While you were out, Big Oil polluters win…again

There’s something that people who work in the news business call “the Friday night news dump.” It’s a situation that occurs when a source of news – say, a government agency, or a big business – has information that they’re not excited to make public, but was bound to come out eventually. So they release it late on a Friday afternoon. Why? Because more people out for dinner or to Happy Hour on Friday evening, so they aren’t watching TV news, while the next batch of newspapers on Saturday morning are the least read of the week. By the time Monday rolls around and folks start consuming media again, the breaking news has become “old news.” Unless it’s a three-day holiday weekend – that’s even worse!

This President’s Day weekend has brought one of the more outrageous cases of the Friday night news dump that I’ve seen in my lifetime – and it concerns one of the big issues we’ve been talking about here on this blog. In New Orleans, a federal judge has put the kibosh – for now – on the lawsuit that was the last, best chance to restore Louisiana’s wetlands. Over the last couple of years, I’ve told you about this effort by the state-created Southeastern Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East , or SLFPA-E. Created in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and run (remarkably for this neck of the woods) for a time by environmentally minded folks, the levee panel quickly saw the best way to protect New Orleans from floods was to restore the ever-shrinking Gulf wetlands, and that the most effective method to do that was to sue the people who’d done the most damage, Big Oil and Gas, to pay for the expensive work.

The pushback was enormous. Gov. Bobby Jindal and state lawmakers – who value their ties to the oil giants more than they value the public – replaced renegade board members and enacted legislation – later deemed unconstitutional – to stop the suit. And now late on Friday, Big Oil and its friends won a big victory in court.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – A lawsuit filed in 2013 by a Louisiana flood board that sought damages – potentially in the billions of dollars – from scores of oil, gas and pipeline companies over erosion of the state’s fragile coast was thrown out Friday evening by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown dismissed the suit in a complex 49-page ruling rejecting the board’s contention that, under federal laws, the energy companies had a duty to protect the flood board from the effects of coastal erosion.

“We don’t think this is going to be the last word on it,” James Swanson, a lawyer for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, said in a telephone interview. He said attorneys for the flood authority were studying the ruling. He said attorneys had not yet decided on their next move, but that the case would likely wind up at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The flood authority, which oversees New Orleans-area levee boards, had claimed in the lawsuit that coastal drilling and dredging activities contributed to the loss of coastal wetlands that form a natural hurricane protection buffer for New Orleans.

Before any reader says anything about “Republican judges,” I should note that Judge Brown is actually an appointee of the Obama administration – the very same Obama administration that too often cooperated rather than cracked down on BP in the days right after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, and which has promoted a major expansion of offshore drilling in the Gulf and now in the Atlantic. Like the song says, meet the new boss…same as the old boss. It always seems to be that way when Big Oil and its lawyers and lobbyists fling millions of dollars into the political system. No matter who is elected, it wins!

But I certainly hope that the plaintiffs and their lead attorney Gladstone Jones can prevail on appeal. The current situation is a grave injustice; the energy companies were granted drilling rights in Louisiana with the explicit promise that they would restore these wetlands to their original state. Instead, the canals that they cut through marshes are conduits for deadly hurricanes that they refuse to repair. As I write in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America, I’ve learned over a long career in environmental law that Big Oil thinks it can get away with anything. We shouldn’t make it so easy for them.

You read more about my life, so far, in doing battle with the oil giants in my new book: Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

For more coverage on a federal judge’s ruling to toss out the flood authority’s lawsuit, please read: http://m.apnews.com/ap/db_268748/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=vpHB5Ak5

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