By: Bart Mihailovich
A Waterkeeper fighting a pipeline in their watershed, and urging the Army Corps to deny a permit, is a story we’ve heard many times before. But what happens when the Corps isn’t even really on the ground? Atchafalaya Basinkeeper (ABK) is finding out.
Since last year, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper has been collaborating with local citizens and NGOs in opposition to the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline, which would run 163 miles between Calcasieu and St. James parishes in Louisiana and traverse a portion of the Atchafalaya Basin, the vast wetland formed where the Atchafalaya River meets the Gulf of Mexico. ABK has submitted comments to the Army Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources. In January and February 2017, it addressed permitting and water-quality-criteria applications at public hearings before the agencies.
ABK argues that the proposed permit lacks evidence of sufficient consideration of environmental impacts on the wetlands and that the proposal by the applicant, an arm of Energy Transfer Partners, to use an existing right-of-way that is currently out of compliance, is unacceptable. Energy Transfer Partners is the Dallas-based company building the controversial 1,172-mile Dakota Access oil pipeline, a $3.7 billion project that will stretch across four states.
The Basinkeeper has also raised the issue of Energy Transfer Partners’ history of safety violations and pipeline incidents, including those involving existing pipelines in the basin. It called upon all of the agencies to deny the permits until a proper investigation into the applicant’s existing projects has been conducted, including analyses of its compliance with state and federal law, the total impact of existing and proposed projects in the Atchafalaya Basin, and the ability of the Army Corps to enforce permits without proper funding and the existence of necessary infrastructure. ABK also has contacted Region 6 EPA to request that it call for an environmental impact statement before making any decisions regarding the proposed pipeline.
“People are worried about how bad enforcement is going to be under the new [presidential] administration, but for Louisiana it can’t get any worse, because there is no number below zero,” said Dean Wilson, executive director and Basinkeeper. “We have zero people at the Corps reviewing permits for compliance, zero regulatory enforcement for activities in the basin. Although the Corps’ New Orleans District now has one enforcer, for years we had zero and they have zero boats, making it impossible for them to inspect the sites. It is because of this lack of enforcement that Energy Transfer Partners has existing pipelines in the basin that are out of compliance with their permits and are devastating our wetlands. ”
To date, the permit applications are pending before the respective agencies.
Feature image: Atchafalaya Basinkeeper Dean Wilson with his German Shepherd Shanka patrol the swamps where Dean has saved thousands of cypress trees. Photo by David Hanson.