Arguments Set On Law To Kill 'Big Oil' Lawsuit

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — More arguments are set in federal court over attempts by state lawmakers to kill a southeast Louisiana flood board's lawsuit against dozens of oil, gas and pipeline companies.

         Backers of the lawsuit were set to argue Wednesday that a law passed this year to retroactively kill such lawsuits was so badly drafted that it can't be applied to the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, which filed the suit. They also say the law violates the Louisiana Constitution.

         A similar argument is playing out in state courts, where one judge has ruled in favor of the flood board. That ruling is to be challenged at the state Supreme Court.

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         The lawsuit says oil and gas activity has severely damaged coastal wetlands that protect New Orleans from hurricanes.

         Wednesday's hearing will be the second in a month before U.S. District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown, who heard more than two hours of arguments in November as energy industry lawyers sought dismissal of the suit on multiple issues, including the contention that the lawsuit seeks relief from the court that should be left to regulatory agencies.

         The lawsuit, which could eventually cost the industry billions of dollars, was filed in state court in 2013 but was later moved to federal court.

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         Oil industry leaders and Gov. Bobby Jindal have strongly criticized the lawsuit as an attack on a vital Louisiana industry. Jindal has been working to replace members of the SLFPA-E board as their terms expire, hoping to eventually fill the board with lawsuit opponents who will vote to end the suit.

         He also supported legislation aimed at killing the lawsuit. But the flood board's attorneys say the law that got through the 2014 session missed the mark. The legislation prohibits state agencies and local governments from pursuing such suits. But the SLPFA-E board attorneys say the agency doesn't meet the legal definition of a state agency or a local government. They also say the law violates Louisiana's constitution in various ways.

         Industry lawyers dispute the flood board attorneys' interpretation of the law, saying the intent of the Legislature to kill the suit was clear and that the law does not violate the constitution.

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