Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Governor Seals Oil-Spill Records

For more than two months, Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, has made it clear that he considers the federal government and BP’s response to the gulf oil leak a failure on many fronts.

But elected officials in Louisiana and members of the public seeking details on how Mr. Jindal and his administration fared in their own response to the disaster are out of luck: late last week the governor vetoed an amendment to a state bill that would have made public all records from his office related to the oil spill.

The measure was proposed by Senator Robert Adley, a Republican, and easily passed the Democrat-controlled legislature. He told the Associated Press that the veto was a “black eye” on the state. “This governor has opposed transparency for the three years he’s been in office,” he said.

In his veto letter, the governor asserted that opening the records could give BP and other companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon blowout an advantage in future litigation over damages to the state. “Such access could impair the state’s legal position both in responding to the disaster that is unfolding and in seeking remedies for economic injury and natural resource damage,” Mr. Jindal wrote.

But Zygmunt Plater, a law professor at Boston College who served as chairman of an Alaskan legal task force after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, called the governor’s legal rationale flawed, particularly in regard to tallying environmental damage.

“It’s extremely difficult for me to see why natural resource claims would be at all compromised,” he said. “The natural resource damages part of that makes no sense to me.”

Mr. Plater said that the governor’s broader argument, that opening the records could give BP a legal advantage during future litigation, was also illogical. Any documents relevant to such litigation would have to be disclosed during the discovery process, he said.

“In the long-term, anything that’s relevant to a legal action by the state is going to be discoverable. It’s going to be revealed in open court,” he said.

Louisiana has an open records law, but it does not apply to records in the custody of the governor’s office.


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