
  • Gary Smith: $87,600.

TOTAL: $344,100 (Ave: $86,000 each).

Alario is a Republican while the other three are each Democrats, which illustrates that the money of big oil can purchases allegiances on each side of the aisle.

House members from Jefferson Parish who voted for the amended bill and their oil and gas contributions (in parentheses) include:

  • Bryan Adams: $9,000;
  • Robert Billiot: $32,800;
  • Jerry Gisclair: $3,750;
  • Cameron Henry: $30,000
  • Christopher Leopold: $29,800;
  • Nick Lorusso: $21,700;
  • Julie Stokes: $20,000.

TOTAL: $147,050 (Ave. $21,000 each).

GRAND TOTAL, HOUSE AND SENATE: $491,150 (Ave. $44.650 each).

“Because SB 469 works retroactively, it could undo all of these claims,” Verchick said.

If Jindal signs the bill into law, it would also apply prospectively. “So if, say, one of the supertankers offloading at the state’s offshore oil port caught fire and started pouring oil into Lafourche Parish, or if a major pipeline in Plaquemines Parish ruptured, or an oil rig anywhere in state coastal waters blew up, as BP’s Deepwater Horizon did, then no parish or city that was affected would be able to bring a claim for economic losses, not even if it cost taxpayers millions—or billions—of dollars,” he said.

Louisiana produces nearly 1.25 million barrels of crude oil per day. It hosts the world’s only offshore superport for oil and gas tankers and is crisscrossed by more than 100,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines. “Does Gov. Jindal really want to sign a law that could immunize the oil and gas industry from paying for economic losses caused by any oil spill (however reckless the behavior) in the state’s coastal zone?” Verchick asked in his report.

He said Jindal, in the opening week of hurricane season, should consider the terrible risk the law would impose on fragile communities along the Louisiana coast. “Whatever one thinks about SLFPAE’s lawsuit, such expansive action cannot be justified. It’s like bombing the Gulf of Mexico to catch a single snapper,” he said.

The report said the most significant risk could be the aftermath of future oil spill events that may occur wholly within Louisiana’s coastal zone, including potential ruptures in any of the more than 125,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines in Louisiana or a spill occurring at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), the largest point of entry for waterborne crude oil entering the U.S., or from a tanker rupture similar to the Exxon Valdez spill.

“We emphasize that this is a significant litigation risk faced by the state and local governments should SB 469 be signed into law,” he said. State and local governments will also have counter-arguments that they can raise, namely that SB 469’s prohibitions will trigger conflict-preemption such that OPA’s damages provisions will take precedence over the prohibitory language of SB 469.

“Implied preemption can also take the form of conflict preemption where complying with both federal law and state law is impossible or where the state law ‘creates an unacceptable “obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.”

Arguably, the application of SB 469 to prevent certain state or local governmental entities from pursuing the full panoply of damages available under OPA may present such an obstacle and could be found by a court to be conflict-preempted,” Verchick said.

“These open questions present a significant litigation risk to such governmental entity claims. A court could plausibly interpret SB 469 to dismiss or limit damage claims, now before the court, that the state and its subdivisions have brought against BP. Regardless of how the court ultimately rules, the very existence of these eventualities will devalue the plaintiffs’ settlement posture and perhaps lengthen the time those governmental entities will go without recompense for these categories of economic loss,” the report concluded.

But it isn’t very likely that much thought will be given to the implications cited by Verchick; legislators and Jindal will be far too busy counting the $6 million or so they have received in big oil campaign contributions to give the report anything more than a cursory perusal.

Here is the way the Senate voted on the amended version of SB 469 which kills the SLFPA-E litigation:

YEAS

Alario

Adley

Allain

Amedee

Buffington

Chabert

Claitor

Cortez

Donahue

Erdey

Gallot

Heitmeier

Johns

Long

Morrell

Morrish

Peacock

Perry

Riser

Smith, G.

Smith, J.

Tarver

Thompson

Walsworth

White

Total – 25

NAYS

Appel

Broome

Brown

Crowe

Dorsey-Colomb

Kostelka

Martiny

Mills

Murray

Nevers

Peterson

Total – 11

ABSENT

Guillory

LaFleur

Ward

Total — 3

As a refresher from our previous post, for a complete list of campaign contributions from oil and gas interests to our 144 current legislators as compiled by Moss Robeson, click here: Copy of Campaign Contributions

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Okay, buckaroos, it’s time for a departure from the serious business of Louisiana politics so that we may take a gander at the lighter side of Louisiana geography. I’m doing this with the following disclaimer: way back in high school, more than half-a-century ago, geography was my very least favorite social studies subject at Ruston High School.

Still, while our politics are so, shall we say, interesting, for lack of a more graphic description (this is, after all, a family post), it’s worth noting that our geography may be every bit as erratic, irrational, and completely devoid of any thread of common sense.

For example, the town of Franklinton is nowhere to be found in Franklin Parish. Franklinton is nestled in Washington Parish. But wait! The Town of Washington is in St. Landry Parish. So, where would one find the town of St. Landry? Where else but in Evangeline Parish? But the town of Evangeline is in Acadia Parish. Arcadia, not to be confused with Acadia, is in Bienville Parish. And even the Evangeline Oak is in St. Martin Parish.

It gets better. Vernon is not in Vernon Parish as one might expect; it’s in Jackson Parish. But Jackson is in East Feliciana Parish. Winnsboro is not in Winn Parish; it’s in Franklin Parish but Franklin is in St. Mary Parish. Likewise, Richland isn’t in Richland Parish. Alas, it, too, is in St. Mary.

One might think Madisonville would be in Madison Parish but one would be wrong; it’s in St. Tammany. Likewise, Plaquemine is not in Plaquemines Parish, but in Iberville. Union isn’t in Union Parish but St. James, and Union Hill is in Rapides. The town of Allen is in Natchitoches Parish, not Allen, and Port Allen is in West Baton Rouge. Well then, surely the town of Calcasieu is in Calcasieu Parish, right? Nope. It’s in Rapides. And Claiborne cannot be found in Claiborne Parish, but two parishes away and about 60 miles east, in Ouachita.

Of course, Natchez would be in the Magnolia State, right across the Mississippi River from Vidalia, right? Nope again. You’d have to travel nearly 100 miles due west to Natchitoches Parish to get to Natchez, Louisiana. Likewise, it only makes sense that Lake St. John would be in St. John the Baptist Parish, but it somehow ended up in Concordia Parish.

And Vidalia onions? Forget about it. They’re from Vidalia, Georgia, not Louisiana.

But in Louisiana, we have Winnsboro and Winnfield; Jonesboro and Jonesville; Springhill, Springfield, Spring Ridge, and Spring Creek. We have Summerfield and Summerville; Mandeville and Mansfield; Sun and Sunset. There’s a Start and a Quitman.

Try explaining to a stranger the difference between Pumpkin Center in Tangipahoa Parish and Punkin’ Center in Jackson Parish. Or Dry Creek and Dry Prong. Then there’s Greensburg, Greenwood, and Greenwell Springs; Dixie and Dixie Inn; Grand Cane, Grand Chenier, Grand Couteau, Grand Isle, Grand Prairie, and Grand Lake, for Pete’s sake.

There’s Good Hope and Goodwill; Gibsland and Gibson; Franklin and Franklinton (them again?); Bush and Bueche (yes, they’re pronounced the same); Center Point and Centerville; Forest and Forest Hill; Houma and Homer; Hicks and Hickory; Kelly and Kelleys; Leeville and Leesville; Mire and Mira; Allen and Port Allen; Union, Union Hill, and Unionville.

Only Louisiana would have one Whitehall in LaSalle Parish and another Whitehall in Livingston Parish. And of course, there’s a White Castle to go with the two Whitehalls. There’s also Woodhaven, Woodland, and Woodworth. We have Morgan City and Morganza; Midland and Midway; Martin and St. Martinville, and Sulphur and Port Sulphur.

Just across from the Little Hope Cemetery on LA. 4 in Bienville Parish is the community of Lucky. Next door in Webster Parish, near Minden, there is an exit off I-20. The exit sign directs motorists to “Goodwill Road” and “Ammunition Plant.”

And we don’t have a clue as to how many Oak Groves, Mt. Olives, Sibleys, and Antiochs there are scattered throughout Louisiana. And where in the world is Paincourtville?

If you’re not confused enough at this point, consider this:

Bossier City is not the government seat for Bossier Parish. That’s tucked away a few miles north in Benton. Likewise, Bienville is not the parish seat in Bienville Parish; it’s Arcadia (the same town that’s not in Acadia Parish). The village of Rapides is just up I-49 from the seat of Rapides Parish, Alexandria. Amite is the parish seat in Tangipahoa Parish, not Tangipahoa and St. James is not the seat of St. James Parish. That distinction belongs to Convent.

If, by now, you’re wondering what the point is to all this meaningless drivel, it’s this:

There’s a good reason why we’re last in everything good and first in everything bad in this state.

We don’t even know where the heck we are half the time.

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