Our Views: A dilemma on lawsuits

It’s not a very credible position in Louisiana to cry a river for the poor oppressed oil companies. If history is any guide, they can take good care of themselves. Their political clout is likely to pass some legislation this year to end, or at least severely curb, efforts by local governments and levee boards to sue companies for past environmental abuses.

That may solve the industry’s immediate problem. Unfortunately, that does not solve the larger problem of the restoration of Louisiana’s ravaged coast.

One or more giant lawsuits against a slew of companies, past and present, over drilling activities covering a half-century, is a blunt instrument that could enrich lawyers but not fairly assess damages or properly allocate payments for the coast. The goal is a big settlement, driven by courtroom histrionics about particularly bad actors among the companies.

Yet if the Legislature forecloses the option of lawsuits, that is also a blunt instrument in a complex situation. It confirms all the prejudices about the companies’ clout and the state’s failure to regulate their activities.

Our problem with cutting the legal process short? That not only shields the companies from liability but reduces, if not eliminates, the pressure to achieve a more far-reaching and — for the companies, as well as the state — a more equitable resolution.

This situation requires not special-interest clout but far more aggressive leadership from Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature.

As we have said before, this issue has migrated to the legal realm because the state’s political establishment has repeatedly proven unwilling to act in the best interests of the citizens, even though the Jindal administration has acknowledged some oil industry liability in the degradation of our coast.

But we shouldn’t accept such intransigence as an inevitability. We have given the governor high marks for his focus on coastal restoration and development of a comprehensive master plan for the coast. Where is a similar focus and leadership on resolving the difficult question of paying for the restoration of the coast?