Judge takes coastal wetlands suit against Big Oil under advisement

Judge takes coastal wetlands suit against Big Oil under advisement

The fight over whether to dismiss a controversial lawsuit against 90 oil companies for wetlands damage moved into federal court Wednesday.

Nearly 100 attorneys packed the courtroom as selected legal representatives pleaded their case. They represent some of the biggest oil companies in the world - Exxon, Chevron, Mobil - and they went to federal court to try to block a lawsuit that seeks to hold them responsible for Louisiana wetlands loss.

"She should dismiss the suit because the Levee Board wants to take over permits on oil and gas, and that's against federal law," said Chevron attorney Robert Meadows referring to federal Judge Nanette Brown,

The oil companies say the lawsuit filed against them by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Authority last year is an example of the state overstepping its boundaries.

"If someone has caused harm, there's a process with the Corps or criminal action - there's a process in place," Meadows said.

The flood authority said it sued because the oil companies were never held accountable for the wetlands damage they caused in digging hundreds of miles of canals to drill wells.

"It's vital that we have capability to direct our resources into areas that are not technically building levees," said Stephen Estopinal with the flood authority.

Judge Brown took an active role in Wednesday's hearing, frequently asking questions pertaining to her role in determining what can or should be done to repair coastal damage.

The oil companies argued that making things right was a federal issue. But attorneys for the flood authority argued that the judge has the power to resolve any conflicts with the Corps permitting process.

"It's vital for us to continue in our mission to protect this city from flood surges," said Estopinal.

Both sides are dug in.

"If you're expecting this case to be solved by a settlement, that's a mistake," said Meadows.

All eyes are now on federal court awaiting the judge's decision. Judge Brown indicated she may issue a ruling before another hearing on the matter on Dec. 10.

In a related development, several parishes, including Plaquemines, brought their own lawsuits against oil companies over wetlands damage. Plaquemines Councilman Byron Marinovich told FOX 8 that he will try to pass a measure to kill his parish's lawsuit at an upcoming council meeting.

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