The battle over the East Bank levee board’s coastal erosion lawsuit against almost 100 oil and gas companies has already seen its share of political wrangling. But, so far at least, the fighting has been primarily between the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - East and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration, with neither of the state’s major political parties taking an active role.
But now Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell is urging the Louisiana Democratic Party to join the fray and back up the levee board, a move he said would help bolster the party’s populist credentials.
“This is a perfect place for Democrats to stand up against the oil companies and gas companies that tore up our coast,” said Campbell, a Democrat from Bossier Parish.
In a letter to Louisiana Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans, Campbell said the party can’t “be on the sidelines” in the dispute and called for a vote on the issue at the next meeting of the party’s state committee.
“This is the purest test I’ve seen in years,” Campbell said Monday. ‘Are you with the people or are you with the big boys?”
In July the levee board sued 97 energy companies, arguing that decades of dredging and pipeline projects in coastal marshes have contributed to the massive loss of land in the state and made the New Orleans area more vulnerable to storm surge. The Jindal administration immediately pushed back, arguing the board had exceeded its authority and was interfering with the state’s overall coastal strategy. Levee board members have countered that the suit may be the only way to properly fund the Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan.
Lawmakers have largely been divided along party lines over the suit, though neither the Democrats nor Republicans have weighed in as organizations. And, in trying to build support for the suit, levee board Vice President John Barry has repeatedly noted that the flood protection authority’s board, which voted unanimously in support of the case, includes a number of Republicans and members who identify with the Tea Party.
The administration has made its position clear, saying it would use opposition to the suit as a “litmus test” for appointing new members to the flood protection authority and suggesting the Legislature could undo the suit, or the board itself, in next year’s session. Amid that climate, a nominating committee decided against recommending Barry, the suit’s most vocal proponent, for reappointment.
In his letter to Peterson, Campbell compared the levee board’s suit to the case against tobacco companies, which resulted in a $4 billion settlement for Louisiana. When that suit was filed by Democratic Attorney General Richard Ieyoub, it faced opposition from Jindal, who was then head of the Department of Health and Hospitals.
“Will Democrats stand idly by as Governor Jindal once again ignores the needs of our state and instead provides cover for powerful special interests?” Campbell said in the letter. “The stakes in this battle could not be higher: saving our coastal communities, preventing an ecological catastrophe and demonstrating our political independence as a people. We must not be on the sidelines.”
Peterson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Campbell’s letter.