This report will be updated with additional reaction and analysis.
On Monday, in a dryly-worded, five-page opinion about procedure that went entirely unnoticed by the press, a three-member panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, all of whom were appointed by President Donald Trump, gave Louisiana a game-changing victory in their years-long battle with Big Oil over the industry’s responsibility for the catastrophic environmental damage along the state’s vulnerable coast.
“This is the best day Louisiana has had in the 21st century,” cheered James Carville, who has made the issue of environmental justice and coastal restoration the centerpiece of his class on American politics at LSU.
It was a sentiment also expressed by two of the lawyers representing the group of Louisiana parishes at the center of the dispute.
John Carmouche of the Baton Rouge-based firm Talbot, Carmouche, and Marcello called the decision “an extraordinary victory for the people of Louisiana,” and Richard Broussard of Broussard and David in Lafayette hailed it “as a huge step forward for the citizens of Louisiana and all those who value the future of our environment.”
Ret. Lt. Gen Russel Honore, who has emerged as the state’s leading warrior for environmental justice after retiring from the military, where he had served as the Commanding General of the First Army, was similarly effusive. “Big Oil is no longer the sacred cow in Louisiana,” he said to the Bayou Brief. “They need to clean up the mess, abandon the wells and pits, and pay for the decades of pollution of our wetlands. Big Oil owns the (state) legislature, with their flag over the Capitol, but as courts proved in the BP case, these companies can and should be held accountable.”
Specifically, the court rejected a motion that would have removed the coastal lawsuits from state court, and placed them instead under the jurisdiction of the federal judiciary. Consequently, all of the cases have now been remanded back into state court, and the victory on Monday means that the cases are likely now barreling towards trial, after more than seven years of delays and distractions.
Carmouche stated that the coastal parishes “will move immediately for a trial date.” Last September, Carmouche announced that Freeport McMoRan had agreed to a $100 million settlement with several of the affected parishes.
During this year’s legislative session, a Big Oil-backed effort to nullify the litigation ran out of time and never mustered enough support to ensure it could override an anticipated veto from Gov. John Bel Edwards.
This is the best day Louisiana has had in the 21st century.” – James Carville
All told, it marks the 85th time in which counsel for oil and gas companies have tried and failed to convince a federal court to wrest control away from the Louisiana state courts, but until now, the conservative-leaning Fifth Circuit had yet to weigh in.
“For our coastal parishes to have won in this court, the fact the vote was 3 to 0 in favor of the coastal parishes of Louisiana, and the fact that all three judges who voted to give our state courts the authority to determine the future of coastal Louisiana are appointees of President Trump demonstrates the restoration of Louisiana’s coast is not a partisan issue but an issue of law and equity,” Carmouche told the Bayou Brief.
While the companies are likely to request a rehearing in front of the full court, the decision is almost certain to stand, even if a rehearing is granted, according to legal experts familiar with the litigation.
“With the consent of oil companies more four decades ago, these matters were placed by congress in the hands of the states,” Broussard explained in a statement to the Bayou Brief. “Despite the clear language of the governing laws, the oil companies who wrought billions of dollars of damage including almost incalculable loss of rich coastal prairies and marine resources have played every conceivable stunt to delay their day of reckoning, all the while the erosion continues by the hour.”
Oil and gas companies are said to be directly liable for at least $25 billion in damages.
Read the opinion below: