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A federal judge in New Orleans has rejected a lawsuit that sought billions of dollars from energy companies for their role in eroding Louisiana’s coast, which protects the state from flooding by violent storms from the Gulf of Mexico, especially hurricanes.
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) filed the suit in 2013, accusing the companies of weakening the state’s defenses against flooding with 10,000 miles of dredging and pipelines to accommodate the flow of oil and gas in coastal lands and calls for them to repair the damage. The suit demanded repairs and other restoration that could cost up to $50 billion.
The board designs, builds, runs and maintains the network of floodgates, jetties, levees and seawalls that protect about 1 million residents who live in and around New Orleans. In the lawsuit, it said, “The product of this network is an ecosystem so seriously diseased that its complete demise is inevitable if no action is taken.”
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There were originally 97 defendants in the suit, including BP, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, as well as some smaller energy companies. At least one defendant settled with the state agency before the suit was thrown out, and others were dismissed from the case. By the night of Feb. 13, when the suit was dismissed, there were 88 defendants.
The defendants had argued that the agency had not made a valid claim under federal law. US District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown agreed. In her 49-page ruling she said the defendants were acting within their rights, had properly obtained the permits and followed obscure court precedents and laws dealing with wetland drainage and the duties and rights of landowners.
The lawsuit was filed in 2013 in a state court, but the defendants successfully argued that the case be moved to the US District Court in New Orleans, where evidently they believed they had a better chance of victory. They were supported by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is widely believed to be considering a run for the Republican nomination for the US presidency in 2016.
The defendants, joined by Jindal, had argued that the lawsuit interfered with the state’s efforts to protect Louisiana’s coastline. The state Legislature even passed a law to nullify the suit, but a state judge declared that measure unconstitutional. That ruling remains under appeal.
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The defendants expressed satisfaction with Brown’s rejection of the lawsuit. “We are gratified by this court’s 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,” Greg Beuerman, a spokesman for Shell, Chevron and BP, said in an email.
A spokeswoman for Jindal agreed. “We appreciate the judge’s ruling and are pleased that this frivolous lawsuit has come to an end,” she said, also in an e-mail.
But the battle isn’t over, according to the SLFPA-E. “We don’t think this is going to be the last word on it,” James Swanson, a lawyer for the agency, told The Associated Press. He said the case probably would end up before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com