Louisiana Lawsuit: BP and Other Responsible Companies Should Pay $1 Million a Day


Louisiana officials may play the PR game when it comes to the BP spill: Going easy on the oil giant regarding inadequate beach cleanup, talking about cooperation and mouthing the “Mission Accomplished” talking points – even questioning whether the spill is really impacting the health of Gulf residents. But what is Louisiana’s position when it’s time to take BP to court?

Well, in a lawsuit filed this week, state officials say that BP and the other responsible companies should, as a group, pay at least $1 million dollars a day to the Pelican State. According to the suit, the companies should shell out the cash because they “…invaded Louisiana’s waters and adjoining coastline, severely damaging Louisiana’s natural resources, such as wetlands, shorelines, habitat, and wildlife, endangering the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Louisiana. These impacts continue. Louisiana has been, and will continue to be, profoundly impacted…[and] will continue to incur, significant costs and damages.”

Of course the spill “endangered” the health and welfare of citizens. But that hard-line reality isn’t being reflected in the politics and policies of state agencies that continue to treat dead dolphins as some sort of uptick in seasonal mortality and insist on foot-dragging in response to the growing number of people getting sick up and down the Gulf Coast.

Where’s the sense of political urgency that’s implied by the legal claim? The lawsuit paints a picture of greedy companies ignoring safety for profit and showing no regard for the environment or even human life. Where is that indignation in the public square?

The legal claim does a good job of checking the boxes on the government’s case against BP and its partners – indeed, it sketches the case by individuals and businesses. And, finally, the state is indicating that laws were broken, filing under provisions of the Louisiana Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act of 1991, the Oil Pollution Act, and the Louisiana Environmental Quality Act. The claim is only a start, but it’s movement in the right direction.

Look, most of what the state attorney general enumerates has been known for months, and the lawsuit stops short of citing actual health-impact evidence collected by a range of researchers. In the end, that could make the rest of the liability seem relatively small.

And, boy, it would sure help if we could apply the urgency conveyed in the lawsuit directly to the politics of this situation. Instead, we get watered-down responses that make you wonder if BP is the only organization that gets serious when millions of dollars hang in the balance.

Reporter Sabrina Canfield at Courthouse News has a good, detailed take on the lawsuit here: http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/03/08/34716.htm

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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