Judge dismisses Louisiana regulator wetlands lawsuit against more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline firms

Judge dismisses Louisiana wetlands suit against big oil firms by Karen Brooks, editing by Ken Wills, February 13, 2015, Reuters
A federal judge in Louisiana threw out a lawsuit Friday against more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies accused of collectively damaging the state’s coastline, according to court records.

The suit was filed in 2013 by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, accused the companies of destroying the state’s fragile wetlands that protect the greater New Orleans area from catastrophic flooding, such as that which occurs during hurricanes.

The suit says the companies cut at least 10,000 miles of oil and gas canals and pipelines through Louisiana coastal lands and asks that they repair the damaged environmental buffer zone.

“The product of this network is an ecosystem so seriously diseased that its complete demise is inevitable if no action is taken,” the lawsuit said.

The board operates and maintains the system of levees, floodgates, seawalls and jetties that protect property and about a million residents in and around New Orleans.

Some 97 defendants in the suit included BP Plc , Exxon Mobil Corp, Chevron Corp and Royal Dutch Shell Plc.

U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown, in a 49-page ruling, dismissed the lawsuit Friday evening.

Members of the board could not be immediately reached to comment late Friday.

The lawsuit touched off a political firestorm, [Heavens to Betsy! Imagine a regulator doing it’s job and fulfilling its mandate] with Gov. Bobby Jindal accusing the agency of overreach and saying the filing should be withdrawn.

Jindal, a Republican, said the agency had overstepped its authority by hiring trial lawyers to file the suit, apparently without permission from him or the state’s attorney general. [What kind of a weak-kneed “regulator” needs to ask permission before doing its job?] [Emphasis added]

Judge: Oil and gas firms not liable for Louisiana coastal erosion by Associated Press, February 16, 2015, Penn Energy

 

The companies had faced billions of dollars in damages if the suit had been successful. The suit argued that the defendant oil companies did not fulfill their obligations to clean up the damage caused by drilling and related activity on Louisiana’s coast.

In dismissing the lawsuit Friday, U.S. District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown said federal and state laws did not provide any avenue by which the levee authority could successfully bring suit.

Brown rejected arguments by the authority that it had a claim against the oil and gas companies, ruling that the levees were too far from, or too indirectly affected by, the alleged damage. She also said the authority had no right to sue under permits issued by the state or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that allowed the companies’ energy exploration or transportation activities in the first place.

Greg Beuerman, a spokesman for Shell, Chevron and BP, which were all defendants in the suit, praised the decision. 

“We are gratified by this ruling to dismiss this ill-conceived, unwise and divisive litigation, which we have contended all along was nothing more than an attempt to subvert the existing legal and regulatory processes,” Beuerman said in a statement.

An attorney said the decision would be appealed with the Flood Protection Authority’s permission. 

“We’re disappointed with the ruling, but I think it was always clear this wouldn’t be resolved in the district court,” said Jim Swanson, one of the lead attorneys on the case. “I don’t think this is the final word on this subject.”

… Jindal spokeswoman Shannon Bates Dirmann also praised the ruling. “We appreciate the judge’s ruling and are pleased that this frivolous lawsuit has come to an end,” said Bates. “We’ve maintained that this was not a claim SLPFA had the authority to bring, and we are glad the court agreed.” [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

2014 10 02 Photo and quote from Louisiana lawsuit article in NY Times, on historian John Barry

2014: The Most Ambitious Environmental Lawsuit Ever: ‘The idea of making the industry live up to its legal responsibility is not going to die’ [The only way to achieve the impossible is by doing it]

2014: How to Kill a Lawsuit Against the Oil and Gas Industry: Pass a New Bill

2014: Three Former Louisiana Governors Agree: Lawsuit Against 97 Oil And Gas Companies Should Proceed

2013: Levee board picks fight with oil and gas industry, roiling La ]

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