NEW ORLEANS — A Louisiana flood protection board has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to revive its lawsuit seeking to make oil, gas and pipeline companies pay for decades of damage to coastal wetlands, hoping to reverse losses in the lower federal courts.
The suit drew fierce opposition from the energy industry and many in state government when it was filed in 2013 by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. It said the energy industry’s dredging of canals in coastal drilling areas contributed to loss of wetlands that form a hurricane buffer for New Orleans. Some 80 companies are named as defendants, among them Chevron, Exxon Mobil Corp., and subsidiaries of BP.
While environmental groups have praised the suit as an attempt to hold oil and gas companies accountable, industry supporters have long labeled the lawsuit as an unwarranted attack on a vital industry. “We weren’t surprised that they took this last swing,” Chris John, president of the Louisiana Midcontinent Oil And Gas Association
A federal district judge’s 2015 ruling held that federal and state law provided no avenue by which the board could bring the suit.
A three judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling in March and the full 15-member court refused a rehearing in April. Lawyers for the flood authority filed their petition seeking Supreme Court review on Tuesday.
Flood authority lawyers have argued that the flood 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 from the state court where it originally was filed.
“The court of appeals’ decision deprives the Board of the ability to obtain authoritative state-court resolution of its state-law claims,” Tuesday’s petition states.
“We believe that the Supreme Court will consider this case because of the impact it may have on coastal areas throughout the country, and we will continue to press through the legal channels available for that cause,” Joe Hassinger, president of the flood authority’s board of commissioners, said in an emailed statement.
In a telephone interview, John expressed doubt that the high court will revive the case.
“I certainly hope and suspect that the Supreme Court won’t hear it, or if they do, they will come to the same conclusion as the lower courts,” he said.
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.