After years of fighting lawsuits against oil and gas companies, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has agreed to settle one of them.
About five years ago, many coastal parishes began to file lawsuits against oil companies, seeking payment for environmental damage caused to marshes over the past 100 years. Channels dug by oil companies have eroded over time, turning to open water and exacerbating the state’s land loss crisis. The suits said those canals violated coastal use permits.
Many of those suits are still in court. But in 2019, Freeport McMorRan, a smaller oil company, settled one of those lawsuits for $100 million.
On Thursday, Landry, a Republican, authorized a settlement between Freeport McMoRan and the 12 coastal parishes that have charged it with causing environmental damage.
Landry has fought the suit for years, but now he agrees with the memorandum of understanding put out by lawyers on the case.
“I believe that we could get to a place where everyone works together to protect our coastal communities and focus on what really matters,” Landry said, “which is preserving our coast for our children and grandchildren, and ensuring that our oil and gas industry, and number one job creator, is able to thrive in the state.”
The agreement will require Freeport McMoRan to create a special fund that will be overseen by the legislature. Instead of each parish getting a lump sum of money, they’ll have to go through the fund, and use the money only for restoration projects, which must be in alignment with the state’s Coastal Master Plan.
Oil and gas advocates decried the agreement, calling it convoluted and bad for business.
Tyler Gray, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, and Mike Moncla, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, issued a joint statement saying, “It is disappointing that some elected officials have sided with plaintiffs’ attorneys in support of job-killing lawsuits and a flawed settlement scheme that could put our coast further at risk.”
The press release added, “Through these lawsuits, the government seeks to impose sweeping, retroactive liability on the entire oil and gas industry for activities carried out according to federal laws and regulations decades ago.”
In a press conference, Landry, who has historically sided with big business, tried to side-step those concerns.
“Look, I want a big sign at both ends of I-10 and on I-20 as well, that says ‘We welcome the oil and gas industry and the jobs that it creates,’” Landry said.
“Even though today’s action enhances coastal restoration and brings needed finality to these claims, it does nothing to address the fundamental problems with job-killing lawsuits that make Louisiana unwelcome to business growth.”
Legal experts considered the potential implications of the agreement. Christopher Dalbom, assistant director of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy, said it was unclear whether it would “eliminate the rights of property owners and landowners who aren’t a part of these parish lawsuits.”