Nominating panel could provide Jindal with key vote to kill 'Big Oil' flood protection lawsuit



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NEW ORLEANS — It will be next month before Gov. Bobby Jindal will likely get a chance to change the membership of a south Louisiana flood board that's suing dozens of oil, gas and pipeline companies.

The panel that nominates members for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East discussed plans to fill two expired terms Thursday. But members said a vote cannot legally take place until September.

One of the expired terms is that of Paul Kemp, a supporter of the lawsuit, which Jindal opposes.

Kemp has applied for another term. However, even if he is re-nominated, Jindal would likely seek to replace him with a lawsuit opponent.

Kemp continues to serve until a successor is named. Meanwhile, the lawsuit continues in federal court.

The protection authority's lawsuit says the oil, gas and pipeline companies' dredging of canals and drilling activities contributed to the degradation of coastal wetlands that form a natural hurricane buffer for New Orleans. Backers of the litigation say the industry has had decades to remedy the situation and that the lawsuit is needed to fund coastal restoration.

Jindal and oil industry backers attacked the lawsuit as an assault on an important Louisiana industry, a windfall for trial lawyers and an infringement on the state's efforts to fix the coast.

Along with Kemp, another authority member whose term has expired is Jeff Angers, who also has re-applied. He opposes the lawsuit.

Kemp's nomination is key, however, because if Jindal is able to replace Kemp, he could then swing the current 5-4 majority on the flood board that supports the suit.

The way in which the nominations are made next month could figure into Jindal's ability to affect the lawsuit.

In the complex nominating process, one open position on the authority must be filled by someone with scientific or engineering expertise. The panel can submit a single nominee to fill that seat. Nominating Kemp would leave Jindal with no other choice. The committee has at least two other applicants who could fill the post, though.

"If the committee dos the 'Cajun two-step' and places him (Kemp) in the at-large category, it will be a thinly veiled strategy to remove him from SLPFA," said a New Orleans watchdog group, Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans, in a written statement.

Kemp also could be nominated for an at-large post that does not require technical expertise, but the panel must submit two names for that post, which would give Jindal a choice.

The panel also will have to weigh possible conflicts of interest. For instance, applicant Mark Morgan, a civil engineer who is president of SEMS Inc., has acknowledged possible conflicts due to his work with the SLFPA-West. Also, he told WWL-TV this week that his company has contracts with one of the oil companies being sued by SLFPA-East.

The nominating panel allowed another applicant, Michael Simms, to apply after its earlier deadline. Simms is a geologist with URS Corp. Lawsuit backers note that URS has done work for SLPFA-East and that URS works with the oil and gas industry, posing possible conflicts that might preclude him from serving or require that he recuse himself on some votes.

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