Federal judge tosses levee board lawsuit

02 18, 2015 by The Advertiser

U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown's dismissal of a flood board's federal lawsuit was greeted with guarded optimism by the major oil and gas associations this morning.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East suit had charged dozens of oil and gas companies working on and near the coast were to blame for widespread erosion there, and were responsible for environmental damages there, which would require up to billions of dollars repair.

"The dismissal of this egregious suit is obviously a step forward in the right direction. The industry has maintained throughout the process that the SLFPA-E was acting outside of its authority, and thankfully, Judge Brown agrees," Don Briggs, president of Louisiana Oil & Gas Association, said in an issued statement this morning.

But Briggs added that oil and gas interests expect appeals of Brown's ruling, delivered this morning in 49 pages. The Associated Press reported that opposing lawyers said appeals are likely. Briggs also noted that the attorneys that filed this suit, which began in state court in 2013 and was moved to federal court, have filed myriad other suits in other courts.

"But no matter the future of these suits, the industry will keep to task by producing consumer-ready resources, creating thousands of jobs for our workforce, and remaining committed to the safety of our communities and the preservation of our environment to which we have been entrusted," Briggs said in an issued statement.

Ragan Dickens, LOGA spokesman, said a notice of appeal for the SLFPAE suit must be filed with the district clerk within 30 days after the judgment.

Right now, he said, there are no other important dates on the docket for the coastal lawsuits.

Chris John, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association, applauded the judge's ruling.

"I believe that Judge Brown's decision to end this misguided lawsuit was the correct one for Louisiana, its people and an industry that that creates over 300,000 jobs and provides $70 billion to the economy of our state. In addition, the Louisiana Legislature spoke loudly and clearly last year in reiterating the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East had no standing in bringing about this case. This ruling provides additional confirmation," he said.

"The oil and gas industry looks forward to moving beyond this. Focusing on coastal collaboration instead of courtroom costs is the right path going forward."

The flood authority, which oversees New Orleans-area levee boards, had claimed in the lawsuit that coastal drilling and dredging activities contributed to the loss of coastal wetlands that form a natural hurricane protection buffer for New Orleans.

The lawsuit caused a political furor in Louisiana. The suit's backers said it was necessary to hold energy companies accountable for decades of damage and that it was one of the state's few hopes for funding coastal protection and restoration efforts with an estimated price tag of at least $50 billion over the coming decades.

Gov. Bobby Jindal and oil industry leaders condemned it as an attack on a vital industry and said it undermined the state's efforts to protect and restore the coast. The Legislature passed a bill to kill the lawsuit although a state judge later declared that law unconstitutional, a ruling that was under appeal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.