Oil and gas companies won’t have to pay for decades of damage to Louisiana’s coast, after a lawsuit filed against the companies in 2013 was thrown out on Friday.
U.S. District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown dismissed the lawsuit, which was filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against nearly 100 fossil fuel companies. The suit, which the New York Times called the “most ambitious environmental lawsuit ever,” could have cost the industry billions of dollars for its contribution to the erosion of Louisiana’s coast. The state’s coastline loses about a football field’s worth of land every hour, and the wells drilled by the oil and gas industry have been estimated by the Interior Department to have caused anywhere from 15 to 59 percent of the erosion. The lawsuit would have prompted the industry to help pay for the estimated $50 billion in coastal restoration and protection that Louisiana will need over the next several years.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), who had long opposed the lawsuit and signed a bill last year to quash it — legislation that was later found unconstitutional — praised the judge’s decision, as did the state’s oil and gas industry, which called the lawsuit “ill-conceived, unwise and divisive.”
The oil and gas industry may not be off the hook quite yet, however — the Flood Protection Authority is expected to appeal the judge’s decision to toss out the lawsuit.
Louisiana has lost about 1,900 square miles of land since the 1930s, and the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the state’s coastal wetlands could disappear in as little as 200 years.
That’s bad news for the state’s coastal communities, which get some protection from storm surge from the wetlands. Sea level rise is likely to exacerbate the land loss problem: coastal Louisiana has seen its sea level rise at a rate that’s roughly double the global rate over the last 50 years.
Steve Estopinal, president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, talked to ThinkProgress earlier this year about the changes he’s seen on Louisiana’s coastline during his lifetime.
“I can remember as a young man going out in the prairie where you could fold the grass down and put a blanket out and you could spend the night, dry,” Estopinal said. “That same place now, people are trolling for shrimp.”
John Barry, former vice chairman of the Flood Protection Authority who helped create the lawsuit against the 97 oil and gas companies, told the National Journal last year that the lawsuit was seeking to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for its damage to the coastline, especially since the industry itself admits that it’s responsible for 36 percent of the wetlands loss.
“People want to call me an environmental activist, but this is not about activism. This is about law and order,” Barry said. “The law required [companies] to clean up after themselves, and they didn’t do it.”