The scheme recently announced by private plaintiffs’ attorneys, which purports to provide a framework to settle government lawsuits targeting hundreds of energy producers over alleged coastal land loss claims, perfectly illustrates what we’ve known for a long time: these trial lawyer-driven lawsuits are a farce that have nothing to do with saving the coast.
Let’s look at the facts.
In 2013, trial lawyers began pursuing litigation that seeks to hold Louisiana oil and gas companies hostage and punish them for legally conducting production activities, which were encouraged and welcomed by the state and carried out under rigorous state and federal regulations many decades ago. Six years of these divisive and unproductive legal attacks have failed to produce anything for our coast, while a similar baseless lawsuit was thrown out of federal court.
Then three weeks before critical elections are held across the state, lawyers representing six coastal parishes announce they’ve reached a breakthrough “settlement” with one sulfur mining company involved in the litigation that no longer does business in Louisiana. The deal would supposedly generate $23.5 million in cash payments that would be put into a fund and divvied up by a new state agency that does not exist. Another $76.5 million could be generated “subject to contemporaneous reimbursements from the proceeds of the prior sales of environmental credits.” Reams of lawyers, reporters and policymakers are still trying to figure out what that means.
Despite the lack of clarity, the plaintiffs’ lawyers steering this legal train wreck have provided no additional explanation, and it seems unlikely they will do so anytime soon.
Multiple news reports have revealed the attorneys did not discuss the supposed “deal” with many state and local officials, the named plaintiffs in these cases, while it was being negotiated. It is deeply troubling that elected officials across the coast continue to say they haven’t seen the proposed settlement, and they weren’t consulted on the details. One parish leader summed it up perfectly, saying, “I don’t know nothing.”
Specific terms of the proposed settlement still haven’t been publicly released. But Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has received significant financial support from the lawyers driving this litigation, was quick to lend his support for the deal saying, “While the details are being conclusively negotiated, I am hopeful that the conceptual framework in this settlement will be used as a model for resolving other similar actions.”
We disagree with the governor and his trial lawyer supporters. This is a shakedown, not a solution.
We should not allow a small group of unelected trial lawyers with unbridled discretion to rewrite flood protection, coastal restoration and economic policy for the entire state of Louisiana through secret agreements that have been negotiated behind closed doors without input from state and local officials.
Strengthening Louisiana’s working coast is a shared goal that requires collaboration amongst industry, policymakers, and world-class coastal researchers to develop real serious, science-based solutions. Trial lawyer-driven lawsuits and behind the scenes settlement schemes are not the answer.
Gifford Briggs is President of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association.