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Louisiana law clinics stripped of cash?

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Kai Ryssdal: Oil has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for 23 straight days now. BP has said it will pay all “legitimate claims.” A phrase that’s going to take armies of lawyers to define. Louisiana residents have a history of fighting for damages and tougher standards after disasters like this one. Hurricane Katrina is another good example. Often the armies of lawyers that it takes come from law schools. But a new bill kicking around the Louisiana legislature would limit what those law students can do.

Eve Troeh reports.

Eve Troeh: The website for the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic includes a long list of accomplishments.
This year it’s blocked construction of a coal-burning plant and kept an industrial park off coastal wetlands.

LISA JORDAN: When we have a victory, it’s that some project that violated the law either didn’t happen at all, or it went forward but with much better environmental controls.

Lisa Jordan is a lawyer at the clinic. She says plenty of private attorneys line up to sue for damages after an accident — like the BP spill. Her staff is there to help make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Louisiana State Senator Robert Adley says the clinic’s success comes at a high price.

ROBERT ADLEY: A great deal of action taken by the law clinics has resulted in a loss of jobs and economic development for the state.

Adley is behind a bill that would strip all state funding from any university whose law clinic sues a government agency or company. Even private schools like Tulane get a lot of state money for some programs.

With oil flooding the Gulf, it might seem like a bad time for a bill that favors business. Yet, Adley maintains Louisiana needs a business-friendly climate now more than ever.

Lisa Jordan at Tulane says Louisiana needs a strong industry watchdog, too.

JORDAN: When there’s no one else looking over them, a lot of things get overlooked.

Jordan says law clinics push agencies and companies to use best practices that could prevent future accidents.

I’m Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

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