Tulane’s quiet stance on environment lawsuit harmful to Louisiana coast, community

Brendan Lyman, Staff Reporter

The following is an opinion article and opinion articles do not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

Nathanial Rich, of the New York Times Magazine, has deemed it “The Most Ambitious Environmental Lawsuit Ever,” and it has emerged as the most controversial and contentious political issue in Louisiana in decades. Yet, it hasn’t been a point of discussion or activism at Tulane, despite its significance for the future of the state. Tulane should step up and voice support for the lawsuit proceeding through the court system.

“It” is a lawsuit, filed in the summer of 2013 by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, that aims to make the 90-plus oil and gas companies identified in the suit pay to help offset the costs of damages from their dredging and operations in Southeast Louisiana. Simply, the lawsuit seeks to have the companies adhere to their legal duty under the permits they received. The money from the lawsuit would then be used to help fund a Coastal Master Plan that would limit future land loss and create a sustainable coast.

Unsurprisingly, the oil and gas companies, including giants of the trade like Exxon Mobile and Koch Industries, have objected to the lawsuit. The objections simply do not hold weight. The industries themselves have acknowledged their role in the current land loss crisis. The permits for dredging that the companies signed require them to return the canals to “as near as practicable to their original condition.”

The companies realized their limited defense to the lawsuit, and immediately set out to kill it through the political system. Gov. Bobby Jindal and the defendant companies have used political gaming, lobbying and outright intimidation to see the lawsuit killed through a law that would retroactively repeal the authority of the SLFPA to file it. At this point, the political games have failed, as a state court voided the latest law passed by the legislature to block the lawsuit, stating the law did not apply to SLPFA and was likely unconstitutional. The ruling is unlikely to end Gov. Jindal and the industries’ war on the lawsuit, and Tulane should step up and voice support for the lawsuit.

As a major research university, a national leader in environmental law and a major economic component to New Orleans, Tulane should state its support to see the lawsuit’s outcome free of political gaming.

When the lawsuit was filed, the SLFPA had the legal authority to pursue such instruments, and still does under current law. As a result, nearly every major newspaper’s editorial board in the state has come out in favor of having the lawsuit proceed.

The support of Tulane will not stop Gov. Jindal and the industry from continuing their opposition to the lawsuit, but it will mark a clear victory for the people of Southeast Louisiana to have such an important institution on their side.

Further, over the last year we have seen many Tulane students through groups like Divest Tulane express their concern over the future of Southeast Louisiana and low-level geographical areas. While divestment’s impact is limited at best, the SLFPA lawsuit represents a real impact possibility for the future of Southeast Louisiana and New Orleans. There should be overwhelming support among environmentally conscious students, and it is past time for the issue to be a part of the “green” dialogue on campus.

Tulane is too large of an institution and has too much political clout to passively react to an event that will majorly impact the future of the state and city. It’s time for Tulane to take a stand, and state its collective support for the lawsuit proceeding.

Brendan Lyman is a senior in the Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached for comment at [email protected]