High Court Won't Revive Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Lawsuit
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to revive a Louisiana flood protection board's lawsuit seeking to make oil, gas and pipeline companies pay for decades of damage to coastal wetlands.
The suit drew fierce opposition from the energy industry and many in state government when it was filed in 2013 by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. The suit said the industry's dredging of canals in coastal drilling areas contributed to loss of wetlands that form a hurricane buffer for New Orleans, meaning more work and expense for the board in protecting and maintaining levees.
A federal district judge's 2015 ruling held that federal and state law provided no avenue by which the board could bring the suit. A federal appeals court in New Orleans agreed, leading to the board's request for Supreme Court Review. The request was denied without comment, except to note, without explanation, that Justice Samuel Alito, took no part in the matter.
While the denial brings an end to the flood board's suit, some coastal parishes are pursuing similar lawsuits in state courts on different legal grounds.
The flood board had argued that damage to the coast done by decades of drilling and canal dredging by energy companies contributed to the loss of coastal wetlands. The wetlands form a hurricane buffer for New Orleans and the authority argued their loss meant more work and expense in protecting and maintaining levees.
When the lawsuit was filed in 2013, environmentalists hailed it as an effort to hold the industry accountable.
Then-Gov. Bobby Jindal joined industry leaders in calling it a boon for trial lawyers that would damage an industry that's among south Louisiana's major employers.
Jindal, a Republican, mounted a partially successful effort to remove supporters of the lawsuit from the flood protection board as their terms ended and replace them with industry supporters.
"From the outset of the case, I personally believed that the Flood Protection Authority was not the proper party to bring such a suit," Joe Hassinger, a Jindal appointee and now the president of the flood board, said in a statement. "Nonetheless, we allowed the case to proceed through the legal system, as we were obligated to do by contract. The Flood Protection Authority has had its day in court."
Jindal's successor, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, was traveling to Puerto Rico on Monday to discuss the island's recovery from Hurricane Maria and was not available for comment. Donald Price, special counsel for the Department of Natural Resources in the Edwards administration, said Monday's decision was not surprising. "They apparently felt this didn't raise any significant federal issue," he said.
Edwards has urged energy companies to work toward a settlement in the parish cases. Industry leaders have resisted, saying the suits are meritless.
Price said the pending lawsuits were filed by Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Jefferson, St. John the Baptist, Vermilion and Cameron parishes.
– by AP Reporter Kevin McGill
Grow Louisiana Coalition executive director Marc Ehrhardt issued the following statement regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s denial to hear the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East’s (SLFPA-E) lawsuit against Louisiana’s oil and natural gas industry.
“Enough is enough. The U.S. Supreme Court even agrees that this baseless lawsuit shouldn’t advance any further. The deep-pocketed trial lawyers driving the SLFPA-E’s suit, in the hopes of making millions more in legal fees, tried to advance this case four times and four times it was kicked out of court. They should stop wasting the courts’ time because their claims clearly have no merit.
All taxpayers are left with now is the fate of the millions in legal fees racked up by this exercise, because previous SLFPA-E leaders tied this public agency to a no-win, no-bid legal contract.
When Louisiana’s oil and natural gas industry does well, the entire state does well. That includes more revenue that fills government coffers and provides more monies to the state for funding the coast.
Between 2006 and 2016, Louisiana’s oil and natural gas industry paid approximately $14 billion for the opportunity to do business here, according to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. This is money above what regular businesses pay in the state. All the while tens of thousands of Louisiana businesses in oil and natural gas and hundreds of thousands of Louisianians each year pay sales taxes, corporate franchise and income taxes, too.
To grow and prosper, Louisiana needs laws and regulations that give businesses clear parameters for operating successfully and safely in our state. The best way to preserve Louisiana’s economic and coastal future is working with the oil and natural gas industry, not against it.”