Delta Chapter Legislative Report, July 2, 2012

Sierra Club Delta Chapter started engaging with the 2012 legislature back in the Nov 2011 elections with active support for election of several state legislators including campaign work for Stephen Ortego, active support for Jack Montoucet, and formal endorsement of J.P. Morrell of New Orleans. This year we put on two social events for legislators, one in New Orleans on March 1, and one in Baton Rouge on March 21. We received great feedback and recognition among legislators for these events. The purpose of these events was to get ourselves and allied legislative advocates in the same rooms with legislators to enjoy a casual evening of food and conversation. Our legislative lobbyist Darrell Hunt deserves major credit for coming up with the idea and for doing the cooking at our event in Baton Rouge.

The 2012 regular legislative session adjourned on June 4. Legislation passed by both houses of the legislature has now been considered and either signed into law or vetoed by the Governor. Following are the results of legislative actions that we have been following:

Legacy lawsuits - A crop of bills on this issue eventually got boiled down to two that were signed into law. HB 618 Abramson (Act 754) and SB 555 Adlee (Act 779) together provide for limited liability for environmental damage such that a party elect to admission of liability for environmental damage and responsibility for implementing the most feasible plan to evaluate and or remediate damage to regulatory standards. This would be done according to a plan reviewed by Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the Department of Environmental Quality, and the Department of Natural Resources. The legislation contains timelines, provision for public hearing and waiver of right to indemnification against punitive damages in certain circumstances. The legislation appears to give the oil industry what it wanted at the outset, which was a limitation on liability for cleanup costs when plans are developed and approved by relevant state agencies. Landowners still retain the right to sue for damages. The real effect of the laws will be determined in the course of litigation sure to follow.

Water Issues - SB 436 by Sen Gerald Long, signed into law by the governor as Act 784 requires the Sabine River Authority to obtain legislative committee and local government approval for out-of-state water sales. The effect of the law will be to ban out of state water sales by the Sabine River Authority and by implication all water authorities in the state. The State of Louisiana has never had a consistent plan how to deal with in state or out of state sale of water. A related bill by Sen Long is SB 495, signed into law by the governor as Act 471 It revises powers and duties of the Ground Water Resources Commission to include surface water, not just groundwater. Louisiana does not have comprehensive water law to provide guidance for water management so proposed large sales are handled on a case by case basis by Department of Natural Resources and/or the legislature.

HB 957 by Rep John Bel Edwards which provides for the disclosure of the composition of hydraulic fracturing fluids was signed into law by the governor as Act 812. This legislation writes into law and strengthens requirements of rules recently promulgated by DNR Office of Conservation. The law is comparable to laws on the books in other nearby states such as Texas and Arkansas where hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is occurring.

SB 439 by A.G. Crowe authorizing certain parishes to create a conservation district never was heard in its first hearing. The purpose of the bill was to set up an authority that could receive penalty funds for settlement of the Temple Inland paper mill toxic spill to the Pearl River, and administer such funds for the benefit of water quality on the river. The bill was opposed by the governor’s office because it would set up a local authority whose jurisdiction and powers would conflict with state agencies such as Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

SB 450 Walsworth to prohibit dumping of electronic waste such as computers, televisions, cellular phones and other electronic devices into landfills became Senate Resolution 83 which urges the Department of Environmental Quality to study the establishment of a recycling and collection system for electronic waste and report its findings to the legislature.

HCR 49 by Stephen Ortego requesting the Louisiana Dept of Wildlife and Fisheries to study Bayou Teche for inclusion in the State Historic and Scenic Rivers System successfully passed both house and senate as a concurrent resolution. Department of Wildlife and Fisheries will hold public hearings and make a determination as to whether inclusion of Bayou Teche should be formally proposed in legislation next year. Delta Chapter is working with local groups to build support in communities along Bayou Teche.

Other legislative actions of interest:

HCR 89 was a proposed concurrent resolution by Rep Stuart Bishop stating that United Nations Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan of extreme environmentalism, social engineering, and global political control that was initiated at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, and resolving that the Legislature of Louisiana recognizes the destructive and insidious nature of the United Nations Agenda 21. Delta Chapter recognized early in the legislative process that this was an attack on the principle of sustainable development. We activated our network of legislative allies to voice our opposition and launched a phone call campaign to the office of the bill sponsor and to members of the first legislative committee that would hear this resolution. The resolution was never put on the agenda and so was stopped in its first committee.

Senator J. P. Morrell Dem district 3, New Orleans (formally endorsed for election by Delta Chapter) proposed three pieces of legislation to protect children from exposure to lead in buildings. The laws were SB 200, 201 and 211. They require owners of certain child-occupied facilities to conduct an inspection for the presence of lead hazards and to disclose results of testing for lead, identify lead hazards and describe lead abatement activities. One of the bills requires state and local agencies engaged in lead hazard reduction activities to publish on their Internet website the standards related to those activities. All three bills were passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor.

Representative Eddie Lambert tried again to pass a Louisiana Beverage Container Law (HB 1046) that would set up a nickel deposit for plastic bottles and aluminum cans. The bill if successful would be a huge step in de-littering Louisiana roadsides, woods and waterways. Lobbyists for grocers, liquor dealers and soft drink distributors were out in strong opposition to the legislation because they don’t want to deal with the returned bottles. The proposed law would have created a large state program which would be administratively complex but would pay for itself at projected rates of bottle redemption. The proposed legislation was killed in its first committee after extensive debate.

Contact for further information: Woody Martin, Chapter Chair at hrmartin2sc@gmail.com

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