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Suing Big Oil no longer 'frivolous' 

click to enlarge John Barry predicted in 2013 that lawsuits could lead to Big Oil helping to pay for coastal restoration. He was right.

Photo by Cheryl Gerber/Wetlands photo by Jill Mastrototaro/Sierra Club

John Barry predicted in 2013 that lawsuits could lead to Big Oil helping to pay for coastal restoration. He was right.

Turns out John Barry was right about the efficacy of suing Big Oil to foster discussions about paying for coastal restoration. That's no surprise to anyone who has followed various environmental lawsuits brought by a few brave coastal parishes and the regional flood protection authority.

  Back in 2013, when the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) filed its landmark lawsuit against scores of oil and gas companies, then-Gov. Bobby Jindal and other energy industry bootlickers breathlessly denounced the suit as "frivolous." Barry, who was then vice chairman of the SLFPA-E board, predicted the litigation would prod energy companies to help pay for coastal restoration.

  Jindal and a compliant Louisiana Legislature frantically passed a ham-fisted law seeking to derail the lawsuit retroactively. Jindal also contrived with egregiously conflicted "reformers" like oil-and-gas businessman Jay Lapeyre to purge the SLFPA-E board of litigation supporters. They almost succeeded. Fortunately, the rule of law and a new governor soon could get things back on track.

  That is, if Louisiana politics doesn't get in the way.

  Which brings us to the recent "intervention" by Attorney General Jeff Landry, long a faithful pawn of Big Oil, in dozens of environmental lawsuits brought against oil and gas companies by coastal parishes. Here's what's happening:

  Three coastal parishes — Jefferson, Plaquemines and Cameron — filed a combined 39 environmental lawsuits against energy companies several years ago. The parishes all hired the same Baton Rouge environmental law firm.

  During his campaign for attorney general last year, Landry said suing oil and gas companies is "asinine." As a freshman congressman in 2011, he interrupted a presidential speech about jobs by holding up a sign that read, "Drilling = Jobs." Landry has never been discreet about his fealty to energy interests.

  On March 15, as Louisiana's new attorney general, Landry "intervened" in the 39 coastal parish lawsuits, seeking to take over the litigation — ostensibly to protect the state's interests. Expecting a guy like Landry to protect the state's interests against Big Oil is like expecting Donald Trump to defend the honor of Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. Not gonna happen.

  The more likely outcome would be a sweetheart settlement that lets the defendants off the hook for pennies on the dollar — with Landry cynically claiming that he stood up to the industry on behalf of the coast. It's a page right out of Jindal's playbook.

  Fortunately, Gov. John Bel Edwards intervened in those same lawsuits last week, via the state Department of Natural Resources. While the outcome of litigation is never guaranteed, at least Edwards has a record of not kowtowing to polluters. As a legislator, he fought to keep the SLFPA-E suit alive. As governor, he has tried to replace Jindal's toadies on the SLFPA-E board with qualified, nonconflicted professionals. That fight, like the litigation, is ongoing.

  Meanwhile, nobody — not even Big Oil or Landry — is calling coastal environmental lawsuits "frivolous" any more. And the industry appears poised to come to the table.

  Barry was right.

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