Is Rep. Robideaux LOGA's 'waterboy'?

by Patrick Flanagan

According to Louisiana Oil and Gas Association Vice President Gifford Briggs, at least one member of the Acadiana legislative delegation will be going to bat for Big Oil during this year's session.

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments received by Rep. Joel Robideaux.]

"We've got certain legislators here in Acadiana who are carrying the water for us in Baton Rouge this session," Louisiana Oil and Gas Association Vice President Gifford Briggs said Thursday at one of LOGA's three "Give em the Boot" rallies in Lafayette, a campaign directed at the New Orleans levee board lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies seeking compensation for decades of coastal damages.

Photos by Robin May

"If we don't come together at this time right now, the exploration industry won't exist in Louisiana anymore," LOGA VP Gifford Briggs said during Thursday's "Give 'em the Boot" rally at the Petroleum Club.

The only delegate Briggs mentioned by name was Rep. Joel Robideaux, a Lafayette Republican who plans to run for city-parish president in 2015.

"Rep. Robideaux is carrying one of our bills," says Briggs. Robideaux's legislation is House Bill 862, which will require parish governments seeking to file suit against oil and gas companies for permit violations (three parishes have already filed suit) to first seek approval from the state Department of Natural Resources. Based on DNR's tradition of lax permit regulation, the Robideaux/LOGA bill is viewed by many as a free pass for the industry.

Rep. Joel Robideaux

When interviewed Feb. 20 for The IND's poll of the Acadiana Delegation's stance on the levee board lawsuit and Gov. Bobby Jindal's vow to have it quashed during the session, Robideaux - who received $13,000 in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies in 2013 - was non-committal, also failing to mention he was working with LOGA. His bill was filed eight days after that interview.

Read "Battlelines and Coastlines" here.

"Ouch," writes Robideaux in an email received Friday afternoon. "A poor choice of words by Briggs perhaps. I choose to interpret that phrase to simply mean that I am handling a piece of legislation that is favored by the oil and gas industry. I was approached by a local business that felt they were unfairly included in a lawsuit filed by Plaquemines Parish and briefed on the issue. In a follow up discussion with Gifford Briggs to learn more about the lawsuits, I decided to introduce a bill that would add some clarity to the issue and to provide for steps to be taken prior to lawsuits being filed as they relate to coastal permits. All this occurred during the last week of February. Please know that there was certainly no intentional withholding of information."

Since a Baton Rouge district court judge's ruling last week that the attorney general followed state law in approving the levee board's hire of a private law firm on a contingency fee basis, LOGA, operating through its newly created nonprofit Change Louisiana, has been on the offensive. It hosted three separate events at Lafayette's Petroleum Club - a free breakfast, lunch and dinner - to rally against what they're calling "greedy trial lawyers" and "frivolous lawsuits" that are driving the industry out of Louisiana.

Briggs was joined by Mark Ehrhardt of the Grow Louisiana Coalition during Thursday's rally.

Ehrhardt claims that for the last 100 years the industry has operated in a "permitted, regulated, safe way," adding, "We want to continue doing it for the next 100 years."

For Briggs, who compared the situation to the federal government's post-BP oil spill moratorium on deepwater drilling, the situation is quite dire: "If we don't come together at this time right now, the exploration industry won't exist in Louisiana anymore."

Following a packed house showing of about 150 people for the rally's lunchtime session, the evening event saw only a handful of attendees.

Briggs also referenced a highly contested study by David Dismukes of the LSU Center for Energy Studies that claims the state has lost 30,000 jobs and about $6.7 billion in drilling revenues because of the legal climate.

Using a clip from Seinfeld, Briggs also made reference to the lawsuit against McDonald's over a spilled cup of hot coffee in 1992, saying, "We're facing the same challenge for doing things we've always done and by doing exactly what they've asked us to do."

Briggs, of course, did not mention that the plaintiff in the case against McDonald's, then 72-year-old Stella Liebeck, suffered third-degree burns when she accidentally spilled hot coffee in her lap after purchasing it from McDonald's. Liebeck was hospitalized for eight days while she underwent skin grafting, followed by two years of medical treatment. It's a fascinating case that does nothing to bolster Briggs' argument; the trial judge reduced the civil jury's $2.86 million award to $640,000 and the parties ended up settling for an undisclosed amount. Read Wiki's piece on it here.

He'll need better talking points for his next "Give em the Boot" rallies, which are slated to take place at various venues throughout the state (today is Morgan City, followed by Houma, Broussard and Lake Charles.)