litigation

Mon, 2015-02-16 13:59Farron Cousins
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Fossil Fuel Connected Judge Says Oil Industry Not Liable For Destroying Gulf Coast

While much of the attention paid to the Gulf Coast in recent years has focused on BP’s destruction of the Gulf of Mexico and the coastline, it is important to remember that the fossil fuel industry has been polluting the South for decades.

In fact, the problem is so bad that the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed a lawsuit against 97 fossil fuel companies two years ago to force them to pay for the destruction that they have caused to the Louisiana coast.

The lawsuit seemed almost doomed from the start: Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed legislation in 2014 that forbade the lawsuit from moving forward, but this legislation was later ruled unconstitutional and thrown out.

As Climate Progress points out, the growing concern among Louisiana citizens is that their coastline is disappearing: More than 1,900 square miles of coast line has vanished in the last 85 years, and the fossil fuel industry has been responsible for polluting what’s left. The industry has even admitted it is responsible for at least 36% of the total wetland loss in the state of Louisiana. The State Department estimates that the wells drilled by the dirty energy industry are destroying as much as 59% of the coast.

An admission of liability, hard facts, and the protection of the public’s well being should have been enough to make this case a slam-dunk for any seasoned attorney. Unfortunately, the dirty energy industry has powerful connections all over the South – from politicians to judges – and those connections have resulted in the dismissal of the lawsuit.

In mid-February, U.S. District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown tossed the suit, after the industry successful lobbied to have the case moved from a state judge to a federal judge. This action, known as venue-shopping, allows a defendant to search for a more friendly judge before the case is heard, and Judge Brown is about as friendly with the industry as a judge ever could be.

Before her appointment to a federal judgeship by President Obama (confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate), Judge Brown spent decades as a corporate attorney, working for firms that regularly represented the dirty energy industry in matters of environmental litigation.

During her time in practice, she worked at the law firms of Adams & Reese, the Onebane Law Firm, Milling, Benson, & Woodward, and the Chaffe McCall law firm. The McCall firm’s website says the following about its oil and gas representation:

Mon, 2012-05-14 11:47Brendan DeMelle
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Oil and Gas Industry Moves to Silence Critics

Shutterstock image by iodrakon

At an industry public relations conference last year, Michael Kehs of Chesapeake Energy described a Wall Street Journal op-ed to gathered oil and gas officials, saying it pointed out the industry's “credibility problem.”

“And I’m sure some of it relates to defensiveness,” Kehs added. (MP3 Audio

Small wonder.

For years, the oil and gas industry has adopted a war-like mentality towards its critics. When confronted with problems caused by drilling and fracking, instead of acknowledging them and working to prevent more, their approach has too often been to cover up the issues while attacking any critics who make problems known publicly.

This pattern has sharply accelerated in recent months.

Earlier this month, Al Armendariz, the EPA's regional administrator for the oil-and-gas rich states of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, sent his letter of resignation to Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA. Mr. Armendariz had come under heavy fire over comments he made two years ago at a local government meeting in Texas. 

In explaining his law enforcement philosophy, he analogized his agency's strategy to the early Romans, who he said would “crucify” law-breakers to make examples of them. After a video of these remarks was circulated last week by Sen. James Inhofe, Republican from Oklahoma, who counts the oil and gas industry as one of his largest donors, a firestorm of controversy broke out.

As Media Matters pointed out, when Mr. Armendariz said he intended to make an example of offenders, he was referring only to companies that actually broke the law – but this was not enough to save his career.

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