Losing Louisiana

Louisiana's coastlines erroding (photo provided by Louisiana Public Broadcasting)

Attorney General Jeff Landry is warning local leaders in Louisiana: Challenging big oil and energy companies over climate change could cost jobs in the state.

In an op-ed appearing in the Lafayette Advertiser on Thursday, Landry argues against local governments filing lawsuits, like ones recently thrown out in other states, to recoup environmental costs in Louisiana.

"As Louisiana's chief legal officer, I have significant concerns that these junk suits could find a home here and have serious negative effects on our economy," wrote Landry, a Republican. "While these types of public nuisance lawsuits have failed time and time again, it does not mean they cannot hurt Louisiana if they emerge. For the sake of our economy and the future of our workers and manufacturers, responsible elected officials must oppose these baseless lawsuits."

Several cities, from New York to San Francisco, filed lawsuits in recent years have filed lawsuits against BP, Exxon, Chevron and other major fossil fuel producers arguing that they have become a "public nuisance" leading to rising ocean levels that threaten their cities. So far, each of the cases has been dismissed but appeals have been filed.

"The scope of plaintiffs’ theory is breathtaking," U.S. District Judge William Astrup wrote in dismissing a California case in June. "It would reach the sale of fossil fuels anywhere in the world, including all past and otherwise lawful sales, where the seller knew that the combustion of fossil fuels contributed to the phenomenon of global warming."

That case is now being appealed. 

No Louisiana city has filed a similar lawsuit, though New Orleans leaders at least appeared to mull the idea last year, citing climate change among the city's biggest threats.

Landry, in his op-ed, rejected such suits as an attempted cash grab by liberal local governments aided by overzealous lawyers.

AG Jeff Landry: This is why Louisiana's coastal problem 'has nothing to do with climate change'

"It is easy to see the appeal of these lawsuits for some cities desperately needing revenue," he wrote. "It is also easy to see why some payday-chasing attorneys are so zealously pushing them. The firm that handled the California and New York lawsuits stands to rake in 23.5 percent of any award to the cities — potentially hundreds of millions of dollars."

Landry, who is currently mulling a run for governor in 2019, in the past has rejected the idea that Louisiana's rapid coastal erosion -- the state is losing an estimated football field of land each hour -- is the result of climate change.

"The problems that Louisiana faces in regards to its coast erosion problem is mainly contributed to the corps of engineers and the national policy that was designed to protect the Mississippi River in its current state," he said in an appearance on C-SPAN last fall. "Louisiana's coastal problem has nothing to do with climate change."

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.