Posted October 17, 2019
Louisiana coastal parishes are suing their longtime ally, the oil and gas industry, to fund restoration of their disappearing wetlands, in a move being described as both a lifeline for the coast and a red herring in a warming world.
The legal action — represented in dozens of lawsuits against nearly 100 companies — claimed its first real victory last month when an oil firm agreed to a historic settlement. Proponents called it a "breakthrough" and said they hoped more victories will force Big Oil to atone for its past destructive acts (Energywire, Sept. 27).
That reckoning has been a "long time coming and so hard a road," Oliver Houck, a Tulane University Law School professor and environmental lawyer, said at the time.
But the lawsuits also highlight a deep uncertainty over the future of south Louisiana, where the state has proposed a broad defend-and-repair strategy for the wetlands while climate change impacts worsen. Some experts question whether the battle to force industry to pay is a distraction in a place where the land is sinking and sea waters are rising at four times the global average.
"Climate change is going to sweep away everything they are trying to preserve," said Edward Richards, director of the Louisiana State University Law Center's Climate Change Law and Policy Project, in an email.
The lawsuits are rooted, mainly, in historical practices. Oil and gas companies cut through the sensitive marshland that hangs off the bottom of the state's boot in order to lay pipelines and enable transportation. These canals are one of the factors contributing to a gradual collapse of the ecosystem.