Judge: Flood board's lawsuit against 'Big Oil' will stay in federal court


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NEW ORLEANS — A coastal damage lawsuit that a south Louisiana flood board filed against more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies will remain in federal court.

U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown on Friday declined to move the case back to state court in New Orleans, where it was originally filed by lawyers for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.

The flood board's attorneys had wanted the case moved back to state court. But Brown ruled that the lawsuit raises federal issues that should remain in those courts.

The future of the lawsuit remains in question, regardless of the jurisdiction.

Gov. Bobby Jindal recently signed a bill forbidding the board from pursuing the suit. However, supporters of the suit question its constitutionality and say it will be legally challenged.

The SLFPA-E filed its lawsuit last summer. It claims drilling and dredging by oil, gas and pipeline companies are partly to blame for degradation of coastal wetlands that serve as a natural hurricane buffer for New Orleans.

Jindal has joined the industry in vehemently attacking the suit as an attack on a valuable industry and a windfall for trial lawyers. He says the suit undermines state efforts to work with oil companies to protect and restore the eroding coast. Supporters of the suit say the companies have had years, in some cases decades, to mitigate damage attributed to coastal oil and gas activity.

Jindal has been replacing members of the SLFPA-E as their terms expire. The nine-member board now has a 5-4 majority of lawsuit supporters.

The independent panel that nominates members for the governor to appoint to the board recently asked for an attorney general's opinion to settle conflicting views on when the terms of some members expire. One of those members is Paul Kemp, a lawsuit supporter. The flood board believes his term expires next year. The nominating committee records indicate it ends this year, on July 1. If Jindal could replace Kemp this year, it would likely mean he would have a five-member majority in favor of ending the lawsuit.

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