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In late July, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East, an independent board created by the state legislature in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to shore up the state’s levee system, filed a lawsuit against the oil companies. All of them. The committee targeted nearly 100 petroleum producers with operations on the Gulf Coast—including titans such as BP America, Exxon-Mobil, and Chevron—for what it termed a “mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction.”
But in a state where even the lawn in front of the governor’s mansion is sponsored by Dow, the flood board’s lawsuit has faced a massive pushback. And no one has been more forceful in their opposition to lawsuit—and in the defense of the oil companies—than Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. He dismissed it almost immediately as nothing more than a “windfall for trial lawyers” and alleged that the legal action would interfere with the administration’s own unfunded long-term plans. When the nominating committee that appoints flood board candidates met for the first time on Friday, it received a warning from Baton Rouge: The lawsuit would be a litmus test for the governor, and any nominee who supported it would be rejected.
“I don’t think they’re evil,” says the board’s vice president John Barry, an award-winning historian and one of the members whom Jindal has promised not reappoint, referring to the oil companies. “But by the same token, we think we have a very strong case that they broke the law, and I don’t think anybody is immune from prosecution just because they provide jobs. Those jobs aren’t gifts.”