CONVENT, La. – Louisiana’s 23rd Judicial District Court has ruled that the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) violated the Coastal Use Guidelines when it issued Bayou Bridge Pipeline, LLC a Coastal Use Permit, allowing the company to construct and operate a crude oil pipeline through Louisiana’s Coastal Zone. The court ruled in favor of the Petitioners in the case, Pastor Harry Joseph, Genevieve Butler, H.E.L.P. association, the Gulf Restoration Network, the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, and Bold Louisiana, who argued that the DNR illegally failed to apply critical regulations under the Coastal Use Guidelines and failed to meet the agency’s duty as public trustee over the natural resources of the state. The Petitioners are represented by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic.
Genevieve Butler, resident of St. James and petitioner in the lawsuit stated: “Here in St. James, we are in desperate need for an evacuation plan that will allow us to get out fast when something spills or explodes. More facilities keep coming, and each one puts us at more risk, but none of them want to do anything about our situation. Well, now Bayou Bridge has to step up. I hope all the others see this ruling as a sign that they have to give our community the protection we deserve.”
Pastor Joseph of Mt. Triumph Baptist Church stated: “It seems like the state agency didn’t think too much about the people who live here when it was giving Bayou Bridge this permit, and neither did Bayou Bridge. So we went to court, to somebody who we felt would listen to us, and he did.”
Cherri Foytlin of Louisiana Rise, formerly Bold Louisiana, stated, "It seems like nearly every time you get news on this company, it's because Energy Transfer Partners has been a bad actor to a community somewhere. They have spilled, poisoned, destroyed, and injured their way across this country. Yet whenever we bring this up, they use their money and influence to change the conversation toward unrelated issues. I have hope that this decision will bring the focus back to where it belongs, on the people who will suffer the biggest burden while receiving the smallest benefit should this destructive project be allowed to continue."
Scott Eustis of the Gulf Restoration Network said “St. James Parish is the epicenter of pipeline accidents in Louisiana—with more accidents than anywhere else in the state. And yet the state has not given the people of St. James the tools to protect themselves from harm. This Pipeline construction is filling drainage ditches from an African American community that already floods in heavy rain. DNR has ignored us, and ignored St James, but they can’t ignore this injustice any longer.”
Dean Wilson of the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper heralded the decision: “It’s gratifying to see the judicial system hold agencies accountable because they are supposed to be protecting the people and the natural resources of the state, including the Atchafalaya Basin.”
In its April 30, 2018, decision, the court held that the DNR’s failure to apply two mandatory guidelines, Guidelines 711(A), and 719(K), eliminated “the increased protections which should have been afforded prior to issuing a permit to transfer crude oil through the neighborhoods of St. James Parish and coastal areas.” Among other things, the court ordered DNR to require Bayou Bridge Pipeline “to develop effective environmental protection and emergency or contingency plans relative to evacuations in the event of a spill or other disaster.” The court declined to rule on Petitioners’ claim that DNR also violated its public trust duty.
Guideline 711(A), contained at La. Admin. Code tit. 43 pt. I § 711(A), which the Court held that the DNR had no rational basis for failing to apply, requires that, to the maximum extent practicable, industrial and commercial uses which alter land areas or water bottoms in the Coastal Zone must take place only “on lands which have foundation conditions sufficiently stable to support the use, and where flood and storm hazards are minimal or where protection from these hazards can be reasonably well achieved, and where the public safety would not be unreasonably endangered.” The Petitioners alleged that DNR should have applied these restrictions when deciding whether to issue the Bayou Bridge Pipeline permit but did not. According to Petitioners’ attorney Elizabeth Livingston de Calderon, “The law explicitly requires that the agency consider public safety, on its own and in relation to the inevitable floods and storms, as part of a broad analysis of whether the lands and water bottoms that these pipelines run through can support this pipeline’s ongoing use.”
Guideline 719(K), contained at La. Admin. Code tit. 43 pt. I § 719(K), which the court found the agency’s failure to consider particularly troubling, requires that “effective environmental protection and emergency or contingency plans shall be developed and complied with for all mineral operations.” The Petitioners argued that the guideline requires that the agency ensure that an effective spill plan is in place – including an evacuation plan for residents of St. James – before the permit issues, so the agency’s attempt to shift that responsibility to other agencies at a later date violated the law. The court agreed that DNR’s failure to apply Guideline 719(K) was illegal.
Petitioners’ attorney Elizabeth Livingston de Calderon stated, “We are so pleased for our clients that the court recognized the importance of enforcing the mandatory public safety and environmental protection provisions under the law. This decision should ensure that the people of St. James and the lands and wetlands of the Coastal Zone receive the protection they need and deserve.”
You can find the Court's ruling here.
NOTE: This court ruling is in reference to the Coastal Use Permit issued by Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. A different lawsuit regarding Bayou Bridge’s Section 404 Permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is ongoing.