Let Freedom Ring Must Reads
Louisiana and New York City might not seem like they have much in common, but they are up to the same tricks.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced a lawsuit against oil companies, alleging that they caused the climate change and global warming that led to Hurricane Sandy, and so the energy industry should pay for desired infrastructure improvements and otherwise the city’s efforts to prevent further damage from storms. De Blasio’s effort is nothing more than a thinly-veiled fundraiser for a city that has been utterly mismanaged by a fiscally irresponsible administration.
The mayor has burned through taxpayer money with careless abandon, recently announcing an $88.7 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year, a 20 percent spike from his predecessor’s spending plan.
Contrary to de Blasio’s purported environmental crusade, there is no evidence to suggest that oil and gas companies are responsible for Superstorm Sandy or the like. But shakedowns aren’t usually grounded in compelling evidence, and Louisiana appears to view liberal New York City and San Francisco as models to follow. A network of trial lawyers recently filed 42 lawsuits for six parishes alleging oil and gas companies are responsible for the state’s coastal erosion and seeking damages.
This is consistent with emails I have obtained under open records laws asserting that Louisiana’s Gov. John Bel Edwards was enticed to sign on with Governors Jerry Brown of California and Andrew Cuomo of New York to pursue the “climate” political agenda on the promise of coastal “resiliency” money.
Blaming Big Energy
The lawsuits blame the energy industry, particularly oil and natural gas producers, as being behind the entirety of Louisiana’s coastal land loss, a frivolous claim. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Louisiana’s coastal erosion is the result of “natural evolutionary processes,” not simply human activity alone. The energy companies aren’t the only source of human activity either — the Army Corps of Engineers has also made changes to the coastline and dozens of other carbon emitting industries operating in Louisiana are not targets of the litigation.
Of course, Louisiana’s government has done quite well thanks to oil and gas producers, whose activity the state sanctioned, permitted and regulated as well as fed off. The industry is essential to Louisiana’s economy: It accounts on average for 10% to 15% of Louisiana’s tax revenues annually for the last two decades. In fiscal year 2013, the industry paid almost $1.5 billion in Louisiana state taxes, about 14.6% of the total taxes and fees collected that year by the state.
That same year, the extraction, refining and pipeline industries paid $410 million in ad valorem taxes to parishes and cities. According to data from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, from 2006 to 2016, the oil and natural gas industry paid $14 billion just for the ability to conduct business in Louisiana.
Declaring the same oil and gas producers were in fact solely responsible for the damage is an indictment of the state of Louisiana and the federal government, their partners until politicians smelling a payoff had a change of heart.
It’s also important to note how similar legal claims have been tried before. Several liberal state Attorneys General teamed up a few years back to sue Exxon for alleged damages related to climate change, and also came after a policy group with which I work, the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The lawsuits were designed to silence, and settle, not to win. Embarrassed AGs quietly fled the coalition led by New York’s Eric Schneiderman when freedom of information requests posed the scheming.
Supreme Court Steps In
During the Obama Administration, the Supreme Court dismissed lawsuits filed against several Midwest power companies by states and conservation groups seeking damages for global warming. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in a unanimous opinion that American businesses cannot be sued under state or local “nuisance” ordinances due to the fact that global warming is a global issue and rightfully falls under the jurisdiction of Congress and the EPA.
Ginsburg wrote that allowing individual cities and judges to determine, case-by-case, the impact of climate change is a mistake and would create no end of differing opinions and judgments.
Rather than attacking the oil and gas industry, Louisiana should resume its celebration of people bringing jobs and prosperity to the state and producing affordable energy for the nation.
Louisiana’s efforts to prevent coastal erosion should not be funded by campaigns designed to bleed private industry as part of a campaign using alarmist claims to overcome persistent public resistance. Instead of pursing lawsuits that have every appearance of being designed to settle and create funds for politicians to spend, the state would be better off pursuing scientifically valid solutions to the legitimate issue of coastal erosion, seeking solutions that protect both the state’s coast and its economy.
Louisiana shouldn’t partner with lawyers looking to line their pockets to bleed productive industry vital to all of our being wealthier, healthier and cleaner.
- Horner is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. An attorney in Washington, D.C., Horner has represented CEI, scientists, and members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate on matters of environmental policy at the federal court level and before the U.S. Supreme Court.