Our Views: Don’t limit court actions

In a state where many residents pride themselves on conservative values, as John Barry has noted, personal responsibility should be a cherished ideal.

But in advancing legislation that would make it easier for industry to avoid paying for environmental destruction, state lawmakers seem to be sending the message that it’s OK to walk away from something you’ve broken.

Bills that limit lawsuits against the oil and gas industry for ecological abuses have had smooth sailing so far this session. But we hope that lawmakers and the governor think more carefully about the consequences of these bills before making them into law.

The bills, spearheaded by state Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, are in response to a controversial lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against 97 oil and gas companies. The suit seeks damages from the companies for harming wetlands and making flood control more difficult. Gov. Bobby Jindal opposes the suit, and he’s moved to replace authority board members who advanced the litigation. Barry, a chief architect of the suit, was not reappointed to the board. Adley’s package of bills are varied in scope, but they share a common goal: If approved, they’d make it harder, if not impossible, for local governments to seek damages for coastal destruction.

We’re not enthusiastic about the idea of extended litigation, which tends to direct a lot of resources to trial attorneys rather than the larger public good. We’ve worried about that prospect with the SLPFA-E suit. We’ve expressed concerns about the board’s lack of transparency in launching the suit and its arrangements with its attorneys, who weren’t hired through an open and competitive process.

We’d prefer a political answer to the coastal catastrophe in which the many parties who compromised Louisiana’s wetlands over the years help pay the billions it will cost to repair them. But without the threat of court action, what’s the incentive for powerful corporate interests to come to the negotiating table?

Decades of political expedience led to the environmental disaster of Louisiana’s vanishing coastline. These bills seem like more of the same, and that’s bad news for a state so vulnerable to continuing coastal decline.