Letter: Coastal lawsuits are badly conceived

The new year is a time to reflect on the past and resolve to make positive change in the future. As I reflect on an issue that is of utmost importance to many coastal communities —coastal restoration —I am somewhat saddened that the primary solution offered by our state leadership has been to encourage lawyers to file hasty and ill-conceived lawsuits in hopes of a big, quick payday and a potential fill for some budget holes.
The truth is that we already have a restoration plan in place, and it’s currently being funded in large part by the very companies these lawsuits are attacking. These lawsuits are the absolute wrong approach to addressing this problem, and in fact, they may make the problem worse.
The oil and gas industry, which remains the cornerstone of our economy in South Louisiana, has simply followed the rules as set out by decades’ worth of existing law. The industry has done everything required by law to legally operate on our coast. Companies go through exhaustive scrutiny and only receive final permitting after agreeing to a rigorous administrative process set up to enforce these permits. If there have been violations of those permits or that process, the state Department of Natural Resources should and does vigorously pursue those that break the law. As in all matters, a lawsuit should be the last recourse, not the first.
The complicated issue of coastal land subsidence is a factor that many from the geologic and scientific community believe is the greatest cause of land loss. Louisiana’s coastline has been evolving for thousands of years. The fault lines far below our surface are continually shifting, adding to and taking away large masses of land. In addition to this is the fact that virtually every expert recognizes the governmentally-approved levee system as a factor in inhibiting the natural distribution of soil and silt that fed our coastline for centuries.
But, while all these experts acknowledge the issues are multi-faceted and increasingly complex, there remain those opportunists whose solution is simply a legal shakedown of a critical industry. The real disappointment is that environmentalists and coastal governing bodies, knowing that industry dollars are funding the current restoration programs, should actually be the greatest supporters of our oil and gas sector. Attacking these industry partners with lawsuits removes any incentive they have for operating or expanding in our state, thus removing new funding sources and reducing future payments from any equation.
As we look enthusiastically to a new year, let us resolve to find solutions for coastal restoration through sound science, not shakedowns. And, may we all recognize it is time for cooperation and compromise, not contentious and costly lawsuits.
State Sen. Sharon Hewitt
Slidell, Senate District 1

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