Dean_Wilson

Atchafalaya Basinkeeper is not fundamentally against pipeline infrastructure and oil development. It was alarming for us to see a reputable publication repeat the assertions claimed by the pipeline company in support of the project.

The recent “Our Views” piece published by The Advocate on the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline asserts that there isn't a compelling reason why the pipeline should not move forward in the wake of “thorough official review.” However, what The Advocate fails to mention is that the basis of the suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is whether the official review was in fact thorough enough to comply with federal law. This portrayal of the lawsuit fails to accurately reflect the core issue: the agency’s failure to acknowledge and account for the decades of permit noncompliance in the Basin and the harms that have resulted from this failure of our environmental enforcers.

If the question is whether the new pipeline is going to threaten the Basin, then in short, the answer is yes. First, this pipeline is jointly owned by a company with an egregious spill record that cannot be ignored. Earlier this month, this company spilled 150,000 gallons of drilling fluids into wetlands in Ohio on the same site where it released 2 million gallons in April.

Other states have gone so far as to suspend permits granted to the company in recognizing its inability to comply. Were pipelines mentioned recently (within the last year) constructed by this same company less modern, safe or reliable than this one? What has urged the view of The Advocate to justify a failure to consider this specific company’s record for violation?

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Cherri Foytlin, state director of Bold Louisiana, holds a banner reading 'Stop the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.

Moreover, the construction of this additional pipeline will perpetuate and exacerbate an existing cause of harm in the Basin that cannot continue to be overlooked and ignored: noncompliance with permits and failure to enforce. The truth is that most pipeline corridors in the Basin are out of compliance with their permits, and this reality has severely impaired the Atchafalaya Basin. The Corps of Engineers has repeatedly failed to enforce the environmental laws that protect the Basin from degradation. The agency used to have four people reviewing permits for compliance, and now there are none; it used to have access to one boat used to enforce permits; now there are none. This has inhibited its role in protecting the people of Louisiana from flooding. Anyone who lives near the Basin sees, experiences and knows the truth — these pipelines have devastated the Basin. 

The Bayou Bridge pipeline is not the sole culprit. Atchafalaya Basinkeeper was recently forced to take legal action against Enterprise, a pipeline company operating in the Basin, when the company acted out of compliance by damming several waterways when building another pipeline. The Corps did not act on our behalf, and we had to legally intervene.

Our Views: Legal flak should not delay Bayou Bridge pipeline project

The Advocate expressed its hope that the courts will demand facts and not assertions. We are in agreement with this statement and likewise request facts from the company that have not been provided.

What we are asking is as fair and reasonable as it gets: enforce the permits that already exist before granting more permits and authorizing construction that will perpetuate the existing degradation. We want our congressional delegation to do its job, to stop putting pressure on the Corps to look the other way, and to make sure that proper funding is available for the regulatory agency to do its job. Out-of-compliance corridors should be put out of commission until they are put back into compliance; owners of out-of-compliance pipelines should fix the existing issues before more permits are given, and landowners should not be forced to accept liability for a pipeline that they do not own.

The sad reality is that our coast is being destroyed by lack of enforcement. This is the real experience that citizens of our state are living today, and it’s business as usual when it comes to oil development in Louisiana. The tragedy is not that these developments have been allowed to occur, but that our agencies and state have failed to account for these harms, to demand compliance, and have failed to protect constituents. Our government has the power and obligation to enforce the law and prevent these injustices. We are simply asking for our government to perform its duties and advocate for the residents of this state and generations to come.

Dean Wilson is the executive director of Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and lives in Plaquemine.