By The Associated Press
May 14, 2010
A group representing big industry in Louisiana that contends actions by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic drive jobs from the state has recommended to its members to stop all corporate donations to the university and cease recruiting its students.
The Louisiana Chemical Association sent a letter, obtained by The Associated Press, to its 63 corporate members last week detailing 12 “recommended sanctions” companies could employ against the university, encouraging them to stop recruiting Tulane students and to cease all corporate donations to the school.
LCA President Dan Borne said that the clinic, in suing companies and regulatory agencies, drives jobs from the state.
“The university flies cover for a unit that considers it an honor to attack state agencies and kills jobs,” Borne said Thursday in an e-mailed statement.
Tulane University President Scott Cowen called the group’s actions reprehensible.
“We’re the largest private employer in Orleans Parish and one of the largest in the state,” Cowen said. “To think that anyone would advocate damaging one of the largest employers in the state, that is an anti-economic development agenda if I’ve ever seen one.”
The lobbying group is also behind a Senate bill that would strip state funding from any university with law clinics that sue a government agency or business. The bill — scheduled for a May 19 hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee — is the “culmination of years of frustration with Tulane and its support for its environmental law clinic,” Borne wrote in the letter. Critics have said the bill would effectively shutter the majority of the state’s 19 law clinics.
Borne said the legislation was prompted by the environmental clinic’s push for the EPA to enforce ozone regulations in the greater Baton Rouge area. Borne holds that the area is already in compliance, so local industry should not be forced to shell out millions in penalty fees.
The bill represents just one prong of the LCA’s strategy to persuade Tulane to pull support for the clinic. Most of the proposed sanctions go after Tulane’s purse strings.
Cowen called the LCA’s strategy “unprecedented” and “embarrassing” for the association and its leadership.
Cowen emphasized that many of the LCA’s member companies, particularly the national and multinational ones, had been “terrific partners” of Tulane and that he doubted their CEOs would approve of the association’s plan.
Tulane has one of the best chemical engineering departments in the country, Cowen said, and many graduates already work for many of the chemical association’s members.
Borne said the LCA’s board voted on the actions against Tulane but that it was up to each company whether to apply any of the sanctions.
According to the letter, the chemical association also plans to complain about the clinic to Gov. Bobby Jindal.
In the late 1990s, the environmental clinic drew the ire of Gov. Mike Foster, who called the staff “a bunch of vigilantes out there to make their own law.” It came after the clinic sued successfully to stop construction of the Shintech plastic plant in a poor, predominantly black community in St. James Parish. That lawsuit led industry to complain about the clinic to the state supreme court, which limits clinics by allowing them to represent only the very indigent.
Stephen Griffin, interim dean of Tulane Law, said that in 2004, the chemical association launched a similar attack against the school that proved unsuccessful.
“Our donors are really pretty supportive regardless of what the LCA says,” he said.
Adam Babich, director of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, said the clinic’s 26 student lawyers represent clients and community groups concerned about polluters in their areas and also help ensure permits regulators issue comply with existing law.
Both the American Bar Association and the Louisiana State Bar Associations have weighed in against the bill, which would impact all of Louisiana’s law clinics.
“We urge the state legislature to consider that these law clinics represent the people of Louisiana who have very real and immediate problems but few resources to solve them,” ABA President Carolyn Lamm said in a statement.
Sonia Smith of The Associated Press wrote this report.
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