Louisiana Senate backs bill negating groundwater commissioners ethics violations

    BRIEF

    The Louisiana Senate voted overwhelmingly for legislation that would let the commissioners who regulate groundwater in the Baton Rouge area to be paid by the companies that extract it.

    The bill would also negate state ethics charges that five of the 18 Capital Area Ground Water Conservation Commission members are facing. The Louisiana Board of Ethics opposes the legislation. 

    Senators voted 35-1 for the bill, with only Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, opposing it. When the legislation came up for a vote on the Senate floor Monday afternoon, not a single member of the Senate, including Barrow, raised a question about it before it was approved. It passed within minutes of being introduced.

    Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, sponsored the proposal. As head of the Senate Finance Committee, he is one of the most powerful members of the Legislature because he oversees the state budget process.

    The state ethics board believes that the five groundwater district commissioners getting paid by the companies they also regulate is a conflict of interest under the current law. The board charged them with conflict-of-interest violations in 2020.

    The Capital Area Groundwater Commission manages groundwater for Baton Rouge and the surrounding communities. Five of its members also receive salaries from ExxonMobil, Georgia-Pacific, Entergy and the Baton Rouge Water Company — which all extract water from the ground for their operations. 

    Environmental groups have warned that excessive pumping of water in the Baton Rouge and Northshore area could eventually make the water undrinkable. They said the top priority of groundwater commissioners should be to ensure the area’s drinking water remains safe.

    This legislation now moves to the Louisiana House for debate.

    Reporter Sara Sneath contributed to this report.