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Louisiana Sues Big Oil for Loss of Coastal Wetlands
After decades of operating with complete disregard for the environment, the dirty energy industry finally has to face the music for destroying the wetlands that form a natural barrier against storm damage in the state of Louisiana.
The suit, filed by the board of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, claims that the oil and gas industry's irresponsible pipeline placement, drilling and excavation methods have eroded and polluted vital wetlands in Louisiana.
The New York Times has more:
The board argues that the energy companies, including BP and ExxonMobil, should be held responsible for fixing damage done by cutting thousands of miles of oil and gas access and pipeline canals through the wetlands. It alleges that the network functioned “as a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction,” killing vegetation, eroding soil and allowing salt water into freshwater areas.
The suit argues that the environmental buffer serves as an essential protection against storms by softening the blow of any incoming hurricane before it gets to the line of levees, flood walls, gates and pumps maintained and operated by the board. Losing the “natural first line of defense against flooding” means that the levee system is “left bare and ill-suited to safeguard south Louisiana,” the lawsuit says. The “unnatural threat” caused by exploration, it states, “imperils the region’s ecology and its people’s way of life—in short, its very existence.”
The suit alleges that the wetlands, which took more than 6,000 years to form, provide vital protection for the state from the impacts of severe storms, floods, and hurricanes. The degradation caused by the dirty energy industry’s activities leaves the state more vulnerable to the effects of severe weather.
The lawsuit has been adamantly opposed by Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal who, according to The New York Times, claims that the board has “overstepped its authority” in filing the suit. It is worth noting that the dirty energy industry has been a substantial financial backer of Gov. Jindal, contributing nearly a quarter of a million dollars to his campaigns. They also report that Jindal claimed the board had been “hijacked” by “trial lawyers.”
Board member John Barry says that the board took all necessary steps, including conferring with the state Attorney General, before hiring an outside law firm and filing suit against the industry.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the federal government spent roughly $14 billion to repair damaged levees around New Orleans. An attorney for the plaintiffs in the new lawsuit says that it is now time for private industry to pay their fair share for their role in the degradation of the wetlands and subsequent weakening of critical natural protections for the state in an era of pollution-fueled climate disruption.
The civil suit is a major step forward for all American citizens, not just those in the Bayou State. While major politicians like Gov. Jindal may oppose the suit, the necessity of it is clearly undeniable. This suit will serve as a bellwether case against the industry that, if successful, could lead to further lawsuits against the industry for similar damages all over the country.
Pay close attention to this case as it moves forward—it may just set a precedent that could help to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for the extensive damage caused by their short-term thinking. In particular, it should put an end to the unnecessary destruction of our natural protective barriers against extreme weather damage.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
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"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
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"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
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Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
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