BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal said Monday he would delay signing a bill he fought for throughout the 2014 legislative session — one aimed at killing a lawsuit filed by a southeast Louisiana levee board against 97 oil and gas companies over damage to the state's fragile wetlands.
Jindal said he agreed to the delay at the request of the state attorney general. The delay comes after opponents of the bill circulated a memo from legal experts who said the bill might have unintended consequences affecting state and local governments' claims against BP over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
At a news conference, Jindal said he and his legal staff are certain the bill would not harm state or local interests. "However, the attorney general's asked for additional time to look at the law. Out of an abundance of caution we are giving the attorney general's office time to look at the law."
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said his office may release a statement later.
The governor has until June 22 to veto the measure, should he decide that is necessary. If he takes no action, the bill would become law without his signature.
Jindal never explicitly mentioned the possibility of a veto before his staff ended the news conference, where he had been scheduled to sign the bill into law. Spokesman Mike Reed declined to add to what Jindal said at the news conference, which fell in the final hours of the 2014 regular session.
Jindal has joined the oil and gas industry in vociferously opposing the lawsuit filed last year by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. The suit, now in federal court, says drilling and dredging by oil, gas and pipeline companies are partially to blame for the degradation of coastal wetlands that serve as a natural hurricane buffer for New Orleans. Proponents say it could bring billions of dollars needed to fund the state coastal restoration effort.
Opponents, including Jindal and industry leaders, call the suit a needless attack on a valuable industry and a windfall for trial lawyers. Jindal has also said it undermines the state's coastal restoration work, which includes cooperative efforts with oil companies.
Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, won passage of the bill designed to kill the SLFPA-E lawsuit. It says the only governmental entities that can bring legal claims about management of Louisiana's coastal zones are those listed in the state's Coastal Zone Management Act. Levee boards aren't on the list. The bill specifies that its provisions "shall be applicable to all claims existing or actions pending."
Opponents, over the weekend, began circulating an analysis by Robert R.M. Verchick of the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law and other legal scholars. The analysis says the bill, if it becomes law, threatens claims the state and various local, coastal Louisiana governments have made against BP under the federal Oil Pollution Act.
"A court could plausibly interpret SB 469 to dismiss or limit damage claims, now before the court, that the state and its subdivisions have brought against BP," the analysis said.
"Our attorneys don't think this bill does that," Jindal said.
Jindal did sign a bill Monday reworking what are commonly called "legacy lawsuits," which seek compensation for energy companies over drilling-related damage to leased lands. He said the bill by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, is an effective compromise balancing the rights of landowners and oil companies and avoiding frivolous lawsuits.