Hearing: Which court should hear coastal lawsuit?

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A legal tug-of-war continues in a state levee board's lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies over the erosion of wetlands.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East wants U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown to send the case back to Orleans Parish Civil District Court, where the board filed it in July.

Attorneys for Chevron USA Inc. got the lawsuit moved to federal court in August, arguing that federal laws govern many of its claims.

Since then, lawyers have filed hundreds of pages of arguments and exhibits just on the question of which court should hear the case.

Brown scheduled arguments Wednesday.

The lawsuit says oil and gas canal and pipeline work has contributed to the erosion of wetlands that protect New Orleans when hurricanes move ashore. Corrosive saltwater from a network of oil and gas access and pipeline canals has killed plants that anchored the wetlands, letting waves sweep away hundreds of thousands of coastal land, it says.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has blasted the lawsuit as a windfall for trial lawyers and his coastal protection chief, Garret Graves, said the suit would undermine Louisiana's work with the industry to rebuild wetlands. An association of state levee districts voted to oppose the suit.

Since then, however, two coastal parishes heavily dependent on the industry have filed lawsuits of their own raising similar issues.

Earlier this month, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association sued the state's attorney general, accusing him of illegally approving the Southeast Louisiana board's contract with lawyers who filed its lawsuit.

The association contends that Buddy Caldwell had no authority to approve the contract and that the suit will have "a chilling effect on the exploration, production, development and transportation" of Louisiana's oil and gas.

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