Monday, January 22, 2018

Bayou Bridge Pipeline Faces Mounting Legal Challenges in Louisiana

Dean Wilson in the Atchafalaya Basin in front of a cypress tree in the proposed path of the Bayou Bridge pipeline.  [Image Credit: (c) 2018 Julie Dermansky] Click to Enlarge.
Though Energy Transfer Partners has all the permits and permissions it needs to start work on the Bayou Bridge pipeline, the project still faces multiple legal challenges. 

The162-mile pipeline, being built by the same company behind the Dakota Access pipeline, will span southern Louisiana from Lake Charles, near the Texas border, to St. James, about 60 miles west of New Orleans.  This route will cut through the Atchafalaya Basin, a national heritage area that contains America’s largest swamp. 

“If the Bayou Bridge pipeline is built, a 75-foot-wide swath of trees will be pulverized,” Dean Wilson, executive director of the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, told me, pointing to markers that surveyors recently put up along the pipeline route.  The markers gave me a clearer picture of what will be lost if the pipeline is built.

Louisiana’s Legacy Trees
Markers tied along the route of the Bayou Bridge pipeline in the Atchafalaya Basin.  [Image Credit: (c) 2018 Julie Dermansky] Click to Enlarge.
On January 15, I joined Wilson on a trip into the basin where he took Sierra Club Atchafalaya Committee Chair Harvey Stern, who is also coordinator of the Louisiana Purchase Cypress Legacy blog that identifies Louisiana’s old growth trees, and a group of activists opposed to the pipeline.  The trip’s mission was to give Stern a chance to take core samples to determine the age of some of the cypress trees in the pipeline route’s path.  This information could be used in the legal battle to stop the pipeline. 

Stern will use the core samples and measurements of the trees’ girths to calculate the approximate age of the trees.  He classifies “legacy trees” as those which were alive before 1803, when the U.S. made the Louisiana Purchase. 

Cypress tree with a legacy marker in the Atchafalaya Basin. [Image Credit: (c) 2018 Julie Dermansky] Click to Enlarge.
It troubles Stern that there is no count of the old growth cypress in the basin that would be sacrificed if the pipeline were built.  Though Louisiana’s old-growth cypress forests are all but gone, there are still numerous trees well over 200 years old that Stern believes are worth protecting. 

Wilson and Stern assert that if the pipeline had an environmental impact statement (EIS) done, it would likely have to consider the number of old growth trees destroyed and the role they play in the basin’s ecosystem.

Cypress tree in the Atchafalaya Basin that is slated to be cut down along the Bayou Bridge pipeline’s proposed route. [Image Credit: (c) 2018 Julie Dermansky] Click to Enlarge.
An EIS is required by the National Environmental Policy Act for actions that significantly affect the quality of the environment, and is used as a tool for federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions.  In this case, however, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers didn’t deem an EIS necessary for this project, and granted a permit to Energy Transfer Partners without one. 

“A project of this magnitude will certainly impact the basin,” Wilson said, “and the state needed to take such factors into account before permits were granted.”  The absence of an EIS is a point of contention for the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, the Waterkeeper Alliance, Gulf Restoration Network, and the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association, which are working with Earthjustice to reverse the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to grant a permit. 

Bayou Bridge Lawsuits Pile up
Earthjustice, a law firm committed to protecting the environment, filed a federal suit on January 7 calling for the court to repeal the permit awarded by the Army Corps.  The lawsuit alleges that the government failed to consider irreparable harm to the Atchafalaya River Basin when it approved the oil pipeline. 

Another lawsuit was filed last year by Tulane University’s Environmental Law Clinic on behalf of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade,, Gulf Restoration Network, and St. James residents. It seeks to revoke the permit granted by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which has jurisdiction over a small part of the Bayou Bridge project in the coastal zone around St. James.  The case, heard on January 3 by Louisiana’s 23rd Judicial District Court, is still under review. 

Read more at Bayou Bridge Pipeline Faces Mounting Legal Challenges in Louisiana

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