Why Big Oil’s assault on Baton Rouge must be stopped

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 The other day I told you that Big Oil — alarmed in Louisiana about the citizenry finally fighting back after decades of environmental abuse, and uncertain about their political prospects past 2015 — is launching an epic legislative assault in Baton Rouge. Their army of lobbyists is seeking no less than a rollback of anti-pollution standards in the state, back to a time before the first Earth Day. They want to stack the deck against property owners and everyday folks and in favor of the massive energy companies. I mentioned that a big part of their effort is to block what they called “legacy lawsuits” — a fancy term that some lobbyist made up to describe what happens when regular landowners seek justice from large polluters.

There’s another important piece of legislation, though, that would be a catastrophe for the fragile ecology of Louisiana. It’s called H.B. 618, and this one seeks to end the awarding of punitive damages in lawsuits that involve the dumping of hazardous wastes. That, in and of itself, is a terrible idea — the threat of a substantial economic penalty is typically the only effective tool that we have to force large corporations to be good stewards of the environment. The bill was introduced by the New Orleans state House member Neil Abramson, who also works for a law firm, Liskow & Lewis, that represents large oil and gas companies against these so-called “legacy lawsuits.” Since Abramson’s latest bill was introduced a couple of weeks ago, my law partner Mike Stag has had an opportunity to look much more closely at the fine print, and it’s clear this bill needs to be stopped.

 

It allows those who disregarded public safety in handling hazardous or toxic substances to avoid legal consequences of their bad acts. But the bill was also drafted to effectively retroactively repeal the law on hazardous waste, even though sponsors claimed that it was only a repeal going forward. It makes it more difficult for individuals who were injured by acts of pollution that were illegal at the time to pursue their claims. That includes those who suffered asbestos injuries, benzene exposures, and radiation exposure — even though those types of pollution can cause leukemia, lung cancer, and mesothelioma that may not turn up for 20 years, or longer. Not surprisingly, it diminishes property claims against these bad environmental actors as well. The legislation makes life easier for the dumpers of oil and gas waste, refinery waste, and gas plant waste — even though these wastes include many different toxins such as  arsenic, lead, barium, radioactive brine, radioactive scale (Radium-226, Thorium, Lead 210, Radon), benzene, toluene, and hexavalent chromium.

Meanwhile, the Advocate had an interesting profile today of another Louisiana lawmaker who is happily doing the work of the energy lobbyists, state Sen. Robert Adley:

And Adley is steeped in the industry. He owned Pelican Gas Management from 1992 until 2012. The company managed natural-gas supplies for towns statewide through contracts with the Louisiana Municipal Gas Authority.

In 2003, an Associated Press article questioned whether the gas authority awarded him the no-bid contracts thanks to his political office and influence — a suggestion he denied. The business was lucrative. In 2002, The AP reported, he earned $259,000 from Pelican.

Adley’s latest financial disclosure report shows in 2012 he and his wife each earned at least $100,000, the highest reportable figure. He now consults for gas companies.

The industry has been good to Adley, the politician. Oil and gas companies have dropped more than $150,000 into Adley’s Senate campaigns, reports Louisiana Voice.

The article also quotes retired Gen. Russel Honore, the “Ragin’ Cajun” of the Hurrican Katrina recovery, who has organized a “Green Army” of citizens around environmental protection. He questions who Adley is really working for. “For nine months of the year, he is the chief executive officer of a gas company,” Honore said. “For three months [during the legislative session], he represents the industry he is in.”

Exactly. The people of Louisiana are getting sick of electing folks and sending them to the capital — only to watch them serve the large corporations instead of the people. That’s why it’s so critical that everyday citizens reach out to their own legislator, who may be sitting on the fence, and let them know there will be political consequences for supporting polluters over the public. Stopping these ill-conceived, backward-moving pieces of legislation is the right place to start.

Read the profile of state Sen. Robert Adley that ran in the Advocate and in the Lens this week: http://theadvocate.com/home/8821076-125/oil-and-gas-interests-have

Check out my April 1 blog post about the pro-oil lobbying effort in Louisiana: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/stop-the-polluters-from-taking-back-louisiana/

© Smith Stag, LLC 2014 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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