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Campbell: New Orleans right to sue oil companies

by Minden Press-Herald

I commend New Orleans Mayor Cantrell and the City Council for suing the major oil companies over their decades of damage to Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. The future of New Orleans and coastal Louisiana requires a healthy wetlands environment to defend against dangerous storms and protect our coastal communities.

Hurricane Katrina and other recent storms have been significantly more damaging to New Orleans and south Louisiana because of years of canal-dredging, careless waste disposal and other harmful practices of the oil industry. This must be stopped and reversed, and the state’s political leaders and bureaucracy have failed to do this critical job.

Louisiana is blessed with natural resources including oil and gas, but our state has lagged behind other states in economic and educational achievement. Oil and gas companies provide jobs for our citizens, but the price we have paid in an eroded coastline – an acre lost every hour, and land loss equivalent to the state of Delaware – has been horrendous.

This is no secret. For decades scientists have been telling our state’s leaders about the downside of coastal oil and gas development. The industry has bought the silence of our politicians with well-placed campaign contributions and donations to educational and cultural institutions. It amounts to pennies on the dollar compared to what the companies owe in actual environmental damages.

By joining other coastal parishes that are bringing damage suits against the industry, New Orleans is trying to protect its people and businesses against catastrophic hurricane and flood damage. The city is doing what any homeowner would do if faced with property damage: hold the responsible parties to account.

Yet it is a courageous act. Industry spokesmen, having intimidated the Legislature and other elected bodies, are now trying to close the courthouse door to any entities like New Orleans with the audacity to challenge their political dominance. They are whining about being exposed and voicing the old threats of leaving Louisiana.

Too late. Shell and other major oil firms already sent their white-collar workers to Houston, Dallas and Denver, where many of the defendant companies in the New Orleans lawsuit are based.

The truth is that the major oil companies will leave Louisiana only when they have exhausted our deep reserves of oil and gas. Then we will be left to clean up the mess they have made. Better for Louisiana to negotiate more favorable terms with Big Oil now, while we still have what they want.

LA Public Service Commissioner, District 5

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