It’s become fashionable for Louisiana’s politicians and political hopefuls to bash the local municipal governments, government boards, and attorneys pursuing so-called “legacy lawsuits” against oil and gas companies for destroying our coastland.
At a meeting of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association, Sen. David Vitter (who plans to run for Governor next year) spoke out against the lawsuits and the “greedy trial lawyers” who have led the charge against the big corporations. To hear Vitter tell it, money-hungry attorneys across the Gulf Coast have hoodwinked governments and private citizens into pursuing legal action against helpless big companies. These are companies, remember, that everybody acknowledges are partly responsible for destroying the land and property for decades.
It’s no surprise that a Louisiana politician would take this stance, of course. Their coffers are filled by generous campaign contributions from the big oil companies. But the beauty of our legal system is that ordinary citizens who lack the power of big corporations have the capability of fighting back, of holding those companies accountable when they cause harm. As we discussed on John Redmann: Power of Attorney when we spoke with John Barry of Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, attorneys in these cases work for and with people who generally lack the resources to take on Big Oil on their own; that attorneys in these cases work for a contingency fee is a necessity of doing business, because these cases are huge and costly to litigate.
To Vitter and others like Plaquemines Parish President (and Lieutenant Governor hopeful) Billy Nungesser, Big Oil is a gracious benefactor, a kind and generous presence in Louisiana, interested only in bringing its people more jobs and tax cuts. That would be nice to believe, but it ignores the last century of history of oil and gas companies coming into our state and demolishing our coastal wetlands, devouring our natural resources, and then skipping town when there’s no money left to make. This is concerning for many reasons, but most troubling is that we are now more susceptible than ever to a devastating storm, excessive oil production having destroyed our natural barrier of protection from hurricanes.
To be sure, oil and gas exploration are vital industries to our state, country, and world. But let’s not hold up Big Oil as a purely benevolent force, and let’s be sure our politicians know that we see through their transparent posturing.