The independent committee assembled to nominate members of two regional flood boards in southeastern Louisiana voted Wednesday to seek an attorney general’s opinion on when some of those members’ terms expire – an opinion that could bear on the future of a controversial lawsuit filed against the oil industry by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.
Among those whose terms may or may not expire this year is Paul Kemp, one of the SLPFA-E board members who voted to sue oil, gas and pipeline companies over damage coastal drilling has done to wetlands that protect Louisiana from hurricanes.
Gov. Bobby Jindal is among opponents of the suit who say it is an unwarranted attack on an important industry and hinders the state’s work with oil companies on coastal restoration efforts. If Jindal is able to replace Kemp this year, he would likely have the five-member majority he needs on the board to kill the lawsuit.
Kemp was appointed to replace a member of the SLFPA-East board whose term expired in 2010. Kemp, however, was not appointed until 2011. His state letter of appointment says his term expires in 2015 and an SLFPA-E chart that shows members and their terms indicates that 2015 is the year his current term ends.
The nominating committee, however, believes state law calls for his term to end this year, on July 1.
It’s a similar situation with SLFPA-E member Jeff Angers. The flood authority believes his term ends in 2017; the nominating committee, 2014. Angers supports Jindal’s position against the SLFPA-E’s oil industry lawsuit.
Angers replaced member Ricardo Pineda, whose term expired in 2010 but who continued to serve on the board and had been nominated for a second term. Jindal, ultimately decided to replace Pineda with Angers, but did not do so until last year, leading to the conflict on whether his term ends this year, which would be four years after Pineda’s term formally ended, or in 2017, four years after he was appointed.
Similar conflicts also have arisen regarding members of the SLFPA-West board, which is not part of the lawsuit. The letter to Attorney General Buddy Caldwell also seeks opinions on whether that board’s members Paul Dauphin and Kerwin Julien expire this year, or later.
It was unclear when Caldwell’s office would issue an opinion.
The Legislature recently approved, and Jindal signed, a bill blocking the flood board from pursuing the suit. A motion to stop the suit failed, however, at a recent board meeting, where the vote was 4-4 with one member absent. Supporters of the lawsuit said the new legislation will be challenged in court.
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