Federal Court Ruling Holds Pipeline Operators Liable for Damage to Wetlands
A recent Louisiana federal district court ruling in Vintage Assets, Inc. v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., L.L.C., No. CV 16-713, 2017 WL 3601215 (E.D. La. Aug. 22, 2017), has quietly revived the possibility of holding the energy industry accountable for coastal wetland erosion. The timing of the 2017 preliminary ruling in Vintage Assets was unique—it came on the heels of the Fifth Circuit’s dismissal in Bd. of Comm’rs of Se. La. Flood Prot. Auth.-E. v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., L.L.C., 850 F.3d 714, 724 (5th Cir. 2017), of a Louisiana flood protection agency’s lawsuit seeking billions in damages from nearly one hundred oil and gas corporations for alleged damage to coastal wetlands, but it was handed down before the US Supreme Court refused to hear the final appeal of that case (the Levee Board Case). Although Southeast Louisiana residents, local governmental agencies, and environmental groups had reluctantly accepted the outcome of the Levee Board Case as sounding the death knell for any further attempts to restore Louisiana’s coastline through the judicial system, energy companies, politicians, and policy makers praised the ruling for ending another lawsuit that deters out-of-state investment in Louisiana, rendering it unable to compete against its oil-rich and manufacturing-heavy neighbors. Both camps want better for Louisiana—they just can’t agree upon how: Louisiana can’t survive without financial investment, but it won’t be there to reap the benefits if it’s underwater.