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Fingerpointing The Blame For Coastal Lawsuits

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Five coastal parishes -- Cameron Parish, Jefferson Parish, Plaquemines Parish, St. Bernard Parish and Vermillion Parish -- are suing oil and gas companies for damages to coastal land. 

At a House Natural Resources Committee meeting Wednesday, legislators were asking how the state has gotten to this point.

“We’ve always been told that everything’s okay, we can handle this, everything’s going to be alright. Well, it’s not alright as we sit here today, is it?” asked Representative Jim Morris (R-Oil City).

The five parishes have filed a total of forty-one lawsuits which claim that oil and gas companies violated permits, attributing to coastal land loss. The Committee asked Department of Natural Resources Secretary Thomas Harris if the permits his department gives to oil and gas companies are being enforced.

“I believe we are successfully enforcing the coastal rules and laws today and have made a lot of progress,” he answered.

“But in the past, you would agree that was not done?” asked Representative Patrick Connick (R-Marrero).

"Yes sir, I would,” admitted Harris, who was appointed Secretary of DNR in January by Governor John Bel Edwards.

That admission to Representative Connick led to finger pointing by other members of the committee.

Representative Ray Garofalo (R-Chalmette) suggested that oil and gas was being singled out.  

“Now we’re going to go back twenty, thirty years and say, ‘oh, well by the way, you did this this long ago. We haven’t done anything about it.  And by the way," he continued, "we’re going to sue you for billions of dollars.”

Representative Blake Miguez questioned why all the parties aren’t being held accountable.

“I feel like we’re discriminating against the oil and gas industry,” he said.

Matthew Block, the Governor’s Executive Counsel, says the companies should be required to live up to the terms of their permits, even if the Department of Natural Resources failed to adequately enforce them in the past.

The permits, he said, “talk about that they’re going to restore sites to their pre-project conditions. If they’re going to damage something, which they’re required to do to access these sites, when you leave you’re required to fix it. That’s what they promised to do.”

Both the Attorney General's office and Governor Edwards' administration have intervened in the litigation.