HARAHAN, La. (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal's efforts to undo a New Orleans-area flood board's lawsuit against the oil and gas industry edged forward Thursday at the Legislature and in a nominating panel that gave him a chance to replace a member of the board who supported the lawsuit.
Tyrone Ben, a human resources manager for a mental health and counseling service in Chalmette, became the second of two nominees that could fill the seat now held by Tim Doody on the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.
Doody has applied for another term and has been re-nominated. But Jindal has made clear that he won't select Doody, who supported the lawsuit seeking damages from more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies because of decades of damage to wetlands that provide New Orleans with natural protection from hurricanes.
Ben said he was encouraged to apply by former St. Bernard Parish President Craig Tafarro, a Jindal administration representative on the state coastal restoration board and a critic of the flood authority. Ben said in a telephone interview that he has not spoken to the governor about the lawsuit and has not studied it enough to know whether he will support it.
His appointment marked at least an incremental move in Jindal's favor in that it provides him with an alternative to Doody. Still, if the governor appoints Ben — who also needs Senate confirmation — and sides with the governor on the lawsuit, there will remain a five-member majority on the nine-member board who support the suit.
Jindal also made progress at the Legislature. A Senate committee chaired by Robert Adley, a Benton Republican harshly critical of the lawsuit, approved Adley's bill prohibiting Louisiana's flood protection authorities from hiring outside lawyers without approval from the governor. It applies the restrictions retroactively. It also would require lawmakers to approve board contingency fee arrangements — potentially lucrative agreements that pay off only if the court case is won — for future lawsuits.
Jindal and Adley have blasted the litigation as an attack on a vital industry and a windfall for private attorneys hired by the flood authority for a suit that could involve billions of dollars in damages.
Jindal's policy director, Stafford Palmieri, said the measure approved Thursday would subject the levee boards to the same standards required of other state boards and commissions.
"We believe that the process that was followed to enter into the contract with the attorneys, we believe that that process was inappropriate and violated the policies of this state," Adley said.
Among opponents of Adley's bill was retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, a Louisiana native credited with many in south Louisiana with helping bring order to the rescue effort in New Orleans in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina. Honore is emerging as a voice for environmentalists in the state.
"Why would you make it retroactive?" Honore said in reacton to Adley's bill. "That is vindictive."
Honore is among supporters of the lawsuit who say the industry is not being held accountable for damage done by canal dredging, drilling and pipeline work that is believed to have contributed to erosion of wetlands.
"The notion that this bill can go back retroactively and impair contracts is unconstitutional," said Michael Veron, a Lake Charles lawyer representing the levee board.
Adley's bill, one of several at the Legislature that could affect the lawsuit, goes next to the full Senate.