Louisiana Celebrates a Big Victory Over Big Oil


Louisiana environmentalists, landowners, residents and attorneys like myself who try to keep Big Oil honest (no doubt, a tall order), had a rare opportunity to celebrate last week. In a state known for parties and celebrations from Mardi Gras to Gumbo Fest, we finally have occasion to celebrate the prospect of a cleaner environment – a dream that has, unfortunately, eluded us for decades.

Last week, our state legislature (and by extension, voters) took a stand against the most powerful industry in Louisiana, turning back a bill that would have shielded oil and gas companies from liability in the cleanup of lands contaminated by years of damaging oil production processes. The bill (HB 563), proposed by known industry booster Rep. Page Cortez (R-Lafayette), would have taken jurisdictional authority of so-called “legacy lawsuits” out of the local court system and handed it over to the Department of Natural Resources, an agency with an abysmal track record of regulatory enforcement against the oil industry.

In short, we defeated a bill that would have effectively stripped landowners of their right to sue oil and gas companies for contamination damages by permitting the industry to cleanup sites before lawsuits could be pursued. On what planet does that sequence of events make even the slightest bit of sense?

This legislative victory is significant in that it may usher in a new era where we are able to muster the political will to hold Big Oil accountable for the damage it’s done across our state and beyond. Clearly, in the wake of the BP spill, this kind of shameless pro-industry bill was simply too much for voters, and even our legislators, to bear. I only hope our memories don’t fade too quickly to engender real, permanent changes to the way we do business in Louisiana.

But for now, let’s celebrate a rare win – a victory that snaps a decades-long losing streak against the richest, most powerful industry in Louisiana. Raise a glass to a cleaner environment and a political climate where Big Oil doesn’t always get its way.

And lest we forget how we got to this happy place, big kudos to all of you out there who called on our legislators to oppose this bill. Future generations of Louisianans will owe you a debt of gratitude for offering them a legacy of a healthy environment rather than a polluted one.

Read my previous post on details of the proposed legislation and the ensuing battle here: https://www.stuarthsmith.com/in-wake-of-bp-disaster-tone-deaf-louisiana-legislators-seek-to-shield-big-oil-from-onshore-cleanup-costs.

Read more about the reason to celebrate here: http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2011/05/oilfield_remediation_measure_d.html

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – 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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