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

In Louisiana’s ‘Cancer Alley,’ inaction makes a sick town even sicker

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Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” is America’s worst-kept secret. I know this because I’ve been writing about the state’s perilous and often unsightly stretch of chemical plants, oil refineries and other industrial plants ever since I started this blog nearly a decade ago, aiming to call attention to a major public health hazard in our midst. My native state has one of the nation’s highest rates of...

New disclosure lifts lid on government cover-up of radioactive pollution in Ohio

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A surprise admission by a top federal administrator is raising some shocking new questions about how much that kids going to a nearby middle school and neighbors of a southern Ohio uranium-processing plant have been exposed to radioactive pollution during recycling efforts there since the start of the new millennium. Paul Dabbar, undersecretary of science for the U.S, Department of Energy...

Why the BP oil spill still matters after 9 years

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There wasn’t much fanfare in April when the 9th anniversary of the world’s largest-ever oil spill — the BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe that dumped more than 4 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico — came and went. Usually a 9th anniversary isn’t a big deal, after all. But the lack of attention might cause some folks to think the effects of America’s worst...

Trump’s DOE places a ticking nuclear time bomb at Hanford Site

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Calling the 177 containers at the Hanford Nuclear Site in south-central Washington state that contain high-level radioactive waste “tanks” is not a very good description. Each of these so-called “tanks” — buried in a kind of a farm of well-manicured dirt — is roughly the size of a four-story apartment building. Collectively, the 177 containers hold about 56 million gallons of some of...

A stunning case of kids, radioactivity and government neglect emerges in Ohio

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In 2017, federal regulators from the U.S. Department of Energy testing the neighborhood around a 20th century uranium plant in Pike County, Ohio, made a startling discovery in the air near a middle school attended by hundreds of local children — traces of neptunium-237, an extremely radioactive particle, typically a by-product from nuclear reactors. But what happened next was even more...

Seven years after Deepwater Horizon, and we haven’t learned much

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It was seven years ago yesterday that BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people and triggering an environmental catastrophe that in many ways has continued to this day. It is a moment I will never forget: I was in a small plane flying over the Gulf that next morning, watching the thick black plume of smoke with a mixture of shock and alarm. That soon gave way...

Louisiana’s wetlands do not need this

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The big, potentially positive story in Louisiana environmental circles has been the push to restore the state’s depleted wetlands. It had become increasingly clear that something had gone terribly wrong in the Bayou State, where the swamps define a way of life — and also perform a very important role. These reedy marshes — as regular readers know well by now — are...

The war on fossil fuels goes hyper-local

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One theme that I’ve come back to a lot in the last few months is the notion that local jurisdictions — state and even city and county governments — can take the lead in the fight against climate change, even at a time when Washington seems determined to pull back. All across the country, local jurisdictions are taking actions to promote the use of electric cars, though charging...

A pro-Trump Louisiana town ditches fossil fuels

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The main topic on this blog in the last few years has been the danger posed by society’s addiction to fossil fuels — an addiction we continue to feed with more and more offshore drilling in the Gulf and elsewhere, with fracking that pollutes our environment and causes earthquakes, and with pipelines that leak and taint our sources of pure drinking water. But in politics they have a...

Louisiana can’t afford to do nothing about its shrinking wetlands

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Restoring wetlands is certainly an expensive proposition. Even with monies available from sources such as the massive settlement that BP reached with Louisiana, the federal government and other Gulf states over the Deepwater Horizon spill, officials struggle to come up with all the funds needed to replenish coastline and bring back to life marshes and bayous that have been destroyed by energy...

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