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

A GOP governor’s surprising stand against fracking

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Despite the growing evidence about problems from tainted wells to earthquakes, it’s taken a while for opposition to fracking to build, especially among our elected officials. Back in the mid-2000s when the boom in unconventional drilling for natural gas and oil was just taking off, many governors and other politicians were sold on the promise of new jobs and that natural gas would be a...

Good news and bad news in the quest for safe tap water

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Late last year, I told you about the dire situation in the small, mostly black and underprivileged Louisiana community of St. Joseph. For years, residents had complained about the brackish and discolored water that flowed from their tap. But a largely unresponsive City Hall ignored those complaints, as did mostly unaware state and federal regulators. When the city water was finally tested in...

Too early spring

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The book that triggered the environmental movement in America was Silent Spring, published by Rachel Carson in 1962. The subject of the book was the indiscriminate use of pesticides such as DDT — which was banned by the federal government a few years later, in part a result of the outcry that Carson had raised. The title refers to the fact that flagrant abuse of these chemicals was killing...

Why does W. Va. want MORE toxic water pollution?

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It wasn’t that long ago when the issue of water pollution in West Virginia was front-page national news. You may remember the incident that happened just over three years ago, in January 2014, involving a company called Freedom Industries. To paraphrase the old Janice Joplin song, “freedom” was just another word, in this case, for corporate neglect. A holding tank filled with...

Here’s more bad news for Louisiana seafood

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One of the first stories that I’ve covered since the very beginning of this blog is the threat to Louisiana seafood. It’s certainly an issue that I can relate to, as a New Orleans native who grew up eating the rich harvest from the nearby Gulf of Mexico. And needless to say, it was particularly heartbreaking in the early days to have to report in the early days of the BP Deepwater...

Fracking spills are worse than they want you to know

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One fact has remained pretty constant since the fracking boom in America began back in the 2000s: Almost any environmental problem has turned out to be worse than the oil-and-gas industry and government regulators want the public to know. When it comes to polluting the wells of people who live near fracking rigs, the industry clings to its story line that fracking can’t possibly pollute the...

Fukushima’s radiation would kill a person in 2 minutes

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Every month or two, I feel that it’s important to check in on the meltdown-ravaged nuclear reactors at Fukushima. It’s been nearly six years since a near “perfect storm” of bad events — a major earthquake, followed by a tsunami making a direct hit on the four-reactor power plant on the Japanese coast — caused the worst nuclear accident of the 21st Century...

How Louisiana missed a large oil spill

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One issue that’s come up repeatedly since I launched this website seven years ago has been the multiple failings of Louisiana’s state environmental regulators, especially when it comes to reining in the state’s powerful oil and natural gas interests. For decades, under both Republican and Democratic governors, the regulatory agencies in Baton Rouge haven’t been up to snuff...

Flooding of Atlantic coastal cities about to get a lot worse

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If you live near the Atlantic Ocean — and millions of Americans do, along the most densely populated stretch of the nation — then you know the coastal flooding is always in the background. When a big storm like a Nor’easter barrels its way up the Eastern Seaboard, cities from Miami Beach all the way up to Maine can expect some beach erosion and possibly a couple feet of water...

Hitting the Dakota Access pipeline where it hurts

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Things are stirring again with the Dakota Access pipeline. It was late last year, near the end of his term, when then-President Barack Obama handed a victory to activists seeking to block the opening of the $3.8 billion project. This is the pipeline which aims to ship fracked oil from the Bakken field in North Dakota across the U.S. Heartland to refineries and ports on the Gulf Coast — and...

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