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Big Green lawsuits are obstacle to jobs, economic growth

By: Examiner Editorial 06/12/11 8:05 PM

Federal regulators had no sooner completed their review and approval of Royal Dutch Shell’s application to resuming drilling for oil and natural gas in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico before Big Green environmental radicals were in federal court filing suit to stop the project. David Guest, a spokesman for Earthjustice, which filed the suit along with the Sierra Club, the Gulf Restoration Network and the Florida Wildlife Federation, said the litigation was necessary because “before new deep-water Gulf drilling occurs, the government must make a realistic assessment of the risk to the Gulf’s ecosystem, its communities, and the many jobs that depend on tourism, fishing and recreation. It has utterly failed to do so here.”

Legal experts expect this suit to be the first of many to come as oil companies resume exploration and drilling operations in the Gulf more than a year after the Deepwater Horizon disaster virtually shut down the energy industry along the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, at a cost of up to 50,000 jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of other economic losses to the regional economy. The permits issued to Shell that sparked the suit were issued under the review process employed by the Department of Interior in the wake of Deepwater Horizon, which industry officials said was unnecessarily complicated and gained nothing in the way of additional safety margins in drilling or environmental protection for the Gulf’s ecosystems.

But as costly as more government red tape almost always is for industry, it is likely to pale by comparison with the expense of defending against endless lawsuits from Big Green environmentalist activist groups whose sole mission often seems to be to use the federal court system to stop economic activity of which they disapprove. It is no coincidence that the anti-Shell suit was filed just one day after ExxonMobil announced a major discovery in deep Gulf waters that could provide up to 700 million barrels of oil. That’s 700 million barrels that won’t have to be imported from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

The problem is the ultimate outcome of such litigation is almost less important than the fact that defending against it will cost Shell hundreds of millions of dollars and delay the project by years, possibly long enough even to render it economically unfeasible to continue. Arguing over whether an already complex government regulatory review process was sufficiently comprehensive to provide the “realistic assessment” of environmental risk demanded by Earthjustice can easily take years and might never be completed to the satisfaction of those who are determined to end fossil fuel use. Considering that these Big Green groups receive hundreds of millions of federal tax dollars every year, it is time Congress started asking some tough questions about who has legal standing to bring such litigation.

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