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Arguments: Does Plaquemines Parish lawsuit against oil industry belong in state or US court?

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NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge in New Orleans is likely months away from deciding whether Plaquemines Parish's lawsuit against oil companies over coastal damage belongs in state or federal court.

U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey heard arguments Wednesday and set a schedule for briefs and replies lasting into September. His decision will likely indicate whether a series of such lawsuits filed by Plaquemines and Jefferson parishes will be tried in state court or federal court.

The suits allege a variety of environmental law violations, including operating waste pits without permits and dredging canals without using techniques to prevent erosion and encroachment of salt water from the Gulf of Mexico.

The parishes want the cases returned to state district courts, where they were originally filed.

The oil companies argue the federal court has jurisdiction.

The two coastal parishes filed their lawsuits last fall, months after a New Orleans-based south Louisiana flood protection board filed its own suit against more than 90 oil and gas companies, saying the companies are partially to blame for loss of coastal wetlands that serve as a natural hurricane buffer for New Orleans.

A federal judge recently ruled that the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East lawsuit will stay in federal court. However, lawyers in the case before Zainey say the parish lawsuits involve different legal issues, so the ruling in the SLFPA case is not necessarily indicative of how Zainey will rule.

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