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Supreme Court Kills Levee Board's Lawsuit Against Oil and Gas Companies

Dr. Terry McTigue
Eroded marsh in Louisiana's Barataria Basin

Four years ago, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - East (SLFPA-E) filed a lawsuit against dozens of oil and gas companies, claiming they damaged the coast and made levee protection more difficult.


The board had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a previous court's decision, but now the Supreme Court says it won’t — effectively killing the lawsuit.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - East originally filed the lawsuit in 2013. That agency oversees the New Orleans levee system on the east bank of the Mississippi River, including everything from Kenner to New Orleans East to St. Bernard Parish.


As land has been lost to the Gulf of Mexico, levees have become more vulnerable to big storms. And the levee board claimed the canals dug by oil and gas companies are partially responsible and make it tougher to protect people.


The lawsuit never went to trial though. In 2015, a federal judge said that the levee board didn’t have the legal standing to file such a lawsuit, so it was dismissed. As a last-ditch effort, the levee board asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review that decision.  The Supreme Court refused — effectively killing the lawsuit.


"It was a very long shot, and the result is not surprising,” says Oliver Houck, professor of environmental law at Tulane University.


He says the Supreme Court doesn’t usually hear these kinds of cases.


Meanwhile, several coastal parishes have filed similar lawsuits against the energy industry. But Houck doesn’t think the levee board decision will impact them.


The oil and gas industry celebrated the decision to toss the case. The Grow Louisiana Coalition, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, and the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association all issued a statement praising it.


Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Coypu Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, and local listeners.

As Coastal Reporter, Travis Lux covers flood protection, coastal restoration, infrastructure, the energy and seafood industries, and the environment. In this role he's reported on everything from pipeline protests in the Atchafalaya swamp, to how shrimpers cope with low prices. He had a big hand in producing the series, New Orleans: Ready Or Not?, which examined how prepared New Orleans is for a future with more extreme weather. In 2017, Travis co-produced two episodes of TriPod: New Orleans at 300 examining New Orleans' historic efforts at flood protection. One episode, NOLA vs Nature: The Other Biggest Flood in New Orleans History, was recognized with awards from the Public Radio News Directors and the New Orleans Press Club. His stories often find a wider audience on national programs, too, like NPR's Morning Edition, WBUR's Here and Now, and WHYY's The Pulse.

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