NEW ORLEANS - The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to decide in the next few weeks on a critical issue in the fight over damages to Louisiana’s coastline from decades of oil and gas drilling.
Louisiana communities have brought 42 cases against 200 energy companies. Billions of dollars are at stake. The first step in getting the disputes to trial is the decision on whether state court or federal court should have jurisdiction.
To Lana Venable of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, federal court is the appropriate venue for the disputes.
“The coastal lawsuits deal with decades-old alleged violations that took place under federal law, thus these suits should be addressed in federal court,” Venable said.
The issue of damage to Louisiana’s fragile coast has national implications, she maintains, and important issues of national concern belong in federal court.
Melissa Landry, a consultant for energy companies, says the issue dates back to World War II, when energy companies partnered with the government to make sure the U.S. had all the oil it needed to fight the war.
Federal officials in the government’s Petroleum Institute for War directed the oil company’s production and related actions, Landry told the news organization, The Center Square.
Attorneys for the Louisiana parishes, the plaintiffs in the cases, disagree.
John Carmouche, an attorney for many of the plaintiffs, says that the rulings should be made in local jurisdictions. “The parish that is affected should rule on whether the laws were violated in their parish,” Carmouche told The Center Square.
Carmouche said the parishes are not claiming violations of federal law. At issue, he says, is a 1978 Louisiana law, the Louisiana State and Local Coastal Resources Management Act.
Karen Sokol, an associate law professor at Loyola University New Orleans, said the energy companies perceive the federal courts as “friendlier” to their concerns because the state courts “are closer to the affected communities," she told The Center Square.
“The parishes have brought only state law claims, so I do think this belongs in state court,” Sokol said.
Court watchers are anxiously awaiting the decision from the U.S. Fifth Circuit.