…unlike the 43 fishing expeditions John Bel Edwards and his cabal of ambulance chasers have filed in state courts attempting to induce oil companies to cough up settlement money no reputable court would mandate. The first of those coastal lawsuits, alleging that canals dug through the marshes of South Louisiana by oil companies are responsible for the loss of the state’s coastline, was thrown out by the Supreme Court last year after a highly unsuccessful march through the federal court system; Edwards’ gang has given up on trying to win in federal court and is now looking for friendly judges in state courts.
But the oil companies haven’t caused the loss of the state’s coastline. The primary culprit in that ecological disaster is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
This isn’t all that complicated. USACE is the governmental entity, not subject to permitting by other agencies like the oil companies are (every one of those canals was subject to state and local government review, and allowed at the time), which built levees along the Mississippi River all the way to its mouth. Build those levees and what you’re doing is robbing the marshland in the lower Mississippi delta south of New Orleans of the silt deposits the spring floods bring. And over time, the sea will reclaim that marsh.
If that doesn’t convince you, consider that the delta at the mouth of the Atchafalaya River is growing. The Atchafalaya doesn’t have levees all the way to its mouth.
It’s obvious to anyone this is what has happened to Louisiana. If anybody is to be sued for it, it’s the Corps of Engineers. So that’s what Louisiana’s Attorney General and Rep. Garret Graves (R-Baton Rouge), whose district includes a significant bit of the state’s coastline south and west of New Orleans, have done. From Friday’s press release…
Attorney General Jeff Landry, with the support of Congressman Garret Graves, announced a lawsuit today against the Corps of Engineers.
“The decline of Louisiana’s coastline over the past 50 years has been a constant issue for Louisiana,” said General Landry. “Unfortunately, the creation of the Intracoastal Waterway by the Corps has exasperated the problem.”
“I commend General Landry and I strongly support this lawsuit today,” said Congressman Garret Graves. “It is the right thing to do, and this enforcement is long overdue. Our own federal government should be protecting our rights not treading on them. The bottom line is that if this were happening in California, New York, Florida or Illinois, it would have been stopped and restored decades ago. We cannot stand idle and allow Louisiana to be treated any differently.”
In constructing the Intracoastal Waterway, the Corps sought and received a servitude to build and maintain the waterway. That servitude limited the Corps to 300 feet of land use. Today, that channel is as much as 900 feet wide in certain locations, three times the width of the original servitude granted. The Intracoastal Waterway has contributed to land loss, saltwater intrusion, and coastal erosion; and the purpose of this lawsuit is to address that.
General Landry was supported in this effort by Congressman Garret Graves, who was scheduled to be at the event, but had to be in Washington D.C. due to the late budget vote. As the former chairman of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and a member of the committee that has oversight of the Corps of Engineers, Congressman Graves offers an in depth and unique understanding of the problem at hand and the benefits of this lawsuit.
“As Americans, owning and enjoying private property is a fundamental Constitutional right,” added Congressman Graves. “For far too long, this right has been ignored and trampled upon. What’s worse is this damage, destruction and other abusive and illegal actions are being taken by our own federal government through the Corps of Engineers. This is the same Corps of Engineers that enforces rules and files suit against Americans when they damage or destroy wetlands. It is far time that they be held accountable to the same rules. Our wetlands, our lands and our environment are no less important. This lawsuit ensures that the hypocrisy ends now.”
“The failure of the Corps to maintain and preserve the servitude has caused thousands of acres of land along our coast to be lost,” concluded General Landry. “The Corps is in direct violation of their servitude agreement. Our lawsuit demands that the Corps of Engineers be enjoined from any further violations of its servitude and restore the damage caused by those violations.”
Is this suit likely to result in much of anything? Probably not, though we’ll see if the Trump administration is willing to copy a tactic from its predecessor. The Obama administration’s EPA and other agencies had a practice of inviting environmental groups to file suit seeking various policy changes which would never pass legislative muster in Congress, and then “settle” those suits as soon as they were filed. Perhaps Trump would be interested in doing something similar with this suit – he does, after all, have fairly ambitious ideas about infrastructure projects, and rebuilding Louisiana’s coastline could well be one of them.
If not, the suit might be more of a political stunt to make a point than anything else. And in that respect it would seem to have hit its mark. Here’s what Edwards’ office said after the suit was filed…
“The attorney general did not consult with the governor or the Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority on his lawsuit. It’s unfortunate that the agency charged with developing strategies for dealing with coastal wetlands was not consulted at all. While coastal restoration is a top priority of Gov. Edwards, as evidenced by the significant work we have done over the last two years to expedite projects, we will review the lawsuit once the language is provided to us and determine the best path forward for the state.”
That’s pretty laughable, since when Edwards’ pal Gladstone Jones filed the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority coastal lawsuit, the one which was tossed by the Supreme Court last year, he didn’t consult with CPRA either – Graves was running that agency at the time and took quite unkindly to the suit as a detriment to CPRA’s coastal restoration plans.
This is about Edwards losing the narrative, of course. His coastal lawsuit craze isn’t designed to win money in court – it’s about trying to bully oil companies into settlements. This hasn’t worked at all; the oil companies don’t believe Edwards’ legal cabal can win any of those cases and they’re not paying. Instead, they’re just pulling out of Louisiana and drilling in Texas and other places instead, which is one reason for Louisiana’s moribund economy as we discussed yesterday.
But Edwards is stuck, because his legal cabal includes some very significant donors to his campaign – like Taylor Townsend, the chairman of his PAC, for example, and John Carmouche, who sunk more than a million dollars into Super PAC’s responsible for getting Edwards elected in 2015. He can’t pull back from this loser of a legal strategy without alienating some of his best political friends.
And when somebody else comes along with a different idea of a coastal lawsuit, one which contains a lot better argument about coastal loss but isn’t likely to carry as much in the way of filthy contingency-fee lucre, the loser of a legal strategy gets worse.
That’s why Edwards is furious about this suit and that’s why he’s trashing it.
If we had to bet, we’d say this thing probably dies before those 43 coastal lawsuits in state courts do. But the point is made already, and perhaps the legislative negotiations on Trump’s infrastructure plan might ultimately contain something like what this suit seeks. Either way it was worth doing.