Levee authority asks judge to rule on constitutionality of law that would scuttle lawsuit

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The local Flood Protection Authority asked a federal judge Tuesday for an expedited ruling on the constitutionality of a new state law that seeks to kill its lawsuit against oil and gas companies for damaging coastal wetlands.

The filing comes a day before attorneys for both sides have a status conference on the suit before U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed the historic suit in July 2013, alleging that energy companies had increased its cost of hurricane protection by destroying wetlands that had acted as buffers against storm surge.

There was immediate pushback from key legislators and Gov. Bobby Jindal, who threatened to pass a law to retroactively kill the suit.

The result was Act 544. It limits which government agencies can sue oil and gas companies — and excludes the Flood Protection Authority.

Lawyers for the flood authority claim the law violates several portions of the state constitution:

  • Separation of powers

  • A protection against laws that apply to just one entity

  • The public trust doctrine, which requires protection and conservation of natural resources

  • Two issues related to the passage of the law itself, including a requirement that local bills are advertised in the state’s official journals before the Legislature convenes.

The filing isn’t a surprise. In July, lead plaintiffs attorney Gladstone Jones said he expected the legal fight over the constitutionality of the law to take at least three months. Whoever loses, he said, probably will appeal.

Lawmakers behind the bill have said they carefully crafted the bill to meet the expected legal challenges.

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