Louisiana Senate lawmakers voted out a bill Tuesday that would stop a mega-lawsuit targeting South Louisiana pipeline operators for alleged damages to coastal wetlands that protect New Orleans and the surrounding area from storm surges.

Republican Sen. Robert Adley’s bill (SB 553), which is backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, garnered a vote of 23-15 and is to be taken up by the House. It aims to turn back a lawsuit launched last year by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E).

According to SLFPA-E, pipeline companies that cut thousands of miles of oil and gas canals, and laid pipelines through the state’s coastal lands, should repair a damaged environmental buffer zone that protects most of the greater New Orleans region from flooding.

Filed in state district court in Orleans Parish last summer, the lawsuit alleges that about 100 pipeline/energy company defendants, large and small, compromised the integrity of Louisiana’s coastal lands with activities tied to hundreds of wells and pipelines, heightening risks of hurricanes, storm surge and flooding (see Daily GPI, July 25, 2013).

Adley’s legislation targets the lawsuit on the grounds that SLFPA-E allegedly violated state rules when it hired lawyers on contingency fee contracts to pursue the litigation, an early energy industry criticism of the action. The bill would retroactively prohibit state flood protection authorities from hiring outside lawyers without the approval of the governor.

“This passage from the Senate is the first step in a series of bills that will slow down the onslaught of lawsuits that are camouflaged as coastal protection suits, but in actuality are merely money grabs,” said Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA) President Don Briggs in an editorial Wednesday.

Also under attack from the energy sector and sympathetic lawmakers are lawsuits filed by the parishes of Jefferson and Plaquemines over alleged damage caused to coastal wetlands by dredging and drilling. LOGA is opposing these lawsuits, too, as well as legacy lawsuits that the association and its members say continue to plague the energy industry and discourage development (see Daily GPI, March 31).

“Whether a coastal lawsuit such as the SLFPA-E has filed or a land-based legacy suit, the outcome is the same,” Briggs wrote. “Oil and gas operators are caught up in a litigious legal climate having to spend millions of dollars on legal fees and court costs when these dollars should be going back into the state’s economy for the production of our natural resources that benefit our entire nation.”