Lawsuits certainly have a way of getting everyone’s attention, especially here in Louisiana. With a well-established reputation as a “judicial hellhole,” our state is known for having a legal system that seems to operate more like a litigation lottery than a network of fair and impartial courts.
Further fueling this perception are new headlines noting Governor John Bel Edwards’ recent attempts to strong-arm the oil and gas industry to settle a handful of trial lawyer-generated parish lawsuits to pay for Louisiana’s $100 billion coastal restoration plan.
Simply put, these lawsuits targeting the state’s number one source of private sector jobs and revenue are based on the misguided premise that some producers violated the terms of their state-issued coastal use permits many years ago, and those activities caused coastal erosion. In spite of all the rhetoric from a handful of trial lawyers and radical environmental activists making these claims, these lawsuits are completely unnecessary.
In fact, every oil and gas producer operates under the comprehensive regulation of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR). Through LDNR, there is already a rigorous administrative process in place to ensure that each and every coastal use permit is in compliance with the Coastal Zone Management Act.
Any concerns regarding permit compliance can be addressed through the administrative review process without the excessive delays and exorbitant legal costs that come along with litigation. If the state were truly interested in addressing allegations of specific permit violations, it would follow its own process and comply with existing law, not use lawsuits to try and create new ones.
Perhaps even more troubling than the lawsuits themselves is the premature attempt to push the litigation out of court and out of public view into secret settlement negotiations. The problem with this strategy is, of course, the facts and the law. Attempting to extract settlements from the oil and gas industry without making any effort to establish liability is a perversion of the legal process.
Shortly after his invitation to begin “global settlement” talks was declined, Gov. Edwards sent a letter to industry leaders and the media promising that oil and gas producers “will spend a tremendous amount of time and resources defending lawsuits” if they don’t continue “discussions.”
This thinly veiled threat of more litigation suggests the administration is preparing to go all in on its “sue-and-settle” legal strategy. That means it will likely try to leverage the full weight of the Governor’s Office to wage a media war on energy producers in an effort to win the battle in the court of public opinion and attempt to force companies to settle, regardless of their individual actions or collective culpability. But shouldn’t the state have to prove fault and causation before demanding billions of dollars from an entire industry?
This shortsighted approach also makes the false assumption that energy producers are not doing their part to help solve the complex challenges facing our coast. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Today, the oil and gas industry is the No. 1 private investor in Louisiana’s coast and environment. In addition to annual investments of as much as $200 million to support public sector projects included in the state’s coastal master plan, the industry also supports dozens of coastal and environmental projects being led by our private and nonprofit partners.
These investments clearly illustrate that collaboration is much more effective than litigation in moving us toward our collective goal of restoring Louisiana’s coast.