Environmentalists lost another round in court Friday in their continuing fight to stop the Bayou Bridge pipeline project from going forward.
The latest skirmish involved the Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s attempt to get a 19th Judicial District court judge to intervene in a battle over access to public records.
Opposition to the proposed Bayou Bridge pipeline is heating up as environmental groups turn to the courts to challenge not just the regulators…
Environmentalists had requested a variety of records from Gov. John Bel Edwards' office concerning meetings and communications between government staff and pipeline builders.
But Attorney Pam Spees of the Center for Constitutional Rights, representing the environmentalists, said the governor’s office didn’t turn over some records responsive to their request that were later mentioned in news accounts about the pipeline project.
She asked District Judge Wilson Fields to mandate the governor's office perform the search again to see if any other documents would turn up.
Fields denied the request, saying Edwards's legal team appears to have tried to comply with the records request as best they could and made additional documents available once it was discovered they hadn’t been provided.
Bayou Bridge, which recently began construction, will carry crude oil between Lake Charles and St. James. Environmental groups have brought several lawsuits against the company building the pipeline and regulators who signed off on it. A judge has previously ruled in a separate suit that the pipeline company is not subject to public records laws.
In their suit over access to records from the governor’s office, environmentalists said that Edwards's attorneys returned some documents. But they said they did not initially turn over records about contacts with former Senator Mary Landrieu and public relations professional Randy Hayden, both of whom lobbied on behalf of the pipeline.
The documents that weren’t provided in the initial response included emails with Hayden and plans to schedule a meeting with Landrieu. Those documents turned up when a freelance journalist filed a separate public records request.
Matthew Block, Edwards's executive counsel, and Tina Vanichchagorn, deputy executive counsel, said in court that there were several reasons why the Landrieu and Hayden emails were not discovered as their office went back and forth with the Bucket Brigade on the records request.
Early on, the conservation group didn't specify names of particular individuals, so the governor's office cast a wide net for responsive documents, the attorneys for the governor’s office said. And at one point, a staffer accidentally, though not maliciously, neglected to update a search input from an unrelated request, which may have narrowed the results.
The two sides also sparred in court on whether certain documents would have technically fallen under the Bucket Brigade request at all.
Block and Vanichchagorn emphasized that once records were discovered while responding to the reporter's request, they sent the new findings on to the environmentalists.
Spees said it was worth investigating what else the governor's staff missed the first time around.
"We think the search was clearly faulty and ineffective," she said.