Skip to content

Is Big Oil Secretly Negotiating A Settlement To Pay For Coastal Damages?

On April 25th, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell was a guest on “The Jim Engster Show,” and General Caldwell spoke candidly about his recent dispute with State Senator Robert Adley (R- Big Oil) and the continuing controversy surrounding the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East’s (SLFPA-E) landmark lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies. Quoting from the transcript (bold mine):

Caldwell: Well, Robert Adley is who you see is who you get. He’s just an everyday guy that is vehement about his own interests, and he represents the big oil interest. And I’m a lawyer, so whatever the law is, that’s what I want to comply with. And we had a little deal where the levee board down in New Orleans, whether or not they could let a contract, and of course they could. They’re a political subdivision, and in that case they get to hire their own attorney. So, I was right about that, the court upheld me on that. But Robert is not a lawyer, the people surrounding him are not lawyers, and the lawyers that he has advising him are not real lawyers, so he runs into a problem there.

Engster: Well, he was on the show, and I’d like to paraphrase him. He even talked about it being unchristian to go after these oil and gas people after the fact. He says that they thought they were complying with the law, and they were at the time that they were involved in drilling and ripping up the coast – I’m paraphrasing, then we should’ve had something in place then, and not go after them after the fact.

Caldwell: Well actually the oil and gas people are contractors, and they sign contracts with landowners, and they agreed when they signed their contracts and executed their leases that they would cleanup. And basically speaking, they never really did that. But there are some legitimate interests in the oil and gas company. What I have tried to do is put myself in the stated position to have them “let’s get this over with.” The oil and gas companies are actually listening to me now, and they want to get all this stuff off of their books. And I believe after this legislative session we’re going to see some big time movement in that. Of course the only reason that they would move is that you get sued, you get a trial date, and you have to do something about it. But I have faith in the oil and gas industry that they are going to finally do something because it is in their best economic interest to do so, and now.

Engster: Well the legislature of course is weighing bills that are being promoted by Senator Adley and others that would essentially do away with the current litigation – what do you think will happen?

Caldwell: Well, I believe the oil and gas industry is gonna do what’s best for its own economic interest, and I think that they see a value in getting rid of all the suits, cleaning up, doing what they should’ve done to begin with.

A few weeks ago, I spoke with John Barry, a former member of the SLFPA-E who is widely considered one of the world’s preeminent experts in the history and the causes of coastal erosion. While on the SLFPA-E, Mr. Barry, the author of the critically acclaimed bestseller Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, helped to spearhead the largest and most significant environmental lawsuit in Louisiana history, asking 97 different oil and gas companies to, in Mr. Barry’s words, “restore the part of the coast they damaged.” Make no mistake: No one can credibly deny that oil and gas companies are not, at least, partially responsible for the destruction and degradation of the Louisiana Gulf Coast, and no one, including Senator Robert Adley, can credibly assert that these companies were really “complying with the law.”

For decades, oil and gas companies have extracted trillions of dollars worth of natural resources from Louisiana’s coast, and Louisiana’s shared natural resources have helped a small handful of multinational corporations and out-of-state businessmen accumulate more wealth than anyone before in human history. It’s an astonishing arrangement: Foreign oil and gas companies have pillaged and polluted Louisiana’s coast; they’ve made the state’s already vulnerable ecosystem even more vulnerable by dredging canals wherever and whenever they see fit. The wealthiest industry in the world has convinced one of the poorest, sickest, and most uneducated states in America that they’re doing it a favor by extracting its natural resources, shipping off the profits, destroying its environment, buying off its state government, and hiring so-called academics to remind everyone how great the industry is for the state’s economy.

This, of course, is not to suggest, at all, that Louisiana’s oil and gas industry is inherently terrible; like most industries, it’s just inherently amoral. And for far too many years, the industry has been allowed to act with impunity. When John Barry and the SLFPA-E announced their historic lawsuit against Big Oil, both the state and national media praised their bold action. This was about Louisiana finally, seriously holding oil and gas companies accountable. This wasn’t about finding money for Governor Bobby Jindal to build more sand castles; it was about securing reasonable compensation from these companies to actually fix the damage they inflicted.

And while the media and almost anyone who has ever read about the urgency of coastal restoration praised the SLFPA-E’s landmark lawsuit, Governor Jindal decided to take the side of Big Oil and to blame, rather pathetically, the lawyers who signed on to the case. Given the size and scope of the case and the risks involved, the SLFPA-E’s lawyers were hired under a contingency fee agreement. In a case like this, such agreements are commonplace, and as both the Louisiana Attorney General and the courts have repeatedly held, these agreements are completely legal. But because Governor Jindal and his friends in Big Oil could not and cannot dispute the underlying merits of the SLFPA-E’s lawsuit, they were forced instead to trot out a hackneyed political attack against “greedy trial lawyers.”

To be sure, under the original contingency fee agreement, if the SLFPA-E was successful, their lawyers stood to make an enormous fortune, and I recognize how that possibility may offend people who believe the damages that Big Oil owes to Louisiana should be spent on restoring the coast, not paying lawyers. But either way, there is an underlying irony to Big Oil’s “trial lawyer” spin: It anticipates that the lawyers are right; it unwittingly acknowledges that, if the case ever made it to a courtroom, Big Oil would lose, epically. And it means that Governor Jindal’s opposition to the lawsuit, in particular, has nothing to do with ensuring real environmental justice for the people of Louisiana and everything to do with protecting the profits of Big Oil.

Almost immediately after the lawsuit was announced, Governor Jindal made it abundantly clear that John Barry would not be reappointed to the SLFPA-E, and during the last month, State Senator Robert Adley has carried a series of bills aimed at invalidating the lawsuit and restructuring the SLFPA-E.

*****

I asked John Barry if he was surprised by Governor Jindal’s reaction. He said he was. The Governor, he said, should have been aware of the lawsuit, well before it was even filed. His coastal advisor, Garret Graves, had been sitting in on SLFPA-E’s meetings for months. Although Mr. Graves never spoke out in favor of the litigation, according to Mr. Barry, he also, allegedly, never warned board members of the Governor’s apparent belief that the lawsuit was a usurpation of gubernatorial authority and allegedly never advised board members of the Governor’s vehement opposition to the lawsuit.

When the suit was finally filed, Mr. Barry claimed that he was also surprised that many of the companies listed in the indictment seemed to be totally unaware, until then, that the SLFPE-A had been preparing litigation. He had assumed Mr. Graves had been advising the Governor’s Office and that, in turn, the Governor’s Office would have been sharing information with their friends in the oil and gas industry. On February 4th, Mr. Graves resigned from his position in the Governor’s Office in order to launch a campaign for Louisiana’s Sixth Congressional District. In announcing his resignation, Mr. Graves said his decision had actually “been made months ago.”  It is unclear if his apparent lack of communication with the Governor’s Office concerning the imminence of the SLFPA-E’s lawsuit factored into his resignation.

*****

I also asked Mr. Barry if the authority had been pursuing settlement negotiations with the companies named in the suit. Rather than attempt to paraphrase his response, I think it’s equally instructive and revealing to read Mr. Barry’s comments concerning Attorney General Caldwell’s statement on “The Jim Engster Show.” Quoting (bold mine):

Last week, Louisiana’s Attorney General Buddy Caldwell made public something I’ve hinted at in my talks: there are on-going conversations about a statewide settlement. On the Jim Engster radio show last week, Caldwell announced that because of the SLFPA-E lawsuit, major oil companies have come to him seeking a statewide settlement. We’ve always hoped that the lawsuit would spark a statewide deal. Conversely, we’ve recognized that if the legislature kills the lawsuit, there’s no reason for the oil companies to compromise. There is a solution if the state would simply seal it. The governor has turned his back on that possibility. As citizens, lets make sure the legislature does not.

Put another way, for the first time in Louisiana history, oil companies are now sitting at the negotiating table, willing to discuss a statewide settlement deal. But remember, as General Caldwell stated, “Of course the only reason that they would move is that you get sued, you get a trial date, and you have to do something about it.” 

By attempting to retroactively invalidate this lawsuit (which I believe would be subject to more than a couple of Constitutional challenges), Bobby Jindal, Robert Adley, and all of the other Louisiana elected officials being paid to do the bidding of Big Oil are destroying this once-in-a-generation opportunity to reach a fair and equitable settlement agreement to restore and repair our coast in a large-scale, meaningful way. It may not work out, but it is worth a shot. And remember the whole “contingency fee” controversy? That’s already been resolved, and it destroys Governor Jindal’s central argument.

Quoting from an April 8, 2014 Press Release:

Attorneys Representing Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East Put The Ball in Oil and Gas Companies’ Court – Offer To Tear Up Contract Under New Terms, Public Would Not Pay a Penny for Lawyers’ Fees (New Orleans, LA )

Today the attorneys representing the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East (“SLFPA-E”) formally extended an offer to restructure their fees if the 97 oil and gas companies named in the suit will come to the table and negotiate a fair and equitable settlement in the case to accelerate the important work that needs to be done to restore Louisiana’s Coast. “SLFPA-E filed this lawsuit in order to protect the lives, property, and culture of coastal Louisiana” said Gladstone Jones, lead attorney for SLFPAE.

“The oil and gas industry has used the rhetoric of ‘greedy trial lawyers’ to distract from the true facts of this case that show these companies played a role in the coastal erosion of South Louisiana.  This proposal puts an end to that distraction.”

The fee agreement between the firms and the SLFPA-E has been the subject of legislation that is currently moving through the Louisiana Legislature.  Governor Jindal, oil and gas lobbyists, and friendly legislators have used discussion of it to deflect attention from the core issue of the case – the land loss crisis facing coastal Louisiana. In order to get that issue out of the way, the lawyers have made the following proposal: The lawyers will agree to waive fees owed under the existing fee agreement with the SLFPAE with respect to any oil, gas or pipeline defendant named in the SLFPAE action that:

(1)     agrees within 6 months to enter into negotiations toward a compromise and

(2)     agrees to pay mutually agreeable attorneys’ fees in connection with such a compromise. In the event the parties cannot reach a mutual agreement, all parties agree to submit the question of the attorneys’ fee to arbitration.

Gladstone Jones went on to say “We are in this with the citizens and taxpayers of South Louisiana.  It’s time for South Louisiana to see some leadership from the Legislature and the Governor that demonstrates a commitment to protect the lives and property of the good people of South Louisiana.  If these companies aren’t forced to fix what they broke, then taxpayers will be on the hook for billions. The Legislature should leave the third branch of government to do its job because evidence, not influence, should decide this case.”

*****

So, right now, we’re negotiating statewide settlement offers; the controversial contingency fee agreements have been scrubbed, and maybe, just maybe, we are on the verge of a substantive breakthrough.

No, John Barry and members of the SLFPA-E refused to kiss the Governor’s ring; they’ve refused to kowtow to State Senator Robert Adley and the rest of his merry gang at the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. And instead of preoccupying themselves with Timmy Teepell’s trial lawyer fantasies, they’ve managed to finally bring people to the table.

Mark my words: If Governor Jindal successfully neuters and invalidates this historic and important lawsuit, it may take Louisiana another thirty years to get back to the negotiating table, and by then, it may be too late.

Save Bringhurst Field (From The Media)

Because I was born with a physical disability, I’ve never been good at throwing or catching a ball or running or jumping or anything else that would qualify as athletic, but when I was a kid, baseball was therapy for me. I collected baseball cards, and in the fifth grade, I embarked on ambitious letter-writing campaign to my favorite major league players. I’d send them my baseball cards and politely ask them to send me back an autograph. To make it easy, I included a self-addressed stamped envelop. Dozens of major leaguers responded, and I amassed an enviable stash of memorabilia. In the seventh grade, while I was recovering from an orthopedic surgery, I spent afternoons swinging at tennis balls thrown by major league pitcher Russ Springer, one of Alexandria’s hometown heroes. During the off-season, Russ and I went to the same physical therapist; I was a part of his routine, and he was a part of mine. And sometimes, my younger brother and his friends would let me play baseball with them in the neighborhood pick-up games they staged in our front lawn. I may have been a terrible player, but I knew more about the game than any other kid. They respected me, which meant they struck me out every single time I went up to bat; regardless, I loved every second of those games.

Baseball has always been a passion of mine, and truth be told, I probably had no choice: It’s in my blood. My father and his father both grew up playing the game. My second cousin Jodie White is known in my hometown as “Mr. Baseball.” My great-grandfather, Frederick White (with whom I share a name), helped to build Bringhurst Field, Alexandria’s minor league park, back in the early 1930s.

I didn’t just grow up in a baseball family; I was born and raised in a baseball town.628x471

In the late spring and early summer, Alexandria’s Little League parks were the biggest draw in town. You were lucky if you could find a parking spot.

*****

In 1994, the City of Alexandria renovated Bringhurst Field, and for the first time in nearly twenty years, the Alexandria Aces took the field. My dad bought us box seats, directly behind the Aces’s on-deck circle, and for nearly four years, we went to every game we could. I was there when the Aces won a league championship in 1997, and I was there again for their championship season in 1998. We were good, but even when we lost, it was still fun.

alexla

Minor league baseball games need to be about more than baseball, and for a few years, the Alexandria Aces seemed to recognize that. Aside from the year Michael Jordan played for the minor league team in Birmingham, the players have never really sold tickets; the experience sells tickets. The Alexandria Aces could offer an experience that no other minor league park in the entire country can offer: Only Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are older than Bringhurst. But to get people there, you have to sell the whole experience: Good food, good beer, good music, comedy, contests and prizes, and maybe even some fireworks at the end.

In its first season, the minor league park in Frisco, Texas, home of the Roughriders, made more money than the Ballpark in Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers. A few years ago, I went on a private tour of the ballpark in Frisco, and I asked their General Manager what the formula was. “Programming,” he said. “No one is here just to see a baseball game.”

*****

I spent the last three days back in Alexandria, and like many, I was alarmed to hear on KALB that the City was proposing a tax that would be used to demolish Bringhurst Field. I knew the Aces have been struggling for years, and I knew that the ballpark itself is dire need of repair. I worked for Mayor Jacques Roy for more than five years, and in that time, I learned, first-hand, that he is one of the fiercest proponents of historic preservation in the American South. At his direction, I helped plan and organize two different regional summits and multiple community meetings that largely focused on the issue of historic preservation. Under his leadership, for the first time ever, Alexandria now employs an historic preservation director. A few years ago, we commissioned a master plan on parks and recreation programming, which was adopted by the City Council. If anyone at the City had ever endorsed tearing down the historic baseball park my great-grandfather had helped to build, I would have known, and I probably would have called them out.

KALB’s story, in other words, made no sense to me.

So, I did what KALB should have done: I asked Mayor Roy, his Chief of Policy, Jonathan Bolen, and his Director of Community Services, Daniel Williams, “Why is KALB reporting that you want to demolish Bringhurst?”

My friends and former colleagues at the City of Alexandria may not say it, but I will: KALB’s reporting on this issue is a textbook example of journalistic malpractice. They based their entire report on speculation posted on a Facebook group called “Save Bringhurst,” and despite the fact that, today, the group’s spokesman, Adam Lord, told KALB he was “on the same page” as the City administration, KALB continued to inaccurately report the City is considering a proposal for demolition. This is simply untrue, and if KALB is to maintain any credibility in the future, they should immediately retract and correct their egregious misreporting.

After KALB’s most recent report, I spoke with both Adam Lord and Daniel Williams, and both of them, independently and separately, told me that their interviews with KALB had been selectively and severely edited. In my opinion, it borders on outright deception. Contrary to KALB’s report, the City didn’t “clarify” its position; the City’s position has never changed. KALB got tripped up in a lie, and instead of admitting its mistake, they doubled-down and put the blame on public officials.

According to Mr. Williams of the City of Alexandria, he told KALB reporter Brooke Buford, more than once, that the City was never and had never considered “demolition” of the historic baseball park, and according to Mr. Lord of Save Bringhurst, he made it abundantly clear to KALB that he supported passage of a dedicated parks and recreation tax, which would provide $3.9 million toward the restoration of Bringhurst Field. Mr. Lord acknowledged there was some confusion about the language of a draft document the City released in connection with the tax measure, but that after meeting with administration officials, his group’s concerns had been properly addressed and resolved. KALB edited out these comments from their report.

If KALB had taken the time, like Mr. Lord did, to actually learn about the issues, they would have learned that there was no serious proposal to transform Bringhurst into a water park or an aviary or even a parking lot; the City simply disclosed a series of broad ideas pitched during the recreation master planning process. If they are to be faulted for anything, it’s for being too transparent about what was pitched. The plan and the vision, all along, has been to preserve the baseball park, which is precisely why they believe in dedicating $3.9 million for the project.

*****

I applaud Adam Lord and all of those who believe, like he does, that Bringhurst Field is worth saving. I also know, beyond any doubt, that Mayor Roy and his entire administration want to preserve this historic treasure. And that’s why I think it’s important to be so strong about KALB’s shoddy reporting: The only way we can guarantee Bringhurst Field’s future is by ensuring there is a sustainable, dedicated source of funding for parks and recreation programming. Yes, that may mean Bringhurst Field is no longer, exclusively, the home of a struggling semi-professional baseball team; it may mean Bringhurst becomes something even bigger: A venue for high school tournaments and concerts and weddings and special events. It may mean the City consider multi-purpose uses. It may mean leasing out space for a restaurant. At the very least, it’s all worth considering. Right now, it’s collapsing in on itself.

alexla7

But, because of KALB’s irresponsible journalism (which has been picked up by other sources), a tax call that was intended, among other things, to save Bringhurst could be defeated as a result of the misinformation they have repeatedly peddled as fact.

Alexandria deserves a jewel like Bringhurst Field, and KALB owes those who truly care about preserving Bringhurst an apology. I’ve been covering my hometown news for nearly a decade, and I’ve never been more ashamed of and embarrassed by the local Alexandria media than I am today.

The tax call protects more than Bringhurst; it ensures that the Alexandria Zoo no longer needs to rely on utility fund transfers to subsidize its operations. It ensures that children have the opportunity to participate in after-school basketball, soccer, golf, and tennis programs. It provides the community the resources it requires to maintain all of its numerous parks and walking trails. And it’s all desperately and urgently needed.

It’s not all about baseball, but again, baseball is in my blood and right now, my blood is boiling.

Here is my personal vision for Bringhurst:

1. Reconstruct the stadium’s facade with as much original material as possible. Install terra cotta roof that ties thematically to the neighborhood, and conforms stylistically with design features at other city facilities. See: the entrance of Camden Yards.

images

2. Install public art at the main entrance and at the first and third base entrances. (Issue an RFQ).

3. Reconstruct the stands to ensure they are safe and ADA compliant.

4. Demolish the back fence. Add outfield, stadium-level seating for right and left fields. Maintain centerfield as an open grass field with potential water feature (and which could double as stage). Relocate bullpens in front of raised outfield seating.

5. Significantly upgrade bathroom facilities.

6. Expand box seating.

7. Relocate clubhouses behind outfield fencing.

8. Lease out existing clubhouse facilities for year-long restaurant enterprise.

9. Develop and enforce design guidelines for commercial signage.

10. Consider corporate naming rights.

11. Construct stage for musical performances near third base.

12. Develop programmatic synergies with the Zoo.

I am more than open to additional ideas, and I know my friends at the City feel the same way.

EXCLUSIVE: Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Demands Senator David Vitter’s Resignation

Late last night, Roger Villere, Chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, demanded that United States Senator David Vitter immediately resign from office, only hours after Villere called for the resignation of another Louisiana Republican, Congressman Vance McAllister. “The Louisiana Republican Party must be a party of principle. Both Congressman McAllister and Senator Vitter have admitted to engaging in actions that betrayed not only their families but also the citizens who entrusted them with their votes. It does not matter if these actions occurred four months ago or four years ago or even ten years ago; as Republicans, if we are to be credible, we must be consistent.”

Earlier this week, Congressman Vance McAllister admitted to having an affair with staffer Melissa Peacock, following the release of surveillance footage from the Congressman’s district office that showed him kissing Mrs. Peacock in a dark room and then escorting her through the office and to her car. In November, McAllister, who represents Louisiana’s Fifth Congressional District, stunned political observers when he soundly defeated State Senator Neil Riser, a fellow Republican who was heavily favored and had the endorsements of several high-profile state and national Republican leaders. Many attribute McAllister’s upset victory to the support of Phil and Willie Robertson of the hit reality television show “Duck Dynasty.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere called McAllister’s Chief of Staff, Adam Terry, to demand the Congressman’s resignation. According to Politico, Villere became so emotional during the call that he had to hang up. Quoting (bold mine):

When Louisiana GOP chairman Roger Villere Jr. left a message for McAllister, he heard back from the congressman’s chief of staff, Adam Terry. A source familiar with the call said it was “heated” and that the chairman hung up.

“It’s been a trying week for our party,” Villere said. “I’ve been praying for guidance non-stop. I realized as a man of God and as the leader of our state’s party, I would be a hypocrite if I demanded the resignation of a duly-elected Congressman because he was caught kissing a woman other than his wife and didn’t also demand the resignation of Senator Vitter, who admitted, in so many words, to soliciting prostitutes. I can’t ask for one man to resign for kissing a woman, which is not a crime, and then stand behind another man who has committed a crime.”

Villere stated that he would be submitting a formal written letter of demand to both Congressman McAllister and Senator Vitter on Friday. “It was a mistake for the Louisiana Republican Party to stand behind Senator Vitter in 2007. I know Governor Jindal probably regrets what he said at the time,” Villere said, referring to then-Congressman Jindal’s statement that Vitter’s affairs with prostitutes should not be “used by others for their own political gain.”

Villere claimed his decision has been painful and could potentially cost him his job. “As the leader of our state’s party, I have to make tough decisions. It’s time to clean house. As long as I am chairman, we are going to be the party that champions family values, in both words and actions.”

****

Editor’s note: Just joking. Roger Villere would never ask for David Vitter to resign.

%d bloggers like this: