The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, charged with operating and maintaining the levees and floodwalls that must keep storm surge out of much of metro New Orleans, filed suit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies for their roles in the disastrous wetlands loss in the region.

The authority claims by removing the marsh and swamps that once acted as sponges cushioning storm surge, the companies increased the risk to its levee systems, resulting in higher costs to provide protection for the metro area.

Decades of research prove that such dredging is a major cause for the catastrophic loss of Louisiana’s coastal estuaries.

The action drew heated opposition from many of the state’s political leaders, among the nation’s strongest defenders of the energy industry.

But it could be welcome news to those who care about fish and wildlife–especially waterfowl.

Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, already reduced by half – some 2000 square miles – since the 1930s, are the engines that drives the most productive fishery in the lower 48. Researchers say about 90 percent of all the fish in the Gulf of Mexico are estuarine dependent, and most of those estuaries are the ones being starved of sediment by river levees, gouged by more than 10,000 miles of canals for oil and gas, and sliced by more than 50,000 miles of pipelines.

Seventy percent of all North American waterfowl winter there or use it as a vital stopover point in longer migrations. It produces about half the nation’s warm-water shrimp crop, and 35 percent of its blue-claw crabs and oysters.

And, of course, those wetlands provide storm protection for about two million residents, not to mention half the nation’s refining capacity, its largest port, and the infrastructure that carries 90 percent of the nation’s oil and gas production to other parts of the nation.

Yet it is still being lost at 16 to 25 square miles per year. At current rates of land loss and sea level rise, most of what is left will be under water before the end of the century.

The state has a Master Plan it says could stop the loss in some areas and actually begin rebuilding land in others within 50 years – but it cost $50 billion. So far Congress has been unwilling to take up the cause.

While the flood authority’s lawsuit seeks repairs of damages for the impacts of the industry on its one area, a win or even just bringing the industry to court could result in settlements that could bring one of the world’s richest industries into the effort for protecting what is left of an estuary critical to fish, wildlife, and humans.