By: Pat Austin
BATON ROUGE – It is not news that the Louisiana coastline has been extensively damaged through the years by energy companies who have left miles of canals and channels dredged through our wetlands as part of the process of harvesting the vast oil resources in our state.
It is also not news that Louisiana’s coastline is quickly eroding and the most common metaphor is that we are losing a football field’s worth of land an hour, a claim that has been questioned, explored, clarified, and still remains the most common yardstick for our situation.
Last year, NOLA and the New York Times did a stunning series on Louisiana’s vanishing coast exploring how this situation has affected the way of life for so many people and the danger our coastline faces should another “Katrina” come along.
In 2014 the New York Times published an article about author John Barry’s lawsuit to save the coastline.
And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg; there are dozens of lawsuits working their way through the courts that attempt to hold the oil industry responsible for repairing and restoring the damage done through decades of irresponsible drilling practices.
It’s a quixotic problem, to be sure. The oil and gas industry is the one basket into which we have placed all of our eggs, so to speak. Our economy depends heavily on it and the industry provides innumerable jobs, both directly and indirectly, for the citizens of this state. It’s a Catch-22.
In the latest move, this week the City of New Orleans has joined six other parishes in the lawsuit frenzy:
“New Orleans has been harmed,” [NOLA Mayor LaToya Cantrell] said. “The people of our city have been harmed, and our way of life is threatened by the damage done to our coastal wetlands.”
The suit names a dozen defendants including the city’s electrical utility, Entergy New Orleans, plus Chevron and ExxonMobil, and calls on them to pay to restore the wetlands.
“Given the challenges we face when it comes to our infrastructure, the additional strain of these damages demands action. Getting our fair share means being made whole by the companies who have harmed us,” Cantrell said.
This flurry of lawsuits began in 2013 and many blame Governor John Bel Edwards for the escalation. Edwards is close with the trial lawyers and while as children we used to play “count the license plates from other states” games, now children count the Gordon McKernan billboards along the highways. If there is a blank billboard, someone is going to put a sign on it that says “Quick! Rent this billboard before Gordan does!”
In January 2018, Business Insider wrote about the close ties between Edwards and the trial lawyers:
Supporters of energy development are also suspicious of Edwards’ close ties to Louisiana’s community of trial lawyers, particularly Glad Jones, an attorney in New Orleans who litigates environmental and commercial cases. In 2006, Jones won what was then the largest judgement against an oil company in Louisiana’s history: $57 million in damages for pollution and marshland loss against ExxonMobil. Jones is also a strong campaign supporter of Edwards.
We all know how this is going to turn out, right?
This will drag on through the courts forever, the lawyers will all get rich, the oil keeps coming, and the coastline vanishes.
Nobody wins but the lawyers.