BATON ROUGE – Concern over the effects of oil and gas drilling on Louisiana's coastline has led to a number of lawsuits from coastal parishes -- all of which were recently taken over by the state's attorney general.
"I have directed my staff to intervene in each and every one of these cases," Attorney General Jeff Landry said in March. "This intervention is about protecting the rights of the people to direct public policy through their duly elected officers while ensuring our state’s coast is sustainable."
The attorney general's office has filed to take over 39 lawsuits filed in Cameron, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes. These lawsuits were originally filed by a number of parties against a number of companies, adding a degree of disorganization to what is essentially the same issue. Having this disorganization over lawsuits that could impact Louisiana law was an untenable situation for the attorney general.
"Continuing to allow these parties to steer the public policy of Louisiana regarding our coastal restoration and protection is unhelpful," Landry said. "We cannot allow these differing, and competing interests, to push claims which collectively impact the public policy for our coast and entire state. Louisiana’s public policy should be dictated by the rule of law and its elected officials."
It is unclear at this point what level of impact the move could have on these suits. The documents filed to make this move say that Landry "should" have the authority to override the hiring of attorneys by those filing the suits, so it's not clear if he actually does. Also, the Plaquemines Parish government actually voted last November to drop its lawsuits, but the documents say the attorney general is still intervening to make sure no state rights are impacted.
These cases have been a cause for some debate. While some believe the oil and gas companies named in the suits are causing real environmental damage, others think that the moves are a cash grab, following up on a federal suit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. That suit was dismissed, but an appeal has been filed.
For their part, the oil and gas companies involved in the suits hope that this move leads to a swift resolution to suits that, in their eyes, have little merit.
"When you take out the ingredients of 'greedy' trial lawyers, it is hopeful that facts and law will prevail," Louisiana Oil and Gas President Don Briggs told the Louisiana Record. "No matter what the AG does or doesn’t bring to the cases, we look forward, as an industry, to spending working capital on operations and not on unnecessary lawsuits."
The attorney general was careful in his statement to strike a tone of balance between protecting the interests of the state and not alienating the companies being sued.
"I truly believe we can balance the tremendous benefits of the oil and gas industry, which continues to employ thousands of our neighbors, and the ongoing coastal crisis, which threatens our very existence," he said.
In the end, the rights and benefits of the state seem to be what this move comes down to.
"Continuing to allow these parties to steer the public policy of Louisiana regarding our coastal restoration and protection is unhelpful," Landry said. "This intervention will ensure that the collaborative work of the state and parishes on coastal restoration is not threatened with continuous, fragmented lawsuits."