NEW ORLEANS — A federal appeals court today refused to revive a Louisiana levee board's lawsuit blaming dozens of oil and gas companies for damage to the state's fragile coast, a major victory for energy companies and their political supporters who cast the suit as an attack on a vital state industry.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upheld a federal judge's 2015 decision in favor of energy companies that argued the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East lacked legal standing to bring its damage claims.
The board had argued that damage to the coast done by decades of drilling and canal dredging by energy companies contributed to the loss of coastal wetlands that form a hurricane buffer for New Orleans.
When the lawsuit was filed in 2013, environmentalists hailed it as an effort to hold the industry accountable.
The suit appeared to catch the industry and others by surprise. Then-Gov. Bobby Jindal joined industry leaders in calling it a boon for trial lawyers that would damage an industry that's among south Louisiana’s major employers.
Jindal, a Republican, mounted a partially successful effort to remove supporters of the lawsuit from the flood protection board as their terms ended and replace them with industry supporters. He also pushed for a law to prohibit state agencies and local governments from pursuing such lawsuits.
A few Louisiana coastal parishes have filed similar lawsuits that hinge on different legal issues. Those cases are still alive in state courts.
Bessie Daschbach, spokeswoman for a law firm handling the flood board's lawsuit, declined immediate comment, saying attorneys were examining the ruling. Two major industry organizations did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.
The press office for current Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said he would comment later today.
The lawsuit was originally filed in state court in 2013 but the oil companies succeeded in getting it moved to federal court. The suit deals with the permits under which the energy companies operated and arcane law and court precedents governing drainage and the rights and obligations of landowners.
U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown ruled in 2015 that federal and state law provided no avenue by which the flood board could successfully bring the suit.
A three-judge 5th Circuit panel unanimously affirmed her ruling today. It was a highly technical 22-page opinion citing state and federal law and jurisprudence on federal laws and rules, including the Clean Water Act, and state statutes and regulations governing drainage and liability among owners of neighboring properties.