Stuart H. Smith

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters

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Most lawyers would be intimidated by taking on the world’s most powerful and secretive company, the giant Exxon-Mobil Corporation. But Stuart H. Smith isn’t like most attorneys. With his expert knowledge about the kind of radioactive pollution caused by oil-and-natural-gas production, Smith knew how to show before a jury how the global oil giant had for years systematically dumped radioactive pipe – and in the process poisoned its unknowing blue-collar workforce – on one man’s property just outside Smith native city, New Orleans. And he and his partners made an audacious request: That the jury come back with a 10-digit verdict against Exxon-Mobil. But after hearing the case, Smith’s team indeed won a $1.056 billion judgment. Although later reduced somewhat by an appeals judge, it remains a record penalty for this type of case.

Stuart H. Smith has been one of America’s top environmental lawyers for more than a quarter-century, taking on not just Exxon-Mobil but Chevron, BP, and other large corporations that had harmed their neighbors and their workers with hazardous pollution. His success is reflected in the title of his autobiography: Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America – a book that award-winning documentarians Josh and Rebecca Tickell called “a true-to-life, nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat, hard-hitting David vs. Goliath thriller..”

Even metastatic kidney cancer a few years ago didn’t stop Smith. Despite a grim prognosis, he beat back the disease with help from some of the world’s best doctors, resumed his career by joining the New Orleans-based Cooper Law Firm, and is tackling an array of complex cases on behalf of everyday people. Currently, he and his partners are taking on Big Pharma on behalf of babies born to opioid abuse, suing federal contractors tied to radioactive contamination of a middle school in southern Ohio, and tackling two other big radiation pollution cases in Missouri and Illinois.

Smith has also been lead counsel on more than 100 oil pollution cases, which focus primarily on damages caused by the wastewater and sludges oil companies discharge into the environment. His first big case was groundbreaking – a lawsuit against the giant Chevron Corp. on behalf of workers at a Mississippi disposal yard who were exposed and in some cases sickened by exposure to radioactive debris on oil pipes. The case – which resulted in a favorable settlement for his clients – brought much needed national attention to the problems known within the oil and gas industry as technologically enhanced radioactive material (TERM), or naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM).

On April 21, 2010, Smith was flying his jet back to New Orleans when he saw the black plume of smoke from BP’s badly damaged and leaking Deepwater Horizon rig, out in the Gulf of Mexico. Over the next few years, he threw himself into seeking justice for the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of its worst environmental disaster. He worked with a team of experts that uncovered evidence that government and BP officials were downplaying the extent and the damage of the spill and published it on his popular environmental blog. As a lawyer, he fought for the interest of the Gulf’s commercial fishermen and numerous other clients.

Latest stories

New questions about cause of massive Texas chemical plant blast

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At TPC Group’s massive, aging petrochemical plant in Port Neches. Texas, near the Gulf Coast, tit was not supposed to be like this. In 2017, the company reached a deal with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to aggressively monitor the air surrounding the facility for 1,3 butadiene — a highly flammable, carcinogenic chemical that had been leaking from the site — and to take...

How Louisiana’s ‘Cancer Alley’ is harming the earth’s ozone layer

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With the 2020s underway, there’s been a renewed focus on the problem of climate change. The horrific bushfires in Australia have been a reminder that while the world’s leaders did too little over the course of the last decade, global warming has gone from a futuristic threat to a real-time crisis. Many wonder if modern society can make the kind of sacrifices that will be needed to reduce our use...

How lax regs, low taxes power Louisiana’s ‘Cancer Alley’

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As an environmental lawyer with close ties to Louisiana’s ever-growing community of local activists fighting on the same issues, I’ve been sounding the alarm about the state’s so-called Cancer Alley — the web of massive petrochemical plants lining the lower Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to below New Orleans — for years. The small river towns between those two cities —...

Here’s a reasonable solution to surprise medical bills

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As a cancer survivor, I know how devastating it can be to get hit with high, unexpected medical bills — especially when they trigger never-ending fights with insurance companies. The absolute last thing that patients recovering from major illnesses, surgeries, or procedures should have to worry about is facing more financial burdens when they should be only focused on their recovery. That’s...

Texas chemical blast shows we’re moving backwards on pollution, safety

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Thanksgiving was cancelled in Port Neches, Texas, this year. Things ever should have gotten to this point. Very early on the days before the holiday, this Gulf Coast community near the Texas-Louisiana border was rocked by one explosion that lit the night sky — then another, hours later. Residents of Port Neches and several surrounding communities, where windows were shattered by the force...

‘We live in constant fear’: New map shows staggering risks of La.’s ‘Cancer Alley’

There was a time not that long ago — back when Sharon Lavigne was still back in high school in the community of St. James, Louisiana, long before she became a grandmother of 12 — when the people of her tiny Mississippi River town were happier and healthier. It was before “Cancer Alley” became “Cancer Alley.” It was during her teenage years that the first petrochemical plant opened up...

Most Americans want to end offshore drilling. Now we need government to listen

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Most Americans didn’t pay a lot of attention to offshore oil drilling before April 20, 2010. Indeed, it had been less than two years since a Republican National Convention crowd in Minneapolis had erupted in a chant of “drill, baby, drill!” — reflecting a public mood of wanting cheaper prices at the gas pump and not particularly caring where the oil came from. After all, it had been nearly...

How other states are fighting not to be like Louisiana and its ‘Cancer Alley’

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When you live embedded within a toxic infrastructure like Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” a long stretch of the Mississippi River that’s lined with petrochemical plants and infused with some of the worst air and water pollution in the United States, every day can be a struggle.’ It must feel that way for people like Lydia Gerard and Robert Taylor who come from the tiny town of Reserve, La., which...

The Deepwater Horizon site is now an apocalyptic hellscape with sick, mutant crabs

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Even with the 10-year anniversary of the catastrophe fast approaching, it’s easy to forget all about the tragic events that occurred at BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig, out in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast, on April 20, 2010. Indeed, BP and its friends in Big Oil have invested literally billions of dollars over the course of a decade in the hopes that you won’t remember the explosion that...

Poisoned Nicaraguan banana workers get another shot at justice

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In 1979, American environmental authorities banned a dangerous pesticide known widely as Nemagon. This toxic bug-killer – which was manufactured by big firms such as Dow Chemical and also known by the name dibromochloropropane, or DBCP – was accused of making men sterile and causing other health hazards. But that ban only covered sale of Nemagon here on domestic soil. Incredibly, despite knowing...

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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