That Senate Bill 469 — which aims to kill the New Orleans levee board’s lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies for coastal damages — could absolve BP from paying billions worth of damages claims raises an even bigger question: What role did BP play in the passage and drafting of the legislation?
What we know for sure is what our sources tell us: BP’s lobbyists were in heavy rotation at the Capitol during the debates and votes on the bill and were high-fiving lobbyists from the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association on the day of the bill’s final passage.
BP was included among the 97 named defendants in the levee board’s lawsuit, but its support of the bill may have been for very different reasons.
According to a memorandum released earlier this week by a group of more than two dozen law professors, SB 469 could impact a majority of the damage lawsuits filed against BP in the wake of the 2010 spill. That memo (read it here) has since attracted 79 signatures from emminent law professors nationwide, all calling on Jindal to veto the bill.
“One paragraph in SB 469 says that states and local entities shall not pursue any kind of claim that has to do with waters in coastal Louisiana unless it’s a certain type of claim that the bill allows,” explains Loyola law professor Robert Verchick, the memo’s principal author. “One type it allows would be open to this idea of oil spills, but only for property damage. No other type of damage. The legal term property damage just describes the value of the property that is spoiled. It doesn’t include what lawyers call economic loss, and that’s what makes up the bulk of that $10 billion in claims against BP, which includes things like lost tourism dollars, or lost tax revenue, or increased medical response or increased job training. The list really goes on and on.”
After reviewing the memorandum, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell issued a letter Wednesday to Jindal’s office calling for the governor to veto the bill.
Despite Caldwell’s warning and recommendation to veto the bill, Jindal’s executive counsel Thomas Enright issued a response letter, writing off the attorney general’s advise:
Perhaps even more problematic than Jindal's unwillingness to listen to Caldwell is that Jindal recently acknowledged that oil and gas industry attorneys helped draft the legislation.
And with the possibility that BP could get out of paying billions in damage claims because of the bill, it raises questions as to the oil giant's involvement in drafting the legislation.
“During the last few days of the session, we were very well aware that the BP lobbyists were extraordinarily active,” says former levee board vice president John Barry. “They were all over the place. We all assumed there was definitely something in it for them.”
Also interesting is that the governor’s brother Nikesh Jindal is an attorney with Gibson Dunn, one of the law firms representing BP against the damage claims, and is assigned to the division handling BP’s case.
And perhaps the biggest conflict would be the $1 million in campaign contributions Jindal has received from the industry, not to mention the more than $600,000 received by one of the bill's biggest backers Sen. Robert Adley and the close to $30,000 received by the bill's sponsor Sen. Bret Allain.
The hypocrisy of it all is best summed up in this post by blogger Lamar White Jr.:
Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards spent eight years in federal prison for accepting payments, totaling a few hundred thousand dollars, from would-be casino operators who sought his mostly unsuccessful “help,” after he had returned to his law practice, in receiving licenses from a state board comprised largely of people he had previously appointed. Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was convicted of using his position to steer business to a struggling granite and stone company he owned with his sons and taking bribes, in the form of paid vacations, meals, and cell phones, from people seeking contracts or incentives from the city.
For many, these crimes are unforgivable, a complete and total dereliction of duty, a breach of trust, and for many, these two men, along with former Congressman William Jefferson, will forever be remembered as criminals.
If Bobby Jindal signs SB 469 into law and if BP does what nearly eighty of the country’s most preeminent legal scholars anticipate they will do — with a law that BP’s own lobbyists likely helped to write, Governor Jindal would have betrayed the people of Louisiana far more than Edwin Edwards or Ray Nagin or William Jefferson ever did. Edwin’s deals, C. Ray’s vacations, and Dollar Bill’s $90,000 in the freezer would all pale in comparison to the $1 million that oil and gas companies have already deposited in Jindal’s campaign bank account, the $600,000 they’ve given, so far, to State Senator Robert Adley, and the millions more they’ve contributed to their other friends in the legislature.
Read White's full blog here.