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      RS 30:29     

  

§29.  Remediation of oilfield sites and exploration and production sites

A.  The legislature hereby finds and declares that Article IX, Section 1 of the Constitution of Louisiana mandates that the natural resources and the environment of the state, including ground water, are to be protected, conserved, and replenished insofar as possible and consistent with the health, safety, and welfare of the people and further mandates that the legislature enact laws to implement this policy.  It is the duty of the legislature to set forth procedures to ensure that damage to the environment is remediated to a standard that protects the public interest.  To this end, this Section provides the procedure for judicial resolution of claims for environmental damage to property arising from activities subject to the jurisdiction of the Department of Natural Resources, office of conservation.  The provisions of this Section shall be implemented upon receipt of timely notice as required by Paragraph (B)(1) of this Section.  The provisions of this Section shall not be construed to impede or limit provisions under private contracts imposing remediation obligations in excess of the requirements of the department or limit the right of a party to a private contract to enforce any contract provision in a court of proper jurisdiction.

B.(1)  Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, immediately upon the filing or amendment of any litigation or pleading making a judicial demand arising from or alleging environmental damage, the provisions of this Section shall apply and the party filing same shall provide timely notice to the state of Louisiana through the Department of Natural Resources, commissioner of conservation and the attorney general.  The litigation shall be stayed with respect to any such judicial demand until thirty days after such notice is issued and return receipt is filed with the court.

(2)  The department or the attorney general, in accordance with their areas of constitutional and statutory authority and regulations adopted pursuant thereto, shall have the right to intervene in such litigation in accordance with the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure.  Nothing in this Section shall diminish the authority of the department or the attorney general to independently bring any civil or administrative enforcement action.  Nor shall anything in this Section preclude the department from independently responding in a timely manner to an inquiry or request by a landowner for investigation.

(3)  Any judgment or order in any litigation to which this Section applies shall be without prejudice to any independent civil or administrative action by the department or the attorney general regarding any environmental damage alleged therein.  No such judgment or order in such litigation may bar the department or the attorney general pursuant to R.S. 13:4231 et seq., or otherwise from pursuing any independent civil or administrative action regarding environmental damage alleged therein, regardless of whether the department or the attorney general has intervened.

(4)  No judgment or order shall be rendered granting any relief in such litigation to which this Section applies, nor shall the litigation be dismissed, until timely notice is received by the state of Louisiana as set forth in this Subsection.

(5)  Any party may subpoena, for purposes of deposition or trial, any employee, contractor, or representative of the department involved in the formulation of the feasible plan approved by the department under Subsection C of this Section, or an agency that reviews and provides comments under Subsection C of this Section.  Discovery regarding the department's review, approval, or structuring of the feasible plan and of an agency that reviews and provides comments shall not be allowed until after the department submits its final feasible plan with reasons to the court pursuant to Subsection C of this Section.  If a party subpoenas the records or testimony of the department or an agency for deposition or trial, the party issuing the subpoena shall pay the costs of the department or agency in responding to such subpoena.

(6) Within sixty days of being served with a petition or amended petition asserting an action, a defendant may request that the court conduct a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is good cause for maintaining the defendant as a party in the litigation. At the hearing, the parties may introduce evidence in affidavit or written form. The plaintiff shall have the initial burden to introduce evidence to support the allegations of environmental damage, following which the moving party shall have the burden to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact that the moving party caused or is otherwise legally responsible for the alleged environmental damage. The rules governing summary judgments in the Code of Civil Procedure shall not apply to the preliminary hearing. Within fifteen days of the preliminary hearing, the court shall issue an order on any timely request for preliminary dismissal. A judgment of dismissal under this Paragraph shall be without prejudice, with all parties reserving the right to rejoin the dismissed defendant during the litigation upon discovery of evidence not reasonably available at the time of the hearing on the motion for preliminary dismissal. If not rejoined, a party dismissed under this Paragraph shall be entitled to a judgment of dismissal with prejudice following a final nonappealable judgment on the claims asserted by the party against whom the preliminary dismissal was granted and shall be entitled to recover from the party who asserted the claim an award of reasonable attorney fees and costs, as may be determined by the court. Any pleading rejoining any defendant previously dismissed under this Paragraph shall relate back to the filing of the original petition or any amendment thereto as provided in the Code of Civil Procedure Article 1153. The finding of the district court shall be without prejudice of any party to litigate the legal responsibility of any potentially responsible party, the allocation of responsibility among the potentially responsible parties, and any other issues incident to the finder of fact's determination of the party or parties who caused the damage or who are otherwise legally responsible for the alleged environmental damage. The procedure for a preliminary dismissal provided by this Paragraph shall be in addition to the pretrial rights and the remedies available to the parties under the Code of Civil Procedure, including the right to civil discovery.

(7)(a)  The prescriptive period that applies to any claim covered by the provisions of this Section shall be suspended for a period of one year upon the mailing or physical delivery to the department of a notice of intent to investigate.  A notice of intent to investigate shall include all of the following information:

(i)  A description of the property alleged to have been damaged.

(ii)  A description of the alleged environmental damage.

(iii)  The general location of the alleged environmental damage on the property.

(iv)  The name and address of all known owners of the property.

(v)  The name and address of the current operator.

(b)  The party issuing the notice of intent to investigate shall mail by certified mail return receipt requested to all persons identified in the notice a copy of the notice.

(c)  If a party submits a notice of intent to investigate, any subsequent judicial demand by the party under the provisions of this Section shall identify on a map the location of any alleged environmental damage and include the results of any environmental testing performed on the property.  Failure to include this information at the time of the filing of the judicial demand shall result in exclusion of the information.

C.(1)  If at any time during the proceeding a party admits liability for environmental damage or the finder of fact determines that environmental damage exists and determines the party or parties who caused the damage or who are otherwise legally responsible therefor, the court shall order the party or parties who admit responsibility or whom the court finds legally responsible for the damage to develop a plan or submittal for the evaluation or remediation to applicable regulatory standards of the contamination that resulted in the environmental damage.  The court shall order that the plan be developed and submitted to the department and the court within a time that the court determines is reasonable and shall allow the plaintiff or any other party at least thirty days from the date each plan or submittal was made to the department and the court to review the plan or submittal and provide to the department and the court a plan, comment, or input in response thereto.  The department shall consider any plan, comment, or response provided timely by any party.  The department shall submit to the court a schedule of estimated costs for review of the plans or submittals of the parties by the department and the court shall require the party admitting responsibility or the party found legally responsible by the court to deposit in the registry of the court sufficient funds to pay the cost of the department's review of the plans or submittals.  Any plan or submittal shall include an estimation of cost to implement the plan.

(2)(a)  Within sixty days from the last day on which any party may provide the department with a plan, comment, or response to a plan as provided in Paragraph (C)(1) of this Section, the department shall conduct a public hearing on the plan or plans submitted.  When a public hearing is held following a limited admission pursuant to the Code of Civil Procedure Article 1563, then the department shall not conduct an additional public hearing pursuant to this Section for the same environmental damage.  Within sixty days of the conclusion of the hearing, the department shall approve or structure a final plan, or if applicable, a preliminary plan pursuant to Subparagraph (C)(3)(b) of this Section, based on the evidence submitted which the department determines to be the most feasible plan to evaluate or remediate the environmental damage and protect the health, safety, and welfare of the people.  The department shall issue written reasons for the plan it approves or structures.  On motion of the department, for good cause shown, the court may grant the department additional time, not to exceed sixty days, within which to either conduct the hearing or approve a plan with reasons.

(b)  Except as otherwise provided for in this Section, from the date the party or parties, who admit responsibility or whom the court finds legally responsible for the damage, submit a plan to the department until after the department has filed with the court the approved feasible plan for the evaluation or remediation of the environmental damage, no party to the litigation, either directly or indirectly, shall have ex parte communication with any employee, contractor, or representative of the department regarding the formation of the feasible plan or an agency providing comments to the department regarding the formation of the feasible plan.  The feasible plan issued by the department shall contain a signed affidavit of compliance with this restriction.  Any comments provided by an agency to the department shall also contain a signed affidavit of compliance with this restriction.

(c) In all cases in which a party makes a limited admission of liability under the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure Article 1563, there shall be a rebuttable presumption that the plan approved or structured by the department, after consultation with the Department of Environmental Quality as appropriate, shall be the most feasible plan to evaluate or remediate to applicable regulatory standards the environmental damage for which responsibility is admitted.  For cases tried by a jury, the court shall instruct the jury regarding this presumption if so requested by a party.

(3)(a)  The department shall use and apply the applicable regulatory standards in approving or structuring a plan that the department determines to be the most feasible plan to evaluate or remediate the environmental damage.

(b)(i)  If the department preliminarily approves or structures a preliminary plan that requires the application of regulatory standards of an agency other than the department or that provides an exception from the department's standards, within fifteen days of such preliminary structuring or approval, the department shall submit the plan to the Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the Department of Environmental Quality, and the Department of Natural Resources for review and comment.  Within thirty days after the department's submission of the plan to all of the agencies, each agency may provide written comments regarding the plan.  Each agency providing written comments shall submit a schedule of the agency's costs for review of the plan to the court for reimbursement by the responsible party.  Failure of an agency to respond to the department shall not affect the validity of the plan approved by the department.  The department and agency heads shall coordinate in order to establish protocol to ensure inter-agency communication regarding plan development, timely delivery of all proposed plans to the appropriate agency heads, and timely receipt of all agency comments back to the department.

(ii)  Within thirty days after the receipt of any agency's written comments, the department shall file in the court record the final plan, with written reasons that the department determines to be the most feasible plan to evaluate or remediate the environmental damage under applicable regulatory standards, together with any comments submitted by an agency under Item (i) of this Subparagraph.  Based on the findings of the department, the department may issue any compliance order it deems necessary to either the operator of record or, where applicable, a party found responsible or admitting responsibility for implementing the most feasible plan to evaluate or remediate the environmental damage under applicable regulatory standards.  If a compliance order is issued against the responsible party who is not the current operator of record, the responsible party shall give the current operator of record notice of the compliance order within thirty days of the responsible party's receipt of the compliance order.

(4)  The plan approved by the department for submission to the court shall not be considered to be an adjudication subject to appellate review pursuant to R.S. 49:964 or R.S. 30:12.

(5)  The court shall adopt the plan approved by the department, unless a party proves by a preponderance of the evidence that another plan is a more feasible plan to adequately protect the environment and the public health, safety, and welfare.  The court shall enter a judgment adopting a plan with written reasons assigned.  Upon adoption of a plan, the court shall order the party or parties admitting responsibility or the party or parties found legally responsible by the court to fund the implementation of the plan.

(6)(a)  Any judgment adopting a plan of evaluation or remediation pursuant to this Section and ordering the party or parties admitting responsibility or the party or parties found legally responsible by the court to deposit funds for the implementation thereof into the registry of the court pursuant to this Section shall be considered a final judgment pursuant to the Code of Civil Procedure Article 2081 et seq., for purposes of appeal.

(b)  Any appeal under this Section shall be a de novo review and shall be heard with preference and on an expedited basis.

(c)  The appellate court may affirm the trial court's adoption of a plan or may adopt a feasible plan in conformity with this Section and shall issue written reasons for its decision.

D.(1)  Whether or not the department or the attorney general intervenes, and except as provided in Subsection H of this Section, all damages or payments in any civil action, including interest thereon, awarded for the evaluation or remediation of environmental damage shall be paid exclusively into the registry of the court in an interest-bearing account with the interest accruing to the account for clean up.

(2)  The court may allow any funds to be paid into the registry of the court to be paid in increments as necessary to fund the evaluation or remediation and implementation of any plan or submittal adopted by the court.  In any instance in which the court allows the funds to be paid in increments, whether or not an appeal is taken, the court shall require the posting of a bond for the implementation of the plan in such amount as provided by and in accordance with the procedures set forth for the posting of suspensive appeal bonds.  Any such bond shall be valid through completion of the remediation.

(3)  The court shall issue such orders as may be necessary to ensure that any such funds are actually expended in a manner consistent with the adopted plan for the evaluation or remediation of the environmental damage for which the award or payment is made.

(4)  The court shall retain jurisdiction over the funds deposited and the party or parties admitting responsibility or the party or parties found legally responsible by the court until such time as the evaluation or remediation is completed.  If the court finds the amount of the initial deposit insufficient to complete the evaluation or remediation, the court shall, on the motion of any party or on its own motion, order the party or parties admitting responsibility or found legally responsible by the court to deposit additional funds into the registry of the court.  Upon completion of the evaluation or remediation, the court shall order any funds remaining in the registry of the court to be returned to the depositor.  The department and the parties shall notify the court of the completion of any evaluation or remediation.

E.(1)  In any civil action in which a party is responsible for damages or payments for the evaluation or remediation of environmental damage, a party providing evidence, in whole or in part, upon which the judgment is based shall be entitled to recover from the party or parties admitting responsibility or the party or parties found legally responsible by the court, in addition to any other amounts to which the party may be entitled, all costs attributable to producing that portion of the evidence that directly relates to the establishment of environmental damage, including, but not limited to, expert witness fees, environmental evaluation, investigation, and testing, the cost of developing a plan of remediation, and reasonable attorney fees incurred in the trial court and the department.

(2)  In any civil action in which the department or the attorney general, or their employees, are parties or witnesses, provide evidence, or otherwise contribute to the determination of responsibility for evaluation or remediation, or the approval of a plan of remediation, the department or attorney general shall be entitled to recover from the party or parties admitting responsibility or the party or parties found legally responsible by the court all costs thereof, including but not limited to investigation, evaluation, and review costs; expert witness fees; and reasonable attorney fees.

F.  The court and the department shall retain oversight to ensure compliance with the plan.  The party or parties admitting responsibility or the party or parties found legally responsible by the court shall file progress reports periodically as the court or the department may require.

G.  The provisions of this Section are intended to ensure evaluation or remediation of environmental damage.  If the court finds that no environmental damage exists, the court may dismiss the department or attorney general from the litigation without prejudice.

H.(1)  This Section shall not preclude an owner of land from pursuing a judicial remedy or receiving a judicial award for private claims suffered as a result of environmental damage, except as otherwise provided in this Section.  Any award granted in connection with the judgment for additional remediation in excess of the requirements of the feasible plan adopted by the court is not required to be paid into the registry of the court.

(2)  Damages that may be awarded in an action under this Section shall be governed by the provisions of Subsection M of this Section.  This Section shall not be interpreted to create any cause of action or to impose additional implied obligations under the mineral code or arising out of a mineral lease.

I.  For the purposes of this Section, the following terms shall have the following meanings:

(1)  "Contamination" shall mean the introduction or presence of substances or contaminants into a usable groundwater aquifer, an underground source of drinking water (USDW) or soil in such quantities as to render them unsuitable for their reasonably intended purposes.

(2)  "Environmental damage" shall mean any actual or potential impact, damage, or injury to environmental media caused by contamination resulting from activities associated with oilfield sites or exploration and production sites. Environmental media shall include but not be limited to soil, surface water, ground water, or sediment.

(3)  "Evaluation or remediation" shall include but not be limited to investigation, testing, monitoring, containment, prevention, or abatement.

(4)  "Feasible Plan" means the most reasonable plan which addresses environmental damage in conformity with the requirements of Article IX, Section 1 of the Constitution of Louisiana to protect the environment, public health, safety and welfare, and is in compliance with the specific relevant and applicable standards and regulations promulgated by a state agency in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act in effect at the time of clean up to remediate contamination resulting from oilfield or exploration and production operations or waste.

(5)  "Oilfield site"or "exploration and production (E&P) site" means any location or any portion thereof on which oil or gas exploration, development, or production activities have occurred, including wells, equipment, tanks, flow lines or impoundments used for the purposes of the drilling, workover, production, primary separation, disposal, transportation or storage of E&P wastes, crude oil and natural gas processing, transportation or storage of a common production stream of crude oil, natural gas, coal seam natural gas, or geothermal energy prior to a custody transfer or a sales point.  In general, this definition would apply to all exploration and production operations located on the same lease, unit or field.

(6)  "Timely notice" means written notice sent by certified mail, return receipt requested.  Such notice shall include a copy of the petition and any other filing in such litigation.

J.(1)  In the event that any settlement is reached in a case subject to the provisions of this Section, the settlement shall be subject to approval by the court.  The department and the attorney general shall be given notice once the parties have reached a settlement in principle.  The department shall then have no less than thirty days to review that settlement and comment to the court before the court certifies the settlement.  If after a contradictory hearing the court requires remediation, the court shall not certify or approve any settlement until an amount of money sufficient to fund such remediation is deposited into the registry of the court.  No funding of a settlement shall occur until the requirements of this Section have been satisfied.  However, the court shall have the discretion to waive the requirements of this Section if the settlement reached is for a minimal amount and is not dispositive of the entire litigation.

(2)  In the event a settlement is agreed to between the parties in a case in which the department or the attorney general has intervened, such agency shall be entitled to recover from the settling defendants all costs, including investigation, evaluation, and review costs; expert witness fees; and reasonable attorney fees.

K.  The provisions of this Section shall not apply to a judicial demand that prior to the effective date of this Section has been resolved through compromise agreement and settlement of claims, or by judgment on the merits that has become final and definitive.

L.  If pursuant to the terms of a contract the responsible party is entitled to indemnification against punitive damages arising out of the environmental damage that is subject to the provisions of this Section, the responsible party shall waive the right to enforce the contractual right to indemnification against such punitive damages caused by the responsible party's acts or omissions if the responsible party admits responsibility for the remediation of the environmental damage under applicable regulatory standards pursuant to the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure Article 1563.  Such waiver of the right to indemnification against punitive damages shall not apply to any other claims or damages.

M.(1) In an action governed by the provisions of this Section, damages may be awarded only for the following:

(a)  The cost of funding the feasible plan adopted by the court.

(b)  The cost of additional remediation only if required by an express contractual provision providing for remediation to original condition or to some other specific remediation standard.

(c)  The cost of evaluating, correcting or repairing environmental damage upon a showing that such damage was caused by unreasonable or excessive operations based on rules, regulations, lease terms and implied lease obligations arising by operation of law, or standards applicable at the time of the activity complained of, provided that such damage is not duplicative of damages awarded under Paragraphs (1) or (2) of this Subsection.

(d)  The cost of nonremediation damages.

(2)  The provisions of this Subsection shall not be construed to alter the traditional burden of proof or to imply the existence or extent of damages in any action, nor shall it affect an award of reasonable attorney fees or costs under this Section.

Acts 2006, No. 312, §1, eff. June 8, 2006; Acts 2012, No. 779, §1; Acts 2014, No. 400, §1.


NOTE:  See Acts 2014, No. 400, §3, regarding applicability.



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