Saying that oil and gas companies need to "clean up the mess" they've made, St. John the Baptist Parish has joined with five other parishes in suing oil and gas companies for damage to coastal areas.
The lawsuit, filed in state court by St. John District Attorney Bridget Dinvaut, is similar to ones filed in Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Jefferson, Cameron and Vermilion parishes. Lafourche has hired attorneys to represent the parish but as of yet has not filed a suit.
Like those filed before it, the St. John suit accuses oil companies of damaging the coast during operations and then refusing to restore the land to its original condition, as the law requires.
"That's what they failed to do," said John Carmouche, a lawyer hired by Dinvaut's office to handle the suit. His firm also is handling the suits filed by the five other parishes. "They just left."
In St. John, Dinvaut said, one of the major effects of the coastal damage is flooding. Many areas in St. John were hit especially hard during Hurricane Isaac in 2012.
"Restoring our coast and environment is an important economic impetus for our citizens," Dinvaut said in a statement.
The suit's filing is likely the start of a long and winding legal road. In other instances, defendants have tried to get the cases moved to federal court, though the federal court sent the suits from Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes back to state court, Carmouche noted.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has encouraged coastal parishes to file such suits and said that if they don't, the administration may do it on their behalf.
Attorney General Jeff Landry has opposed the suits, and industry representatives have blasted them as unnecessary and argued that they will bankrupt energy companies and send jobs elsewhere.
Carmouche said the St. John suit would focus on two areas of St. John that have experienced significant damage. He added that it was too early for him to estimate the total dollar figure of any damages caused.
Any funds recouped in the lawsuit would be used to help pay for the state's coastal master plan, which is administered by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. The latest revision of that plan is before the Legislature for an up or down vote.
"In the past, the state didn't enforce" laws about the restoration of coastal areas, Carmouche said. "Instead, we are asking taxpayers to pay for it and letting oil companies keep their money. It's a backwards system."
The St. John suit names 13 companies, including Freeport-McMoran and Shell.
Editor's note: This story was corrected at 10 p.m. April 26 to say that Lafourche has not filed a suit but has hired representation.