Underneath a large tent across the street from the State Capitol, the three candidates for Louisiana governor appeared on the same stage together for the first time Wednesday in an effort to court the approval of the state’s powerful oil and gas industry.
The roughly 1,000 people attending “Oil and Natural Gas Industry Day” heard promises to cut their taxes, end lawsuits against oil and gas companies and make it easier for companies to get tax breaks. Gov. John Bel Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, touted a resurgence of the industry in Louisiana since the price crashed several years ago.
A common thread at the event, especially from Edwards’ two Republican challengers, Congressman Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone, was the topic of lawsuits against oil and gas companies brought by coastal parishes seeking to hold the industry accountable for damage to wetlands.
The lawsuits have been a frequent source of ire from the industry, which are represented by industry groups that are prolific donors to political campaigns. Among the sponsors of Wednesday’s event were the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, three of the more influential lobbying groups at the Capitol.
Abraham, promised to cut the industry’s taxes and get lawsuits off their back. At the end of his speech, took out a letter Edwards sent to coastal parishes in 2016 that told Terrebonne Parish the state would file suit against oil and gas companies if the parish didn’t.
“Never again,” Abraham said as he tore the letter in half.
Rispone, who compared himself to President Donald Trump, pointed to Louisiana’s natural resources, including oil and gas, that he said should be bringing the state jobs.
“Lawsuit abuse is killing thousands of jobs,” Rispone said. “You know that better than anybody.”
The Edwards administration has backed the lawsuits, which seek to get money from oil companies responsible for the state’s coastal erosion crisis. The money would help implement the state’s Coastal Master Plan, which aims to restore thousands of miles of wetlands along the coast.
Edwards, who was introduced by a representative of one of the world’s largest mining companies at the event, said afterwards that some of the suits were filed long before he was governor.
“We have not filed a single lawsuit,” Edwards said. “Not one. The law affords them the right to file a lawsuit. I support the law. My oath of office is to support the laws and the constitution of the state of Louisiana and the United States of America”
The Edwards campaign, anticipating the attacks on coastal legacy lawsuits, issued a release earlier in the day saying Abraham is the only candidate in the race who has “personally sued oil and gas,” citing a Bayou Brief article about the candidate’s lawsuit against an oil company that allegedly built a pipeline through his farm in Richland Parish.
The event also drew around two dozen state and local officials, who schmoozed with industry representatives over Cou-Yon’s barbecue. Attorney General Jeff Landry, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, Treasurer John Schroder and several lawmakers attended the event.
Abraham and Rispone also promised to make it easier on companies who use the Industrial Tax Exemption Program to get the tax breaks. The ITEP is often used by oil and gas companies and was reformed by Edwards to give locals a say in whether to exempt their revenue.
Edwards also touted an increase in the number of oil and gas permits, LNG export facilities and other stats beneficial to the oil and gas industry, and praised the industry in general as a “proud part of history” in Louisiana.
“In Louisiana, if you have a business of any kind, you're actually in the oil and gas business too,” Edwards said. “Because if workers in that industry aren't making money, there's a good chance you aren't in your business."