They are, on paper, the oddest of couples. And they may have found common ground on the most unexpected of topics.
John Bel Edwards, the Democratic governor, strongly backed environmental lawsuits against oil and gas interests when he served in the Legislature. In his run for governor, he and some supportive Super PACS drew lucrative contributions from plaintiff attorneys pursuing these cases. Industry execs gravitated to Republican rival David Vitter and Scott Angelle, although their relations with the new governor have since thawed.
Jeff Landry, the Republican attorney general, has a long history of pushing the industry’s interests. Once, while representing a coastal congressional district that’s particularly vulnerable to environmental damage from oil exploration, Landry made headlines for holding up a “Drilling=Jobs” sign as President Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress. He also showed up unannounced at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement’s New Orleans office to pursue a constituent complaint about stalled offshore permits —- then likened the federal agency to the Gestapo and CIA after finding out, after a 20-minute wait, that top officials were not there to meet him.
And looking forward, there’s some speculation that Landry could be one of the GOP’s strongest challengers when Edwards seeks reelection in 2019.
Despite all this, there are indications that the two are on the same page when it comes to handling 39 lawsuits filed by three parishes. Both offices are intervening in the suits, and although much is happening behind closed doors, there are signs of a common, coordinated approach that could eventually lead to some sort of global settlement.
Edwards said this week that one of his goals is to guarantee that any money recovered would go toward coastal restoration, presumably under the auspices of the state rather than individual parishes. When he announced his own intervention, Landry made similar comments.
“Continuing to allow these parties to steer the public policy of Louisiana regarding our coastal restoration and protection is unhelpful,” he said. “We cannot allow these differing, and competing, interests to push claims which collectively impact the public policy for our coast and entire state.
Edwards has hinted before that he’s interested in some sort of global settlement. Before he took office, that he planned to convene meetings with the industry by the end of this year and see if they could come to an understanding.
“If they don’t want litigation, then they ought to voluntarily step up and do some meaningful restoration, and if they are amenable to that, we can do some wonderful things,” he said in December.
With Landry’s possible help, this may be one administration initiative that’s actually ahead of schedule.
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.