Americans are being sold a dangerous bill of goods by those who promise that lawsuits provide a viable solution to addressing coastal erosion, rising sea levels and other challenges associated with global climate change.
For years, trial lawyers and environmental extremists have relentlessly sought to use and abuse our courts to shakedown energy producers. The legal warfare began in the late 1990s when enterprising attorneys began filing bogus lawsuits in an attempt to cash in on climate change. They alleged that a few select American oil and gas companies were single-handedly responsible for causing global climate change—despite the fact that there are many different sources of greenhouse gas emissions all over the world. To support their legal scheme, attorneys and activists began orchestrating elaborate green PR campaigns designed to demonize the energy industry and exploit potential juries. And now they are turning to elected officials to do their bidding.
Take for example New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who colluded with green extremists for months prior to announcing a politically-motivated climate investigation targeting Exxon Mobil, which has gone no where since it was launched in 2015.
Meanwhile, private trial lawyers working with city attorneys in San Francisco and Oakland filed a pair of lawsuits seeking billions of dollars from energy producers to pay for infrastructure projects to combat rising sea levels.
Of course, the California cases mirror the coastal lawsuits that have been championed by Gov. John Bel Edwards as a means to pay for the state’s $100 billion coastal restoration plan, which recently gained national notoriety in the Wall Street Journal. In a fiery column entitled, “The Governor and Louisiana Lawyers Plot an Energy Shakedown,” WSJ columnist Allysia Finley highlights Gov. Edwards’ close political ties with many of the trial lawyers who are driving hundreds of lawsuits against the one of the state’s largest employer: the oil and gas industry.
Edwards "was elected in 2015 with substantial support from trial lawyers, and he’s now repaying them in kind. Mr. Edwards wasted no time shaking down Louisiana’s energy industry.”
“Shortly after taking office in January 2016, he met with oil and gas companies and issued an ultimatum: Fork over billions of dollars to help restore Louisiana’s eroding coastline or brave a drawn-out legal battle.”
Finley gets it right in concluding, “Such apparent political back-scratching isn’t a crime unless an explicit quid pro quo occurs, but all of this smells worse than rotten crawfish.” Indeed it does.
The legal contracts that some elected officials have used to hire private lawyers to purse climate change litigation creates a completely improper financial incentive that does not serve the public’s best interest.
That’s one of many reasons why this important public policy debate is better suited for the halls of Congress and our state capitols than the halls of justice.
As a legal watchdog and an advocate for eradicating abuse from the civil justice system, we oppose these suits because they attempt to stretch the law far beyond its intentions, ignore critical facts and involve private lawyers in a space meant for democratically elected decision makers.
Leadership and legislation are necessary to address this complex issue—not lawsuits. Climate change is an intricate issue that requires serious discussion and public deliberation. But enterprising trial attorneys will do us all a tremendous disservice if they succeed in forcing the outcome of these complex considerations through litigation. With little oversight of private lawyers and no strings attached to the dollars recovered in these climate change cases, there is no rational reason to believe a legal settlement would have any meaningful impact on our nation's environmental challenges.
Our legal system is not the correct forum for crafting public policy, and our courts were never intended to bypass the legislative process in pursuit of anyone's personal agenda. Twelve citizens on a jury should never stand in for 535 elected members of Congress or our 50 state legislatures.
We all recognize the need to protect our families, businesses and communities from hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters. Whether you live in Louisiana, California, or anywhere in between, we are all impacted in one way or another by our rapidly changing environment. But the solutions we seek will not be found in protracted and divisive litigation. Good policies that encourage collaboration and cooperation are key to addressing the environmental challenges we face here at home and around the world.
The legal shakedown approach to resolving complex and multi-faceted environmental issues is a waste of time and money. These tough times require strong leadership and common sense legislation, not reckless litigation.
Melissa Landry is executive director of the non-partisan, grassroots legal watchdog group Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch. For more information about LLAW’s efforts to restore common sense and fairness to Louisiana’s civil justice system, visit LLAW.org.