The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it will not hear a lawsuit against scores of oil and companies brought by a New Orleans-area levee authority, likely ending a controversial four-year legal saga.
The decision leaves in place an earlier appeals court ruling that the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East did not have standing to bring claims against the energy companies for damage to the state's coast.
An earlier move to send the case back to state courts was denied by a federal judge, a ruling upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The flood protection authority had argued that decades of drilling for oil and gas along the coast, along with dredging and canal-building, had left the New Orleans region more vulnerable to storms by hastening the destruction of coastal wetlands.
The suit sought to force nearly 100 exploration and production companies to either restore the wetlands or pay the Flood Protection Authority for the increased costs associated with protecting the area from catastrophic storms.
Opponents, including then-Gov. Bobby Jindal, called the suit an attack on an industry vital to the state's economy. They also accused the plaintiffs of seeking to line the pockets of trial lawyers at the expense of oilfield workers.
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Jindal tried to undermine the suit by removing board members who had voted to go ahead with it when their terms expired, replacing them with industry supporters.
The authority originally filed the suit in 2015 in state court. But oil companies got it moved to federal court, where, in 2015, U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown ruled that neither federal nor state law provides grounds on which the flood officials could bring the suit. In March, the appeals court agreed, prompting the appeal to the Supreme Court.
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A handful of parishes have filed similar suits. Those cases, however, are mostly in state courts and use different legal justifications for their claims.
Specifically, they cite a provision in state law that requires companies to return land to its original condition when they are finished working with it.
Suits have been filed in St. John the Baptist, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, Cameron and Vermilion parishes. None of them have gone to trial.
The Louisiana Oil and Gas Association and the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association on Monday hailed the Supreme Court’s action.
“It’s three strikes, and you’re out,” said Don Briggs, president of the Oil and Gas Association. “The SLFPA-E lawsuit was dismissed in a U.S. district court, refused by a U.S. circuit court of appeals, and denied by the U.S. Supreme Court. These and similar frivolous lawsuits against oil and gas companies are destroying Louisiana’s competitiveness to attract future investment. We are thankful for the Supreme Court’s ruling and will continue to hold true to our convictions, fighting to ensure that the oil and gas industry remains a cornerstone of Louisiana’s culture.”