Environmental Law in Louisiana: Why It Matters for Our Coast and Seafood Industry

August 21, 2023by Andrew Wilson0

Louisiana is a state rich in natural resources with abundant fisheries, large oil and gas reserves and rich soils deposited by the Mississippi River over thousands of years making is possible to grow huge crops of sugar cane, soybeans, cotton, rice, corn, sweet potatoes, and feed grain. In addition, Louisiana’s coast, wetlands, and waterways provide habitat for diverse wildlife, support the thriving seafood industry, and protect communities from storms and flooding by absorbing the force of hurricanes, tropical storms and wave energy in general. However, these resources are also under threat from pollution, climate change, land loss, erosion, subsidence, and other environmental challenges. That’s why environmental law in Louisiana is critical to the survival of our environment and economy for generations to come.

What is Environmental Law?

Environmental law is the body of laws and regulations that govern how people may or should interact with the natural environment and with each other. It covers a wide range of topics, such as air quality, water quality, waste management, hazardous substances, wildlife protection, abandoned oil fields, land use, and energy production. Environmental law aims to balance the needs of human development and environmental protection, while ensuring that everyone has the right to a healthy and safe environment.

Louisiana environmental issues are governed by specific federal, state, and local laws, as well as by court decisions and administrative actions of agencies which make and enforce regulations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) administers most federal environmental laws in Louisiana. Some of the major federal laws that apply to Louisiana include the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Oil Pollution Act.

In addition, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) addresses both immediate action after a release of hazardous substances as well as remediation of abandoned or failed waste disposal sites which are often labeled “Superfund sites.” This designation makes them eligible for funds to clean up such sites, but often result in litigation against or among “Responsible Parties” (“RP’s), as to who will ultimately pay for the clean-up.

Another major source of litigation is the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) which requires an Environmental Assessment (“EA”) to take place where “major federal actions occur.” Unless the EA yields a finding of no significant impact (a “FONSI”), the agency in charge must general a comprehensive “environmental impact statement” (“EIS”). As might be expected, this often leads to litigation as well. Altogether, these federal laws set national standards and requirements for environmental protection and enforcement.

However, federal laws are not enough to address the specific environmental issues and challenges that Louisiana faces. That’s why Louisiana has its own environmental laws and regulations that supplement or go beyond the federal laws.

First, environmental law in Louisiana is governed generally by the Public Trust Doctrine under Article IX § 1 of the Louisiana Constitution. This doctrine requires all public officials and agencies to balance economic needs with the health, safety, and welfare of Louisiana citizens. Second, Louisiana also has its own Environmental Quality Act, that established the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) as the primary agency responsible for implementing and enforcing environmental laws in the state. That Act also contains numerous provisions which allow for the control and regulation of environmental concerns.

Next, the EPA has delegated to LDEQ responsibility for issuing and enforcing all permits under the Federal Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. As a result, LDEQ not only has the authority to issue permits, LDEQ also conducts inspections, collects fees, imposes penalties, issues enforcement actions and takes other actions to ensure compliance with environmental laws.

Louisiana also has its own laws and regulations that deal with specific environmental topics that are relevant to the state. For example, Louisiana has laws that regulate the transportation and underground storage of natural gas, liquid hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, and other substances. Louisiana also has laws that govern the exploration, production, transportation, and conservation of oil and gas resources and its own rapidly evolving laws related to water use. Finally, the Louisiana Civil Code Articles 667-669 related to “vicinage” or the rights owed between neighbors, governs disputes about “nuisances” and the unpleasant effects of activities between adjoining properties, such as noise, odors and smoke. These state laws, together, aim to prevent waste, protect property rights, ensure public safety, stop or reduce pollution, and promote economic development.

Why is Environmental Law Important for Louisiana?

Environmental law is important for Louisiana because it affects the health and well-being of its people, its natural resources, and its economy. Environmental law addresses coastal erosion, pollution, and water quality, among other issues.

Milling Benson Woodward attorney Andrew Wilson has decades of experience handling cases relating to environmental law in Louisiana. Mr. Wilson and his team have represented clients in various environmental law matters, such as:

  • Permitting and compliance
  • Enforcement and litigation
  • Environmental due diligence and transactions
  • Environmental remediation and liability
  • Natural resource damage assessment and restoration
  • Statewide Order 29B oilfield site remediation
  • Pollution and spill response
  • Oyster lease damage
  • Litigation of nuisances
  • Wetland issues
    Groundwater contamination

The Milling team of skilled and knowledgeable attorneys can help you navigate the complex and evolving environmental laws and regulations that apply to circumstances in Louisiana.

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