Opposition to the proposed Bayou Bridge pipeline is heating up as environmental groups turn to the courts to challenge not just the regulators who allowed the project, but the company behind the venture.
The conservationists filed a petition in the 19th Judicial District in Baton Rouge on Tuesday in hopes of getting a judge to compel Bayou Bridge LLC to turn over various documents. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade has also contended that the governor's office is also not meeting its obligations to turn over public records on the project.
Pipeline opponents worry that the public is being left in the dark on the construction of the proposed 162-mile crude oil pipeline that would run between Lake Charles and St. James Parish. Documents they are seeking include communications between government officials, regulators, LSU researchers and lobbyists; business records shared between the pipeline company and private security firms and any records on how the company would handle public relations over safety concern.
Environmental groups are demanding that builders of the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline turn over project records, including internal company c…
The release of more information will make the process more transparent and allow Louisiana residents to review the pipeline and whether, for example, the state and company engaged in any untoward collusion, environmental leaders said outside the courthouse Tuesday morning.
The argument against the pipeline company is technical but boils down to whether it is acting as a public agency. In seeking land for Bayou Bridge, the company claimed it could expropriate property under eminent domain because the pipeline is "in the public interest and necessity," the lawsuit quotes. If Bayou Bridge can seize people's land to bury oil infrastructure for their own profit, the company should be subject to public records laws, the suit contends.
“Eminent domain is an extraordinary and controversial power, and those most often burdened frequently lack the financial means and political clout to protect their rights in the process,” said attorney Pamela Spees, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, in a statement.
The Bayou Bridge pipeline, a controversial crude oil line proposed through the heart of the Atchafalaya Basin, cleared key permitting threshol…
The Center is representing the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, 350 New Orleans and the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper groups in the suit. Bold Louisiana leader and frequent pipeline critic Cherri Foytlin also attended on Tuesday and said the process deserves scrutiny because local residents aren't getting a beneficial project like a hospital in their backyards; they're getting a potentially dangerous pipeline that could hurt the local fishermen, and everyone needs to know whether the government and business dealings were on the up and up.
"Poor people are constantly getting stepped on by these big, rich oil companies. ... Their time is coming. Their time is now," she said.
In a written response to the suit, a Bayou Bridge spokeswoman said Tuesday that the pipeline will be a safe and reliable project that will contribute $1.8 million in property taxes in its first year and $17.6 million in sales tax during construction. However, the statement did not address the public records issues raised in the lawsuit.
Bayou Bridge attorney Jimmy Percy wrote in a December email to the environmentalists' lawyers that "we fundamentally disagree that Bayou Bridge or (majority shareholder) Energy Transfer Partners is subject to the Public Records Act in the manner that you have described, nor is either entity is obligated to produce the records requested."
The suit against the company will play out against the backdrop of a similar one involving Gov. John Bel Edwards.
In December, the Bucket Brigade filed a lawsuit against the governor's office, claiming it failed to adequately respond to a records request for information related to the pipeline. The environmental group separately sought any records of meetings or communications with two individuals affiliated with Energy Transfer Partners: former Senator Mary Landrieu, a current lobbyist for the company, and Randy Hayden, president of Creative Communications, Inc., a Louisiana public relations and lobbying firm working for pipeline developers.
There were no responsive records of meetings or communications with those two individuals, Tina Vanichchagorn, deputy executive counsel to the governor's office, replied earlier this month.
However, a response last August from the Governor's office to a separate records request regarding the pipeline, obtained by The Advocate, includes an email reference to a planned meeting regarding the pipeline between Edwards and Landrieu on January 30, 2017. The response to the records request also included a copy of an email from Hayden asking Edwards to participate in a media call about the pipeline that his company was organizing. That invitation was declined by a staff member, according to the email chain.
Vanichchagorn said there was no record in the Governor's calendar of a meeting with Landrieu last January, but did not deny that the Governor may have met with Landrieu.
"Whether or not there was a meeting, I don't know. But I can't produce a record that doesn't exist," she said.
A state judge is weighing arguments about whether to overturn a necessary permit for Bayou Bridge, the proposed crude oil pipeline that would …
She maintained that because the email in question was between two members of the Governor's staff, and not Landrieu herself, that it "would not have been responsive" to the Bucket Brigade's December request. Vanichchagorn said a "technology issue" prevented the email between Hayden and a member of staff, which would have been responsive to the environmental group's request, from turning up in search results. Her office plans to re-run the records search for the December request for information regarding Landrieu and Hayden.
Bayou Bridge, Landrieu, LSU and others have also come under scrutiny by the non-profit Public Accountability Initiative who recently published a report titled "The Power Behind the Pipelines."
"Despite substantial public opposition to the pipeline, especially from the communities along its route, the project enjoys broad political support from both major parties. The oil and gas industry has outsized power in Louisiana politics thanks to its persistent presence in the state, and oil and gas interests are major political donors. This dynamic has led to major conflicts of interest between Louisiana’s regulatory apparatus and Bayou Bridge. Former Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu is currently a paid consultant advocating for Bayou Bridge at the same time as she is a lobbyist for the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which must sign off on the project before it can be built," wrote author Robert Galbraith.
His study also questioned LSU's research ethics. The university has shown itself to be "indifferent" to oil and gas conflicts of interest from its Center for Energy Studies to its board of supervisors, Galbraith wrote. The Center, which authored a study commissioned by Energy Transfer Partners which was favorable to the construction of Bayou Bridge, is led by a professor who also runs a private oil and gas consulting firm, Galbraith wrote.
The Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and other environmentalists have sued the Army Corps of Engineers for granting a permit to allow the construction …
In addition to the public records suits, there are also pending suits against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. Pipeline opponents are asking the U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge and the 23rd Judicial District Court in St. James, respectively, to overturn those agencies' approval of Bayou Bridge.
Lauren Zanolli contributed to this report.