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You don't have to spend much time in Louisiana to know that it's truly a unique state. What many people don't realize is that Louisiana law has its own structure. While every one of the 49 other states in the country follows common law, Louisiana is the only state to follow civil law.

What does this mean, and what could it mean for your case? Keep reading to learn the facts about what makes Louisiana law so unique. If you believe you have grounds for a personal injury case or for any of our other areas of practice, contact us today for your free legal consultation.

The Main Distinction Between Common Law and Louisiana Law is the Way the Judges Make Decisions

In common law, judges follow what's known as precedent when making decisions. Precedent refers to court decisions that the judges use as an authority when deciding further cases. Attorneys bring up precedents (i.e., previously decided legal decisions) with facts similar to the case they're presenting to the judge.

The hope with common law is that everyone will be treated the same way by applying the law in the same way to cases with the same or similar facts. In Louisiana law, judges make decisions based on the Civil Code.

A Deeper Dive into the Specifics of Louisiana Law

The civil law system is code-based, and Louisiana legislators look to address specific legal areas through statutes or codified rules. When a judge hears a case, they are tasked with interpreting the code rules and applying them to the case in front of them.

The decision the judge makes may very well have an impact on future cases. Still, that judge's reasoning and interpretation of the law will have little to no effect outside of that specific case they are deciding. In other words, the decision the judge makes on one case does not create a precedent that requires a future judge to decide a case in a certain way.

More on the Common Law System

In contrast, the common law system that is used in the other 49 states is based on the judicial interpretation of laws. In other words, courts interpret laws to ascertain the politicians' intentions when passing them, and this interpretation directs how the law should be used in a certain situation.

The judiciary has the chance to issue opinions outlining how the law should be interpreted during the appellate review of cases. These rulings serve as a guideline for the court and any lower courts that fall within its purview. This is known as sit decisis, which means "let the decision stand" in Latin.

The common law in that region is based on the court's interpretation. By doing this, the court creates a body of common law that operates in conjunction with the statute.

The History of the Civil Code

The Napoleonic Code, often known as the Civil Code, originated in two countries with civil law systems: Spain and France. Because both Spain and France once owned Louisiana, the Napoleonic Code was developed by combining legal systems from the two nations, creating the melting pot that is Louisiana law today.

The term "codified" refers to the civil legal system in Louisiana, composed of a compilation of laws and legislation. Certain laws must be adhered to when a case is presented before a court.

The court considers these laws, "dissects," and renders a decision in accordance with that understanding. To put it simply, Louisiana Civil Law favors judicial interpretation over a more objective or traditional view of the law.

The History of Common Law

The common law system was developed in England and adopted by the United States. Today it is used in every state but Louisiana. The sitting judge decides which precedents will be used in the resolution of each new case, demonstrating the significant influence that each judge has on American and British law.

There Are Significant Differences in the Vocabulary Used for Either Type of Law

A Louisiana laywer reviewing paperwork and case files.

The vocabulary and techniques used in various sorts of legislation differ noticeably. Some legal ideas and laws that are known by one name elsewhere in the nation are known by a different name in Louisiana.

A great example is the term "statute of limitations." This term refers to limits established regarding how long a party has to bring legal proceedings. In Louisiana, statutes of limitations for civil cases do exist but are referred to by an entirely different name: prescriptions.

Another example covers trust and estate law, real estate law, and inheritance. Under Louisiana Law, these categories of law are referred to as "Succession and Donations" instead of "Trust and Estates," as they are referred to in other states.

In Louisiana Law, Criminal Cases Are an Entirely Different Thing

Note that everything above is specific to civil cases in Louisiana. Criminal cases in the state do follow the more commonly used common law method.

Criminal law refers to cases that are usually prosecuted by the state for crimes that have been committed. Civil law is brought by plaintiffs (which can be individuals, groups, or organizations) as a result of their belief that another party's actions (or inactions) led to injuries and/or damages to them.

Generally speaking, criminal law's consequences include jail time, fines, and other forms of punishment, while civil law's consequences include solely monetary punishments. A person can face both criminal charges and a civil lawsuit for the same action.

It should also be noted that in criminal law, a person must be found guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt," whereas civil law requires only a "preponderance of the evidence." Essentially, this means that in civil law, the judge or jury must only believe that it is more likely than not that the defendant is "guilty" of the actions (or inaction) the plaintiff accuses them of.

Huber Thomas Law is Here to Help with Your Civil Case

If you or a loved one has been injured due to another party acting recklessly or negligently, you might have grounds for a civil case. It is essential that you work with a Louisiana personal injury lawyer who knows the specifics of this state and how to build the strongest possible case for you. That is what you have found in Huber Thomas Law. Reach out to us today and let us help you move forward with your case.

It’s that time of year. Lunches are packed and backpacks are stashed with supplies. The kids are going back to school, which means buses will rule the roads across New Orleans. Are you up to date on the most recent laws and guidelines surrounding Louisiana school bus safety for drivers, though? At Huber Thomas & Marcelle, we care about the children in our community. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of important school bus safety tips designed to keep everyone safe. Here's what you need to know going into this school year, whether you're a parent or simply another driver on the roads.

Why is Louisiana school bus safety so important?

As the summer months fly by, it’s easy to get used to a fast morning commute. No more crowded streets or busy sidewalks.

When fall rolls around, though, everything changes. Students flock to bus stops, waiting for that big yellow bus. About 25 million students across the country ride the bus to and from school every day.

According to studies completed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, this is the safest method of transportation for children. Students of all ages are 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a bus instead of traveling by car. This is because school buses are the most regulated vehicles on the road. They’re designed with the highest safety standards in mind. And, traffic laws exist specifically to keep them safe.

Want to do your part to maintain a safe commute for students? These are the school bus traffic laws that other drivers must follow.

1. Come to a full stop when children are loading or unloading

Every state in the U.S. has laws surrounding this topic. When a bus is loading or unloading children, you must come to a full and complete stop. Generally, the bus will display red flashing lights in addition to a stop-arm sign that extends out from the left side of the bus. This is your signal to stop immediately.

If you see yellow flashing lights on a school bus up ahead, this is an indication that the bus will be coming to a stop soon. In general, the driver will turn on this signal no less than 100 feet before stopping. When you see these lights, you should begin to slow down.

Violating these stop-arm laws can be dangerous and costly. For a violation that does not involve the injury of another person, you could face fines of up to $500 and may be subject to a driver’s license suspension. Violations involving serious injury or death can lead to increased fines and jail time in addition to suspension of your driver’s license.

2. Stop, even if you're on the other side of the road

This is where drivers tend to be confused about how to proceed. Do I still have to stop when I’m driving on the opposite side of the road? In short, the answer is yes.

You must make a full and complete stop if the red lights are flashing and the stop-arm sign is on display. The only exception is when the bus is on the opposite side of a clearly divided highway. When it comes to the definition of a clearly divided highway, the law varies by state. In Louisiana, the roadway must be separated by a concrete barrier, ditch, or grassy median.

It’s also important to note an exception regarding specified loading zones. If the bus is completely off the roadway and pedestrians are not allowed to cross, you do not have to stop.

3. Leave plenty of distance between your car and the bus

The area ten feet around a school bus is the most dangerous for students. With this in mind, Louisiana law dictates how much space you must leave between your car and a school bus.

Stop thirty feet away from a bus that is loading and unloading students or displaying red flashing lights along with a stop-arm sign.

This is the best way to ensure that you are out of the bus driver’s blind spots. It will also provide you with a better view of any children who may be attempting to cross.

4. Do your research and stay updated

Stay aware of the school bus schedule in your area. Take note of when you see children out and about near bus stops. Find out when buses arrive and depart in the areas along your commute.

In general, there are about three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon when you may see school buses traveling along school routes. Keep this in mind as you go about your daily routine.

5. Always be on the lookout

Before backing out of your driveway, pause to take a look around your street. Are children making their way to the bus stop? Are parents walking back from drop-offs with younger children?

The morning can be hectic for everybody. Children running to catch the bus can appear quickly and with little warning. It’s essential to pause and take a look at your surroundings before you proceed. Approach every stop sign with the same caution.

6. Slow down in neighborhoods and school zones

Kids will gather at local bus stops across your community, sometimes spilling into the streets. Their safety should be your number one priority.

Reduce your speed as much as possible in neighborhoods and school zones. Speed limits are often as low as 15 miles per hour in these areas, and for good reason.

The chances of getting into an accident are less likely if you’re going slow enough to see a potential hazard. Plus, accidents that take place while traveling at a low rate of speed are less likely to be severe or life-threatening.

7. Talk to your children about school bus safety

While pedestrians always have the right-of-way, some drivers simply don’t follow the law. Educating your children on school bus safety will help them remain vigilant when they’re getting to and from school.

Here are some important tips if you have children of your own:

  • Remain visible at all times. If they must cross in front of a bus, make eye contact with the driver and leave plenty of space. Never walk behind the bus.
  • Be on time. No one likes to miss the bus, but it’s more important to stay safe. Running late can cause students to move too quickly and with little regard for who or what is around them. Encourage your child to get out the door as early as possible for a safe walk to the bus stop.
  • Keep a safe distance. Stand several feet away from the curb at all times. Don’t engage in games or playing in or near the street. Wait for the bus to come to a stop before approaching to board.

Find support after a school bus related accident

At Huber Thomas & Marcelle, our hope is to create safer communities, especially when it comes to matters that involve children. Unfortunately, accidents happen and drivers make mistakes.

If you or your child has been in a school bus related accident, we can help. Our goal is to treat every client with the same care we would expect for our own families. In addition to Louisiana, members of our team are licensed to practice in Mississippi, Texas, Washington D.C. and New York.

Contact us to find out how we can provide guidance and support when you need it the most.

This year's 4th of July celebrations promise to be record-breaking when it comes to travel. In 2019, AAA estimates that travel volume for this holiday will increase by 4.1% from last year. Over 41 million people are expected to jump on the roads and drive to their holiday destinations. While we all love hot dogs and BBQs, beers and fireworks, taking some precautions this July 4 can keep you and your family safe. Our team at Huber Thomas & Marcelle compiled our most important July 4 safety tips for those who are traveling in or around New Orleans this year.

1. Avoid high traffic times

Many other holiday travelers have the same idea as you: with a long holiday weekend, head out of town on Wednesday afternoon so you can start relaxing as soon as possible.

Reconsider this plan.

AAA reports that one of the worst days for travel in multiple metropolitan areas is the afternoon of Wednesday, July 3, typically from 12-4 PM. Nationwide, delays may increase by up to 9% leading to more people on the road, all of them in a hurry to get out of town. That means more car accidents.

Other high period times are July 4 afternoon, as many heads to local events, and Friday, July 5.

If you can, try to drive during times that are less busy. Mornings are generally quieter on the roads, except for Sunday, when people are returning home.

2. Be vigilant about drunk driving

The July 4 holiday is a celebration of our country's founding, but it's also a day that marks another grim occasion. It's the top beer-drinking holiday in the country, which means it historically has the most drunk-driving incidents, alcohol-impaired accidents, and drunk-driving fatalities.

From 2007 to 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recorded more than 61 traffic fatalities per day over the long weekend. Don't become a statistic. Be vigilant about avoiding and preventing drunk driving with the following tips.

3. Designate a committed sober driver for all activities

The entire Independence Day weekend may have more cars on the road, but it's the day of July 4 when you must be most vigilant about drunk drivers.

Whether it's you, a family member, or a friend, make sure you discuss who will be the designated driver before you leave for an event. This person should avoid all forms of alcohol, as they'll have to be vigilant about themselves and other drivers on the road.

4. Hire a taxi or rideshare if you plan to drink

One of our most important July 4 safety tips is that there's no safe level of drinking and driving on this holiday. Between sun exposure and long all-day events, fatigue and dangerously high levels of intoxication can come on fast.

If everyone in your party wants to drink, make it a safe holiday by booking a taxi or rideshare option. Companies like Uber and Lyft often have more drivers on the road during busy times, ready and available to bring you home. Book one ahead of time to beat the rush after an event or leave at an off-time.

Bonus: hiring a driver helps you avoid any parking issues at larger community events.

5. Avoid travel immediately after festivities end

Likewise, most community events end between 10-11 PM. This is when there will be the most cars on the road, potentially with the highest number of intoxicated drivers.  

If you can, don't take the risk.

Make a plan to leave the event early, spend it within walking distance of your own house, or find an open place nearby to wait until most people are off the roads. (This is easy to do if you're in the heart of the city for Go Fourth On The River!)

If you're at a family or friend's celebration, ask them if you can stay later to avoid peak travel times.

6. Take additional precautions when drinking

It can't be overstated. Drunk driving is a danger to you, your family, and other drivers. You may think you're okay to drive, but remember on the July 4 weekend, there are certain factors that can increase your risk.

For example, most people will attend outdoor events or hang out by the pool. During these early days of summer, ensure you're staying hydrated if drinking and getting plenty of time in the shade.

Long-term sun exposure can dehydrate you, leading you to higher levels of intoxication. If you're not sure if you can drive, don't. Hire a rideshare, a taxi, or ask a sober person to drive you home.

7. Think beyond the car

Many also neglect to think of other forms of driving over the holiday, especially boating.

July 4 is often the deadliest day for boating accidents, the American Boating Association reports. If you plan to enjoy your holiday on the water, treat it with the same vigilance as operating a car. Designate a sober driver, make sure your emergency equipment is functioning, and be aware of other boats.

If you decide to cycle to and from your festivities, be extra vigilant about drivers on the road. Wear bright, reflective clothing and ensure your lights are working properly.

8. Be aware of other July 4 safety tips

Car accidents, especially those involving intoxicated drivers, represent one of the largest dangers during your Independence Day weekend. These accidents can result in everything from minor property damage to serious injuries to death. Always stay cautious and use common sense when traveling.

However, there are other July 4 safety tips you should be aware of.

Be safe around fireworks

Fireworks are brilliant and beautiful, but they're also explosives.

In 2017, eight people died because of fireworks accidents. Almost 13,000 had injuries that were serious enough to send them to the emergency room.

Never allow young children near or around fireworks. Beyond that, always follow the fireworks safety tips from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Don't forget food safety

A long day spent lounging around the pool or on the lake is a great way to spend the holiday. However, if you have food out during these events make sure someone is responsible for keeping it safe. Foodborne illnesses can lead to hospitalizations or even death.

That means cold foods should stay cold and hot foods stay hot. Whether you're picnicking beside the Mississippi or in your own backyard, don't leave perishable foods outside for more than an hour if the temperature is above 90⁰F. Find full food safety tips from the USDA.

Protect your pets

It may be the nation's birthday, but July 4 is a dangerous day for Fido.

Because of the loud, scary noises, it's the day when most pets go missing during the year. They may jump a fence, break out of a gate, or snap their leash to get away from the sounds. Make sure their tags are current and your pets are microchipped.

Leave your pets locked inside at home or in a safe kennel or boarding facility. Don't bring them to overcrowded, unfamiliar parks, and don't leave them in parked cars. Find even more July 4 safety tips from the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Find support after July 4

Even if you did everything right, sometimes accidents can still happen. If you were involved in a car, boat, or bicycle accident over the July 4 weekend, the attorneys at Huber Thomas & Marcelle can help. If you were injured or suffered property damage because of negligent fireworks use, we can also help.

We know that these types of accidents can have long-term effects, from physical to mental to financial damages. Our team is committed to helping you recover and get the support you need.

Don't hesitate to give us a call about your case. We can discuss your options after an accident.

HENDERSON, Louisiana (Reuters) - When Hope Rosinski's father gave her a six-acre plot in Louisiana more than a decade ago, she was surprised to find oil and gas pipelines crisscrossing the property. The Bayou Bridge pipeline was born.

Pipeline companies later secured her permission for two more lines, one of which has since caused flooding and consistently leaves her land saturated.

Now she's had enough. Rosinski is fighting the latest request for a right-of-way, this time from Energy Transfer Partners - the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. She said ETP declined to make contract changes she wanted or to properly compensate her for lost property value.

Opposition to the company's planned extension of the Bayou Bridge pipeline has made Louisiana bayous the latest battleground in a nationwide war against new pipeline construction.

The pushback here is one example of the increasingly broad and diverse base of opposition nationally, which now extends beyond traditional environmental activists. In Louisiana, opponents include flood protection advocates, commercial fishermen, and property owners such as Rosinski.

Their fight follows high-profile protests in North Dakota that were led by Native Americans and joined by military veterans, who together succeeded in convincing the Obama administration to delay construction.

Although the new administration of President Donald Trump has since cleared that project's completion, pipeline companies are nonetheless taking the rising political opposition seriously. Alan Armstrong, chief executive at pipeline firm Williams Companies (NYSE:WMB), told a conference in Pittsburgh that Trump's action would not hamper the protest movement.

“It may even enhance it,” he said the day after Trump cleared the Dakota pipeline in January.

Bayou Bridge pipeline supporters argue that more infrastructure is essential for the oil and gas industry to provide affordable energy and reduce dependence on foreign imports and dirtier energy sources such as coal.

Opponents counter that Bayou Bridge pipeline companies can't be trusted to prevent leaks. Technology designed to detect spills only accomplished that goal in 20 percent of known pipeline leaks between 2010 and 2016, according to a Reuters analysis of data from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Energy Transfer and its affiliates had among the most spills of any pipeline company, with nearly 260 leaks from lines carrying hazardous liquids since 2010, according to the Reuters analysis. An ETP spokesperson said most of those spills were small and occurred on company property.

The company said in a statement that it seeks to work with landowners and communities to “build the pipeline in the safest, most environmentally friendly manner possible."

ETP's relations with Rosinski, however, have apparently broken down. She told Reuters that the firm has threatened to take her to court for the right of way, citing legal rights of pipeline companies to build infrastructure for broader public benefit.

Rosinski wants to resist but knows a court battle could be costly and lengthy.

“I’m a single mom," she said. "I don’t have the finances."

ETP declined to comment specifically on Rosinski's case but said it typically gets voluntary agreements on easements from owners in about 9 out of 10 cases, without legal action.


pelican sitting on bayou bridge pipelineSome pipeline protesters are driven by opposition to any expansion of fossil fuel development, but many have more local and specific concerns.

Many protests so far - including the encampment in North Dakota, led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe - have focused largely on fear of water contamination.

Similar objections have cropped up in West Texas from protesters of Energy Transfer's Trans-Pecos gas line, and in Arkansas and Tennessee over the Diamond Pipeline operated by Plains All American Pipeline.

Activists in Pennsylvania have been fighting a Williams Companies pipeline plan for three years. The company is looking to add 185 miles of new pipeline to its Atlantic Sunrise line, connecting the northeastern Marcellus natural gas shale region with the southeast part of the state. Opponents have argued the expansion could cause an explosion or taint the local water that supplies farms.

They're borrowing tactics from the Standing Rock tribe's standoff. Malinda Clatterbuck, 46, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who leads the group Lancaster Against Pipelines, said residents are setting up a camp in Conestoga, where a right-of-way has been granted and plans to live on and off at the camp with her family.

“I’m exhausted and angry about this," she said. "Why do we have to upend our lives just to try to get justice for our community?"

Williams said it has operated 60 miles of pipeline safely in Lancaster County and that the company plans to exceed federal safety standards for the extension.

“We’ve also heard from thousands of people who support the project - individuals, chambers, and business groups - who recognize the economic benefit,” the company said in a statement.


In Louisiana - home to massive oil refineries and about 50,000 miles of pipelines - ETP's planned Bayou Bridge extension would run across southern Louisiana for about 160 miles, between Lake Charles and St. James.

The state has a mutually beneficial but testy relationship with the oil industry, which is widely blamed for cutting through wetlands and contributing to coastal erosion that has left Louisiana more vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding.

Some opponents of the Bayou Bridge are concerned that its construction will pollute drinking water and constrict drainage systems during heavy rains. Others want to see pipeline companies take better care of the environment during and after construction.

Jody Meche, 47, of Henderson, fears economic damage. He has fished in the Atchafalaya Basin for a quarter-century. For years, he has been pushing companies to remove spoil banks caused by pipeline construction and oil exploration because they hurt the commercial fishing industry.

The spoil banks act as dams inside the basin, damaging the local ecosystem by stopping water flow.

Meche can see the impact in the crawfish traps he pulls up from the bayou daily during the season, from February to early summer. The critters resemble tiny lobsters and are in high demand at bars and backyard boils from New Orleans to Houston.

“The stagnant water is not good for them at all," Meche said. "They don’t grow as well, they don’t eat as much, they are very lethargic."

Meche can sell large, healthy crawfish for about $1.50 a pound. But the smaller ones he often catches these days fetch half that, and many in his traps these days are dead and worthless.


Rosinski, meanwhile, is still fighting with Enterprise Products Partners, the pipeline company she said damaged her property during the construction of an ethane line a few years ago. She said she has spent the last year trying to get Enterprise to restore her land and stop the flooding.

The cost to fix it could be as little as $1,200, she said.

Enterprise told Reuters it hopes to resolve the issue amicably, but that it has not gotten clear guidance from an attorney hired by Rosinski.

Rosinski received the right-of-way request from Energy Transfer Partners as she was squabbling with Enterprise. She suggested 30 changes to the contract and requested more compensation. ETP refused, she said and told her it may take up the dispute in court.

"I've done my part," she said of her previous agreements to allow pipelines through her property. "They’re consuming my land."

Story by Liz Hampton at Reuters.

If you’d like to discuss the details of your case with a personal injury lawyer, please contact us to set up a consultation.

A coalition of 21 states, including Louisiana, sued the U.S. Department of Labor Tuesday over a new overtime pay law that would make about 4 million higher-earning workers eligible for overtime pay, slamming the measure as inappropriate federal overreach from the Obama administration.

“Once again, the president has circumvented Congress and attempted to legislate through executive mandate. Like Obamacare before it, this latest overreach will force employers to hire fewer people and cut hours of their existing workers,” Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said in a statement the Republican posted on his website. “This red-taped bureaucratic edict will especially hurt the Louisiana workforce in the education, retail, government, health, hospitality and professional service industries. For their sake and the sake of federalism, I have joined attorneys general from across the country to stop this job-killer.”

Republican Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Eastern Texas, urging it to block implementation before the overtime pay law takes effect on Dec. 1. Laxalt, a frequent critic of President Barack Obama's policies, said the rule would burden private and public sectors by straining budgets and forcing layoffs or cuts in working hours.

overtime pay law contractLabor Department officials did not immediately respond to telephone and email requests seeking comment.

The measure would shrink the so-called "white collar exemption" that exempts workers who perform "executive, administrative or professional" duties from overtime and minimum wage requirements.

It would more than double the salary threshold under which employers must pay overtime to their white-collar workers. Overtime protections would apply to workers who make up to $913 a week, or $47,476 a year, and the threshold would readjust every three years to reflect changes in average wages.

"This long-awaited update will result in a meaningful boost to many workers' wallets, and will go a long way toward realizing President Obama's commitment to ensuring every worker is compensated fairly for their hard work," the Labor Department said in May when it announced the new rule.

Business groups say the changes are too much and too fast, especially as states continue to recover from the recession.

But some attorneys have said they didn't expect the new overtime pay law to lead to widespread raises. Most Louisiana employers will try to keep their employment costs stable, with solutions that include reclassifying management jobs to hourly positions and capping workers’ hours, Thomas R. Peak, a partner with Taylor, Porter, Brooks & Phillips LLP, told The Advocate in May.
“I don’t think what is going to happen will be automatically anybody that’s making $24,000 a year and is exempt that their employers are going to give them a raise up to the new level," Peak said.

Other plaintiffs include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin.

ADVOCATE STAFF AND WIRE REPORT, originally appearing SEP 20, 2016.

If you’d like to discuss the details of your case with a personal injury lawyer, please contact us to set up a consultation.

ALLIANCE, La. (AP) - The oil industry has left a big footprint along the Gulf Coast, where a Delaware-sized stretch of Louisiana has disappeared. But few politicians would blame Big Oil for ecosystem abuse in a state where the industry employs up to 300,000 people and injects $73 billion into the economy.

Until now.

big oil barrel of oilFollowing the lead of Gov. John Bel Edwards, Louisiana political orthodoxy is being turned upside-down as prominent leaders of both parties join lawsuits seeking billions of dollars for environmental improvement projects.

Down in the pancake-flat bayou, it's not easy to see what made so much of the coast sink into the Gulf of Mexico.

Even when you climb onto the levee, buzzing with dragonflies, that keeps the old delta farming community of Alliance from being swallowed, all that's visible is marshland, stretching toward a green horizon.

But land's end is much closer now, and what remains has been disrupted. Access canals carved by the oil industry run straight as arrows, rusting signs warn of underwater pipelines and abandoned drilling platforms sink into the muck. As the Alliance refinery billows with fumes, the surrounding pastures are slowly sinking.

Louisiana remains the nation's second-largest crude oil producer and oil refiner after Texas, but the industry has been on the defensive since Edwards, a 49-year-old lawyer and Democrat, ended eight years of Republican leadership last November.

Publicly, he joined a campaign by local governments suing to hold the industry at least partly responsible for Louisiana's loss of 1,900 square miles of coast since the 1930s. Privately, he pushed for a pre-trial settlement to resolve all their claims.

"Our coast is in crisis," Edwards wrote in a letter to oil executives after their initial meeting in May, calling for an "amicable solution" to avoid years of litigation.

He was soon seconded by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, whose family of Louisiana Democrats long supported Big Oil. Landrieu accused former state leaders of allowing the industry to cripple "in a generation or two what Mother Nature built in 7,000 years," and said the damage has spread "through the marsh like an infection.

In July, Vermilion Parish, deep in Louisiana's "Oil Patch," became the fourth local government to file claims against Exxon, Shell, Chevron, and dozens of other corporations. The agency overseeing flood protection for New Orleans also issuing. Republicans have joined in, from GOP-led parishes to Attorney General Jeff Landry.

"It's absolutely new," pollster Bernie Pinsonat said. "The oil companies are taking it seriously because you're talking about billions and billions of dollars."

This political shift can be traced to Hurricane Katrina, which shocked the nation and exposed the dire state of ecology in the Mississippi River's delta. Katrina alone tore up about 60 square miles of marsh around New Orleans in 2005.

At issue are oilfields like the one in Alliance, in Plaquemines Parish, where oil companies are accused of routinely abandoning open waste pits, carelessly dumping toxic brine and oilfield waste onto the marsh, and interrupting the delta's ebbs and flows by dredging thousands of miles of canals that weren't filled back in.

The oil industry blames the Army Corps of Engineers, whose levees deny the delta its natural deposits of silt and sand while channeling the Mississippi River out to sea. It also blames the clear-cutting of coastal forests more than a century ago, shipping channels that have sliced up the delta, and even the invasive nutria, an oversized marsh grass-eating rodent.

"It's just such a vague attempt by the plaintiffs to throw a blanket over an entire industry and hold it singularly responsible for a problem that's got multiple causes," said Robert Meadows, a Chevron lawyer.

The legal case requires analyzing thousands of coastal drilling permits and oil leases, putting prices on the unmitigated damage caused by each company, and then dueling over demands for compensation.

Scientists generally agree that between 30 percent and 40 percent of wetlands loss is attributable to drilling and its associated activities, said John Day, a Louisiana State University scientist and expert on the delta's problems.

"The factual basis is terribly strong: If I were a plaintiffs' counsel, I'd put on a five-day slide show narrated by geologists and hydrologists and wetlands scientists, and it would be devastating," said Oliver Houck, an environmental law professor at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Geologist Sherwood Gagliano, who has studied the coastal crisis since the 1960s, contends that extracting millions of barrels of oil and gas from below the surface has caused vast swaths of the coast to sink.

"It's like an Atlantis oilfield," Gagliano said. "There are well-heads sticking out of the water. Abandoned production platforms are now completely submerged. Oilfields developed on land are now under 5 or 10 feet of water. And that is happening all the way across the coast."

But F. Rivers LeLong Jr. calls the lawsuits a hypocritical "shakedown cruise" by the same governments that have long profited from drilling.

"They aren't the good guys any more than the oil companies were," said LeLong, whose father started the Kenmore Oil Co., which is named as a defendant because it worked the Alliance field before going out of business in 1973. "To act as though they were victims in the process is a fairly laughable characterization."

What's gone is gone, but the politicians hope to keep hundreds of other square miles from disappearing. They're envisioning huge projects to divert sediment flows from the Mississippi River and build up marsh flats, barrier islands, ridges, and swamp forests.

It would cost between $50 billion and $100 billion, and Louisiana doesn't expect to have more than $25 billion to spend.

Suing oil companies "is probably the only new potential source of revenue," said Mark Davis, who directs Tulane University's Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy. "Before you tax anybody, you're going to be required, I think, to show that you've tried every other alternative. Is there anybody who owes dollars that have not been collected for this purpose?"

Originally reported by Cain Burdeau of the Associated Press on August 5, 2016.

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WASHINGTON, April 14 (UPI) -- The U.S. government said it's proposing new rules to prevent a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, though the offshore drilling industry said it's ahead of the curve.

The Interior Department proposed dozens of new rules for offshore drilling equipment in order to ensure the series of failures that led to the 2010 rig disaster and subsequent oil spill won't happen again.

"Both industry and government have taken important strides to better protect human lives and the environment from oil spills," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement.

"These proposed measures are designed to further build on critical lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon tragedy and to ensure that offshore operations are safe," she added.

A district court in Louisiana ruled in September that BP's activities at the Macondo well, beneath the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico, amounted to willful misconduct. In its 152-page ruling, the court found a series of BP failures at the well "created the catastrophic situation" that led to the 2010 spill.

offshore drilling rigThe incident left 11 rig workers dead and led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

BP leased the Deepwater Horizon from Transocean. In 2012, oil services company Halliburton was accused by BP of destroying test results on the cement used to seal the well beneath the rig.

The federal rules, if approved, would require companies to offer records up to third-party reviews and require backup equipment to close off any failed infrastructure.

The American Petroleum Institute, which represents the business interests of the oil and gas industry, said it's already created and revised more than 100 standards meant to ensure safe exploration and production.

"We are reviewing the proposed rules and hope they will complement industry's own efforts to enhance safety," API director for exploration and production Erik Milito said in a statement. "Improved standards for blowout preventers are one of the many ways industry has led the charge to make offshore operations even safer."

Original story by Daniel Graeber of UPI.

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Nearly five years after Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploding, sending gallons upon gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Now, scientists have assessed the wildlife in the Gulf, and have found that it's still suffering from the oil spill.

"Five years later, wildlife in the Gulf are still feeling the impacts of the oil spill," said Collin O'Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, in a news release. "The science is clear that this is not over-and sea turtles, dolphins, fish, and birds are still suffering from the fallout. Holding BP fully accountable and using all fines and penalties to restore the Gulf of Mexico must be a national priority."

Deepwater Horizon oil spill pelicans avoiding oilIn this latest study, the researchers examined wildlife populations. They found that dolphins on the Louisiana coast were found dead at four times historic rates in 2014, and there is increasing evidence that ongoing deaths are connected to the oil spill. In addition, endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle nests have declined after the spill, even though they were increasing before it. Exposure to oil also has been shown to cause abnormal development in many species of commercially valuable fish, including mahi-mahi and the yellowfin tuna.

"Wildlife from sperm whales to marsh ants are still feeling the effects of the disaster," said Ryan Fikes, a NWF restoration scientist. "But BP seems to prefer attacking scientists over accepting responsibility. It's time for BP to quit stalling so we can start restoring the Gulf."

These latest findings show how the Gulf is still being impacted by the spill, years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred. More specifically, it shows how not only wildlife is being impacted, but how the Gulf states may be affected as well as commercial species continue to fare poorly.

Originally posted by Catherine Griffin here.

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Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees took issue with a news statement released Monday by BP, which claims the “…Gulf environment (is) returning to pre-spill conditions” although the Deepwater Horizon oil spill Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees are still assessing the injury resulting from the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
"It is inappropriate as well as premature for BP to reach conclusions about impacts from the spill before the completion of the assessment," said the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees in a press release. "Citing scientific studies conducted by experts from around the Gulf, BP misinterprets and misapplies data while ignoring published literature that doesn’t support its claims and attempts to obscure our role as caretakers of the critical resources damaged by the spill."

oil spill hazmat workersMore than 100 million gallons of spilled oil. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is more than 10 times the size of the Exxon Valdez. From decades of experience with oil spills, experts say the environmental effects of this spill are likely to last for generations.

The state and federal trustees are engaged in a rigorous, scientific process of injury assessment and are still analyzing the data, conducting studies, and evaluating what happened, according to the trustee's release.

BP's obligation under the Oil Pollution Act is to restore the public’s natural resources injured by the Deepwater Horizon spill to the condition they would have been in but for the spill and to compensate the public for the services of natural resources injured or lost.

Natural resource trustees from Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, NOAA, DOI, USDA, EPA, and DOD to the extent of DOD-owned lands are conducting the NRDA.

 Originally posted by the Bradenton Herald.

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BP has abruptly switched legal strategies—again—in the multi-billion-dollar liability fight stemming from the April 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The company dropped a campaign to oust a settlement administrator it had accused of tolerating waste and fraud. The move seeks, in part, to mollify a federal judge in New Orleans who could sock BP with an enormous judgment in an environmental suit filed by the U.S. government.

As the five-year anniversary of the mammoth spill approaches, BP is looking to contain the already-considerable damage to its balance sheet and reputation. Beginning shortly after the disaster, which killed 11 offshore-rig workers and spewed millions of barrels of crude into the gulf, BP set aside billions for cleanup and damage claims and started making payouts. The company’s attempts to avoid protracted litigation failed, however, as certain Louisiana officials and plaintiffs’ lawyers pressed for compensation levels BP refused to meet. So far, the company has paid out more than $28 billion, but legal hostilities continue on several fronts. The eventual financial hit could easily reach $50 billion.

On one front, BP sought to remove a court-appointed administrator overseeing a settlement of certain private business and economic claims. The company accused the official, Patrick Juneau, of running a lax operation that accommodated fanciful claims unrelated to the 2010 spill. BP also alleged that Juneau tolerated rampant fraud.

Juneau denied wrongdoing. Plaintiffs’ lawyers doing business with his settlement organization said BP was trying to wriggle out of a pact that turned out to be more expensive than the company anticipated.

BP had modest success in the courts getting Juneau to modify his methods for determining damage amounts. But the company failed to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and dramatically curtail payouts. Friday, BP made a court filing in New Orleans saying it would rescind its demand for Juneau’s removal.

“This marks the beginning of a new and more productive relationship between BP and the [Juneau] claims program,” John Mingé, chairman and president of BP America, said in a prepared statement. “We appreciate the work that has been done to develop and implement improved processes to, among other things, detect and prevent the payment of fraudulent claims. We share with Mr. Juneau and the claims facility the goal of compensating the people and businesses of the gulf under the terms of the settlement agreement.”

BP originally estimated the settlement at $7.8 billion. The company now concedes that the price tag could reach $9.9 billion. The Juneau operation has already paid out $4.9 billion.

One way of understanding BP’s move today is that, having beaten up on Juneau, the company believes it has done as much as it can to slow settlement payments. BP’s motive for burying the hatchet with a prominent Louisiana lawyer who pushed back hard against the attempt to oust him might also include a desire to mollify the judge who appointed the settlement administrator, Carl Barbier of the U.S. district court in New Orleans.

Judge Barbier has overseen the bulk of the litigation and settlements related to the 2010 spill. When BP attacked Juneau, the judge stood behind his appointee and fellow prominent member of the Louisiana bar. Now, Barbier is presiding over a separate civil trial in which the U.S. Justice Department is seeking in excess of $13 billion of additional damages from BP under the Clean Water Act. Making peace with Juneau looks like an attempt to mend relations with a jurist who has tremendous discretion to determine the penalty BP will pay for its negligence five years ago.

Paul Barrett, Bloomberg, as originally posted.