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Environmental Lawsuit Bills Go to Louisiana Legislature

May 14th, 2014

A Louisiana House committee sent two bills to the House floor on Monday that would place new restrictions on some types of environmental lawsuits against oil and gas companies. One bill would assume that environmental remediation plans advocated by the state’s Department of Natural Resources are the most viable resolutions to the problem of oilfield contamination. A second bill would call for the suspension of court proceedings in such cases where the oil companies admit their role in the environmental damage and turn in a remediation plan to the Department of Natural Resources.

Environmental Lawsuits Hold Oil Companies Accountable

The bills were written to combat “legacy lawsuits”, which property owners use to combat oil and gas operators who had worked on their sites and left the areas too contaminated to use. The aim of these environmental lawsuits is often to hold the oil companies accountable for the environmental damage they leave at a site, even decades after they leave. Landowners often lack the technology, the resources or the knowledge to restore the property to its previous state, so they seek legal action against the oil companies.

Environmental Lawsuits and Shifting Standards

The issue of environmental lawsuits stemming from decades-old oil exploration has spurred questions about which set of standards to use in evaluating potential violations. State Senator Robert Adley, the author of one of the bills, also included the provision that the plaintiff must prove that the actions undertaken by the oil companies violated the environmental standards in place at that time.

“We ought not be suing people for things they did in the 1930s under rules approved in the 1980s,” Adley told the committee.

Environmental Lawsuit Legislation Spurs Debate

State Representative John Bel Edwards stated that Senator Adley’s bill would be construed as permitting only those clean-up provisions specifically detailed in a lease agreement to be in question in an environmental lawsuit. Rep. Edwards also said that the bill would nullify previous state laws calling for oil companies to remediate any damage outside of standard depreciation, unless those repairs were previously stipulated in the lease agreement. Rep. Edwards attempted to add language to the bill that would have included “implied lease obligations”, but the amendments failed to pass a committee vote.

Plaintiffs, Attorneys in Environmental Lawsuits Not Invited to Hearings

The parties most closely affected by the environmental lawsuits did not receive invitations to the committee hearings during the drafting of the bills. Dozens of small private landowners and their attorneys in the legacy lawsuits were not allowed to testify during the committee hearings, so legislators were unable to learn the extent of the damage done to the plaintiffs.

Source: NOLA.com

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