After a high court overturned a Baton Rouge federal judge's stay, construction along the entire length of the Bayou Bridge pipeline is now in progress.
It's a $750 million investment and provides construction jobs for the area of the state hard-hit by the collapse of oil and gas prices a few years ago. So this is good economic news, although progress on the pipeline had some bumps across the Atchafalaya Basin.
A divided three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to lift the order stopping construction of the 25 miles or so of the pipeline in the environmentally sensitive basin.
But the builders of the pipeline and its supporters argued all along that the project complied with all state and federal regulations.
Unfairly, in our view, it was targeted by environmental groups because the builder is a venture of Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66. Energy Transfer Partners built the Dakota Access pipeline, the project that sparked a string of violent clashes between protesters and police in North Dakota in 2016 and 2017. Those headlines have been held against the project, which will be 160 miles long and connect energy corridors from Calcasieu Parish to those on the Mississippi River.
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in January, saying it violated the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws when it approved a permit for the project.
The appeals court panel's majority opinion said the company is likely to succeed on the merits of its claim that U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick abused her discretion in granting the injunction. Dick should have allowed the case to proceed "on the merits" and sought additional information about the "deficiencies" she identified in her ruling, the opinion added.
Judge W. Eugene Davis of the 5th Circuit dissented, saying he agreed with Dick that an environmental assessment of the project by the Corps did not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.
A key argument in the case involves environmental mitigation, funded by the builder, to compensate for damage done by the construction. About $21 million is being spent on a mitigation bank to replant bottomland hardwoods on land that was previously cleared to make room for cotton farms, attorneys argued.
That land is about 55 miles away from the pipeline, and opponents have said it is inadequate repayment for the cypress trees that are being felled to make room for Bayou Bridge.
Still, the law allows mitigation within a specific river basin; the Atchafalaya is a huge river swamp. Perhaps the law might be changed in the future to provide different and perhaps more appropriate forms of mitigation, but the company is within its rights to play by the rules in force now.
"This was as by-the-books as it gets," said pipeline supporter and U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre.
It was, and we are happy to see more jobs in the energy industry in Louisiana.