Editor’s Note: This guest column by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry originally appeared at the Lafayette Advertiser.
Nationwide, a trend is developing that could eventually endanger jobs in Louisiana. Local governments in several states are teaming with for-profit attorneys to file public nuisance lawsuits, hoping to score massive paydays from energy manufacturers.
As Louisiana’s chief legal officer, I have significant concerns that these junk suits could find a home here and have serious negative effects on our economy.
Filed in hotbeds of liberal activism — lawsuits by cities such as Baltimore, New York City, Oakland, and San Francisco argue that energy manufacturers are public nuisances and should be held financially responsible for changes in global climate.
Record of rejection
Fortunately, the legal system has thus far soundly rejected such lawsuits. In the case of San Francisco and Oakland, a federal judge dismissed it in July. Judge William Alsup—a Bill Clinton employee — based his ruling, in part, on his belief the legislative and executive branches (not the judicial ranch) should decide how to manage issues as complicated as global climate change. He also criticized the specious legal theory behind the suits.
“The scope of plaintiffs’ theory is breathtaking,” wrote Alsup. “It would reach the sale of fossil fuels anywhere in the world, including all past and otherwise lawful sales, where the seller knew that the combustion of fossil fuels contributed to the phenomenon of global warming.”
Judge John F. Keenan of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York made a similar finding when dismissing the New York City case, noting that while climate change “is a fact of life, the serious problems caused thereby are not for the judiciary to ameliorate.”
Courts don’t regulate emissions
In truth, the legal problems associated with public nuisance climate lawsuits against energy manufacturers long predate these recent lawsuits. As far back as 2011, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in American Electric Power v. Connecticut that authority to regulate emissions does not rest with the courts.
This legal history is just one reason I chose to join 14 other attorneys general in filing an amicus brief supporting dismissal of the lawsuit in California and did the same in New York. As the judges correctly ruled, federal courts should not set nationwide energy and environmental policy.
Louisiana counts on manufacturing for more than one-fifth of our economic output, employing 136,600 workers. A significant portion of this manufacturing comes from the energy industry, which remains one of Louisiana’s leaders in economic impact, taxes paid, and people employed.
Any threat, including misguided lawsuits, that endangers a manufacturing industry employing one in seven Louisiana workers must be opposed.
Officials must oppose lawsuits
It is easy to see the appeal of these lawsuits for some cities desperately needing revenue. It is also easy to see why some payday-chasing attorneys are so zealously pushing them. The firm that handled the California and New York lawsuits stands to rake in 23.5 percent of any award to the cities — potentially hundreds of millions of dollars.
While these types of public nuisance lawsuits have failed time and time again, it does not mean they cannot hurt Louisiana if they emerge. For the sake of our economy and the future of our workers and manufacturers, responsible elected officials must oppose these baseless lawsuits. I certainly do, and I will continue to do so as your Attorney General.