Appeal filed in flood board's suit against oil companies

By Kevin McGill, Associated Press

After two defeats in federal court, a south Louisiana flood board tried again Friday to revive its lawsuit blaming scores of oil and gas companies for decades of damage to the state's fragile coastal wetlands.

 

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — After two defeats in federal court, a south Louisiana flood board tried again Friday to revive its lawsuit blaming scores of oil and gas companies for decades of damage to the state's fragile coastal wetlands.

The board tried first in state court in 2013. Oil companies had the lawsuit moved to a federal court in New Orleans, where a judge dismissed it in 2015. Two weeks ago, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the dismissal.

In their latest move, attorneys for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East asked for a hearing by the full 5th Circuit court, which currently has 15 active judges.

The suit seeks to hold close to 90 companies accountable for billions of dollars' worth of damage the board blamed on drilling activity, including dredging of canals. The suit says the activity contributed to the loss of wetlands that form a hurricane buffer for the New Orleans area. Without this natural barrier, the board had to devote more time and money to protecting and maintaining levees, the board said.

Oil industry leaders and their allies in state government blasted the suit as an attack on a vital Louisiana industry. Environmentalists lauded the board for filing it.

The March 3 ruling from the 5th Circuit panel upheld a ruling by U.S. District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown, who said federal and state law provided no avenue by which the flood board could successfully bring the suit.

Flood authority lawyers countered Friday that the board has the right to seek compensation for levee damage under the federal Rivers and Harbors Act. They also argued that federal judges should not have allowed the case to be moved to federal court.

Meanwhile, some coastal parishes are pursuing coastal damage suits in state courts on different legal grounds. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has urged the energy companies to work toward a settlement. Industry leaders have resisted, saying the suits are meritless.

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