On Wednesday, Louisiana’s Senate Commerce Committee became ground zero for the battle against environmental law clinics. The committee hosted a hearing for a bill proposed by state Sen. Robert Adley which would prohibit state-funded clinics from mounting legal challenges to state entities. And if clinics refuse to disclose client information, the bill says, they could lose all state funding. Even for the private Tulane University, that would mean a loss of millions. And critics say the timing, right on the heels of BP’s oil disaster, couldn’t be worse.
Adley says he’s philosophically opposed to allowing a group that receives taxpayer funds to challenge other state entities in court. Past clinic success, he says, “has resulted in a loss of jobs and economic development for the state.” Dan Bourne, president of the Louisiana Chemical Industry and an Adley supporter, says the Tulane clinics exhibit “wanton disregard for the economic well-being of the state.”
This week, the state’s chemical industry has stepped up its criticism of the clinics, asking supporters to withhold donations and stop matching grants to Tulane. “The university flies cover for a unit that attacks state agencies and kills jobs, and one way to make sure the other units of the university understand the depth of this problem is to cut off corporate support and recruiting,” said Bourne.
Tulane students and faculty have been vocal in their opposition to the bill and the chemical industry’s proposed sanctions. “It’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face,” said director of Tulane’s environmental law clinic Adam Babich. “The university is one of the crown jewels of Louisiana. To try to harm Tulane because you don’t like the fact that citizens are entitled to lawyers is wrong.”
Others have pointed out the conspicuous timing of Adley’s bill, right on the heels of BP’s oil spill disaster off the Louisiana coast. “Right now, with oil lapping our shores, nobody in Louisiana would be idiot enough to advance such a proposition,” wrote New Orleans columnist James Gill. “Well, nobody outside the state Legislature.”
Adley and Bourne claim the connection between the oil spill and Tulane law clinics is faulty. But since the clinic’s mission statement is to “protect and restore the environment for the benefit of the public,” the association is sticking, and some are starting to wonder who, if not Tulane, will continue demanding stricter environmental regulations on behalf of Louisianians.
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