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Battle shaping up over 'Big Oil' lawsuit bill

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 27, 2014 at 4:49 pm •  Published: February 27, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Supporters of a south Louisiana flood control board's lawsuit against scores of oil and gas companies over erosion of coastal wetlands announced plans Thursday to fight legislation they say could undermine not only the lawsuit but the political independence of the board.

Sen. Robert Adley's bill, filed for this year's legislative session, would give Gov. Bobby Jindal power to reject an independent committee's nominations for membership on the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.

Jindal opposes the lawsuit filed last year against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies by the SLFPA-E. The suit seeks to hold the industry accountable for damage done by dredging for pipelines and canals and other activity believed to have contributed to erosion of coastal wetlands. The fragile wetlands serve as a natural buffer against hurricane storm surge.

The advocacy group Levees.Org, a group that organized to call attention to levee failures during Hurricane Katrina, announced the plans at a news conference Thursday along with members of the environmental organizations Sierra Club, the Gulf Restoration Network and Louisiana Bucket Brigade.

The backdrop for the news conference was a block of weedy empty lots and abandoned crumbling houses sitting near the site where the London Avenue canal flood wall gave way when Katrina hit — one of several breaches that led to catastrophic flooding in the 2005 storm. The site is in the Gentilly neighborhood, a working-class area of modest homes that is recovering unevenly from the disaster.

Signs with a portrait of Adley and the words "The Face of Big Oil" were stuck in the ground around the participants, who said Adley's bill would erode the political independence of regional flood boards established in a post-Katrina reform effort.

"We certainly shouldn't let a man who is in no danger of flooding be the architect of pulling apart our levee board," Anne Rolfes, of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said referring to the Republican lawmaker from the northwest Louisiana city of Benton.

Adley and Jindal have been harsh critics of the lawsuit, saying it hurts an industry that has done much for the state and undermines a well-coordinated effort to protect and restore the coast. Adley said in a telephone interview that he filed the bill for the Jindal administration and that he plans more bills aimed at the nine-member board and the lawsuit.

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