BATON ROUGE, La. — Only one of five top candidates vying for Louisiana’s open U.S. Senate seat Thursday backed Gov. John Bel Edwards’ push for litigation against the oil and gas industry for its role in eroding the state’s coast, while the others suggested the effort was the wrong approach to drum up billions for restoration projects.
Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, a Democrat running with Edwards’ endorsement, supported the lawsuits and said Louisiana’s officials have refused to pressure the industry because of their own campaign interests.
“Politicians with tap dancing shoes on didn’t have the courage to ask the oil companies because the oil companies write big checks,” Campbell said at a forum focused on coastal land loss and restoration issues. “They ought to pay for what they damaged, pure and simple.”
U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, U.S. Rep. John Fleming and retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, all Republicans, and Democratic lawyer Caroline Fayard disagreed that litigation was the best path.
“We’re not going to litigate our coast back into existence,” Boustany said. He added that he would “issue real caution about chasing away the companies that are so important to our state.”
Maness said federally-constructed Mississippi River levees were to blame for Louisiana’s land loss and legal actions will only “make very connected lawyers very rich.” Fleming said the oil industry should have a role in helping fight erosion, but through grants and partnerships. And Fayard said litigation is expensive and could drag out for years without offering money to combat erosion.
“It’s very easy for politicians and people to say, ‘Let’s just sue,'” she said. “Litigation’s expensive. It’s costly. It’s time consuming. And there’s no guarantees.”
Twenty-four candidates are on the Nov. 8 ballot for the seat that is open because Republican David Vitter isn’t running for re-election. But only six contenders were invited to the forum hosted by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. Republican Treasurer John Kennedy didn’t attend; his campaign cited a scheduling conflict.
Those who participated agreed Louisiana’s plan to battle coastal erosion is underfunded, but they had differing approaches about how to fill the gap.
Louisiana only has about $15 billion in revenue for a coastal master plan that tops $50 billion or more to combat land losses.
To increase the financing, Boustany said he’d push Congress to lift a cap on the money Louisiana gets from oil and gas drilling off its coast. Fleming offered a similar approach. Maness highlighted his military background and said he’d seek additional money from Congress by pitching the land loss as a national energy security issue.
Throughout the forum, Campbell highlighted his backing of Edwards and his opposition to the policies of Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal and Vitter. Fayard declared that irrelevant, saying the election is about the future and she offered a “new generation of leadership.”
“I’m not a fan of Bobby Jindal and David Vitter, but they’re not running in this election,” she said.
While Fayard talked of the need for a fresh perspective, Boustany repeatedly highlighted his 12 year-tenure in Congress, saying that helped prepare him for the Senate. Fleming also described his congressional tenure as important — but because he said he showed he was willing to fight the Republican and Democratic establishments.
Maness brought the presidential race into the Senate forum, mentioning more than once his support for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
When asked about climate change, only Campbell directly linked the planet’s warming to man’s actions. Fleming said “there’s still a debate and controversy” over man’s impact on global warming, while Maness described it as “a political talking point.”
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