Environmental groups support levee board’s oil and gas lawsuit

Representatives from several local environmental groups on Tuesday spoke out in support of a lawsuit filed last week by levee board commissioners alleging about 100 oil and gas companies owe billions to restore coastal wetlands.

The suit, filed last week by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East, contends that the oil and gas industry has caused massive damage to coastal wetlands from dredging canals and constructing pipelines and wells, despite permits requiring the companies maintain and restore the properties where they were operating.

Jindal administration officials say the levee board had no authority to file the suit, citing a state law that requires both the governor and the attorney general to approve contracts between state boards and outside attorneys.

Darryl Malek-Wiley, a regional representative for the Sierra Club, had a different take during a brief news conference Tuesday outside Orleans Parish Civil District Court, saying that Jindal “should be joining in the suit, not talking about not supporting the suit.

“I was surprised that the governor has, time and time again, talked about the need to restore coastal Louisiana, and this is just another way we can restore coastal Louisiana, by getting these oil companies to repair the damage that they’ve caused to our wetlands,” Malek-Wiley said.

“It’s shocked me that we have Gov. Jindal, who’s talked about being a strong advocate for wetlands protection, attacking an agency that’s trying to get those wetlands restored.”

Malek-Wiley speculated that the oil and gas industry continues to hold great sway over many elected officials in the state.

“One would think that it might be the influence of power of the oil industry in Louisiana,” he said. “It’s no hidden fact that oil and gas is a very strong political player in Louisiana.”

Sandy Rosenthal, founder of Levees.org, a New Orleans group that was formed after Hurricane Katrina to lobby for overhauling the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said she also supported the levee board’s effort.

“The companies carved navigation channels, oil rig inlets, and pipeline canals through a living and delicate coastal delta. The companies knew — or should have known — the damage they were doing,” Rosenthal said.