Environmental groups are calling for the defeat of a bill that would give the state Department of Natural Resources the ability to quash parishes’ lawsuits alleging environmental damage by oil and gas companies. They also are asking a New Orleans lawmaker to refrain from voting on the measure because he represents energy companies as an attorney.
Representatives of Levees.org, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, the Sierra Club and the Gulf Restoration Network have called on Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, to recuse himself from votes on House Bill 862 because of his work representing energy companies in so-called “legacy lawsuits” over environmental damage allegedly caused by drilling. Abramson chairs the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee, which will be hearing the bill.
“We’re asking Abramson to take the high road and leave the room,” Louisiana Bucket Brigade Founding Director Anne Rolfes said outside Abramson’s law office on Poydras Street.
Abramson responded with an emailed statement saying his professional work will “have no bearing on (his) decision to support or oppose HB862” and that he has not determined his position on the measure.
He also denounced the groups, which all are members of the loose affiliation of state environmental advocates known as the Green Army, for assuming he would support the bill without asking his position, and he blasted their public request for his recusal.
“I can only classify that release as an irresponsible media stunt that has erroneously targeted me,” Abramson said in his response. “I would have appreciated it if you and your group would have provided me with the basic courtesy of asking my opinion on the legislation before simply assuming that I would support this bill. That would have been the professional way to address this matter.”
The bill, by Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, would require local governments seeking to enforce environmental regulations on oil and gas companies in coastal areas to first forward their complaints to the Department of Natural Resources for review. That agency would then determine whether any violations occurred and whether the local government could pursue legal claims against the companies involved. Such claims would be allowed only if it was determined they were “reasonable and appropriate” and consistent with the state’s plans for coastal restoration.
Currently, local governments are able to enforce those regulations through the courts, and Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes have filed a series of suits alleging coastal damage by oil and gas companies.
Rolfes described Robideaux’s bill as political interference in a matter that should be left up to the courts.
“It’s time for (politicians) to get out of the way and let the courts decide this,” she said.
Hollywood’s on the line in Harahan election
Residents of Harahan wondering “who ya gonna call” to be their next police chief got a surprising call of their own in the run-up to Saturday’s election: actor Dan Aykroyd urging them to vote for former Police Chief Peter Dale to return to his position as the city’s top cop.
Aykroyd, famous from films such as “Ghostbusters” and “The Blues Brothers” and his work on “Saturday Night Live,” recorded an automated call on Dale’s behalf praising the former chief’s work after Hurricane Katrina.
Although the infusion of Hollywood into a local police chief’s race is unusual, it was perhaps to be expected. Aykroyd met Dale while assisting in recovery efforts in the New Orleans area in the wake of Katrina, and the two have remained in touch since then.
“After Katrina, I met Chief Dale when I brought supplies and relief to your city, and I saw something extraordinary,” Aykroyd said in one of two recorded messages. “I saw your police chief — Peter Dale — going door-to-door to check on people and property. But that’s not all. I saw Chief Dale cooking for neighbors, handing out water, and distributing supplies and relief goods. There’s no doubt that Peter Dale loves Harahan and cares about your safety. What more could you ask for from a dedicated chief of police?”
Aykroyd’s endorsement, as it turned out, wasn’t enough to propel Dale to victory Saturday. Dale will face off against former Harahan City Councilman Tim Walker in a runoff May 3 to determine who will fill the remainder of the term of former Chief Mac Dickinson, who left the force last year.
Walker led Saturday’s balloting, winning 40.4 percent of the vote to Dale’s 29 percent. The rest of the votes were split between two other candidates.
Film on councilwoman runs 4 days this week
A documentary examining New Orleans City Councilwoman Stacy Head’s 2010 re-election campaign will be coming back to New Orleans with a four-day run at the Indywood Theater this week.
The return of “Getting Back to Abnormal,” which had its local premiere last year, comes as filmmakers are preparing for the film to be shown nationally on PBS.
As described by the filmmakers, the movie is a look at how Head, described as a “polarizing white woman,” worked to secure the black votes needed to retain her District B seat and “navigate New Orleans’ treacherous political scene” with the help of her “irrepressible black political adviser, Barbara Lacen-Keller.”
Head would go on to win that election before moving on to an at-large seat representing the entire city. Earlier this year, she was re-elected to that seat over challenger Eugene Green, who is black, in a campaign in which Head was able to draw significant support from heavily African-American precincts.
“Getting Back to Abnormal” will be screened Thursday through Sunday nights at the Indywood Theater, 630 Elysian Fields Ave. It also will be seen nationally on PBS in the summer.
Compiled by Jeff Adelson