The Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the government of the parish of Terrebonne in a coastal trial

An appeals court has ruled in favor of the Terrebonne parish government in its lawsuit against District Attorney Joe Waitz Jr. in a state agency investigation into possible environmental damage caused by oil companies.

Governor John Bel Edwards, Attorney General Jeff Landry and several other parishes are suing energy companies that accuse the drilling of causing years of coastal erosion and loss of wetlands in Louisiana.

Louisiana Department of Natural Resources Secretary Thomas Harris appointed Waitz as his “special delegate” to investigate possible environmental law violations by oil and gas companies.

Following: Terrebonne sues for a coastal lawsuit

However, Terrebonne Parish President Gordy Dove said the district attorney does not speak for the parish. Dove argued that only the president and the parish council have authority over civil affairs in Terrebonne.

The Terrebonne government filed a complaint in 2019 with the Houma State District Court, which names Waitz and Harris as defendants.

The lawsuit contends that Waitz is “not an appropriate person” to act on behalf of the Department of Natural Resources and that the state attorney general is mandated by law to represent Louisiana in civil cases.

The defendants argued that Waitz’s appointment did not usurp any authority from the Terrebonne parish government. The defendants also claimed that the parish government could not interfere with Waitz’s appointment as it is authorized by state law.

Following a hearing on November 18, 2020, District Judge Randy Bethancourt of Houma ruled in favor of the defendants and dismissed the parish’s trial.

The parish then took the case to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge.

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, and the Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association also filed briefs in support of the Terrebonne Parish Government’s appeal.

Related: Terrebonne files an appeal in a coastal damage lawsuit

The appeals court said in its ruling on Wednesday that the Terrebonne government had made valid arguments asking the court to interpret the law to determine who is authorized to investigate and enforce violations of environmental laws in civil law. the state.

Dove praised the unanimous decision of the appeals court.

“This is a huge victory for the people and businesses of the parish of Terrebonne,” he said Wednesday. “No matter what you do in Terrebonne, our economy is tied to oil and gas. (Parish lawyer) Jules Hébert and his team did an excellent job in the pleadings with the 1st Circuit. Their opinion touched on many of the issues we raised. From day one, we argued that it was up to the consolidated government of the parish of Terrebonne to hire lawyers for all civil matters in the parish of Terrebonne. “

Terrebonne and Lafourche have chosen not to join the coastal lawsuits, arguing that suing the oil and gas companies could have a negative impact on the community’s main employer.

Dove and Lafourche Parish President Archie Chaisson said they would prefer to work with oil and gas companies who they say are voluntarily restoring wetlands and coastal marshes. Both ward presidents attributed coastal damage in Louisiana to dikes along the Mississippi River to prevent flooding.

“From day one, I have reviewed the coastal use permits that have been issued in the parish of Terrebonne,” said Dove. “We are studying this issue. We were already seated at the table. We don’t just sue the oil companies for their deep pockets. We have done due diligence. There were 8,500 permits issued and we went over about 2,000 and found no material violations by the oil companies.

Thibodaux’s attorney, Christopher H. Rivière, who represents the defendants along with William Abel, said the 1st Circuit decision was based on a simple matter of procedure.

“The substance of the case has not yet been determined,” he said. “They haven’t commented on who is right or wrong. It’s far from over. ”

The case is now returning to the Houma district court. A new trial date has not been set.

– Editor-in-Chief Dan Copp can be reached at 448-7639 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @DanVCopp.

This article originally appeared on Le Courrier: The Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the government of the parish of Terrebonne in a coastal trial

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