If your opponents in a lawsuit — in this case, all-powerful oil and gas companies — are trying the case in the court of public opinion, what’s your best response?

Law firms seeking to force energy interests to pay for damaging the Louisiana coast answered that question Thursday, unveiling a 143-year timeline and supporting documents.

It was a bid to win public backing for the suit — including support from state lawmakers who might try to derail it in the legislative session ahead.

[module align=”left” width=”half” type=”pull-quote”]“They say they complied with the law; these documents prove they did not. It’s also crystal clear that companies understood these laws.” — John Barry[/module]Some of the documents are laws and regulations governing industry activities. Others show the state’s efforts at enforcement. And a third set are internal industry documents revealing that some of the companies knew they were breaking laws and damaging wetlands.

Members of the firms acknowledged the timeline was a strategy to win hearts and minds, not part of the material that will be entered into evidence in court on behalf of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, the amalgamation of former levee boards that filed the lawsuit. Their contention is that damage to the coast greatly increased the cost of flood protection and that the energy companies should share the burden.

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Lawyers said the documents disprove claims by industry groups that the companies didn’t break the law, didn’t know they were breaking the laws and that state regulators never tried to enforce the laws.

“The purpose of this is to demonstrate the truth, and the truth is the industry’s position is false,” said John Barry, who lost his seat on the Flood Protection Authority-East after spearheading the lawsuit. He now continues his crusade as head of the newly formed nonprofit Restore Louisiana Now.

“They say they complied with the law; these documents prove they did not. It’s also crystal clear that companies understood these laws,” Barry said.

The interactive graphic, posted below, employs a color-coded scheme that allows visitors to follow the flood authority’s argument.

  • Blue dots bring up the pertinent laws.
  • Green dots reference efforts at enforcement as well as reports and articles detailing the industry’s negative impacts on wetlands.
  • Red dots connect to internal corporate documents showing the companies had knowledge of the laws and, in some cases, were aware of their on-going violation.

At least three bills have been filed by lawmakers opposed to the suit. Barry said he has been traveling the state in recent weeks talking to lawmakers in their home offices as well as in Baton Rouge to make his case. He said the timeline will help.

Interactive presentation argues levee board’s case

Bob Marshall

From 2013 to 2017, Bob Marshall covered environmental issues for The Lens, with a special focus on coastal restoration and wetlands. While at The Times-Picayune, his work chronicling the people, stories...