By: Waterkeeper Alliance
In 2-1 ruling, court lifts preliminary injunction and expedites appeal schedule
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit today granted a motion for stay filed by the company constructing the proposed Bayou Bridge pipeline across the Atchafalaya Basin. The motion, filed by Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC, effectively asked the Court to allow construction in the Basin to resume.
Today’s decision temporarily suspends U.S. District Court Judge Shelly Dick’s ruling late last month, granting a preliminary injunction to halt construction on the portion of the pipeline that crosses the Basin. Judge Dick granted the injunction to prevent ongoing irreparable harm to this ecological treasure while a lawsuit, filed Jan. 11, is being heard. The Court allowed construction to proceed while the company, Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, appeals the injunction ruling.
One of the three judges filed a dissent, stating that he agreed with the District Court that the Army Corps had violated the law in issuing the permits.
“Today’s ruling is a setback but it’s not the end of this fight,” said Jan Hasselman, attorney from Earthjustice representing plaintiffs in this matter. “We will keep fighting in court to protect the Atchafalaya Basin and demand that oil and gas companies such as Energy Transfer Partners finally be held accountable for decades of carelessness, incompetence and greed.”
Judge Dick found that a lawsuit filed by several groups — Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association (West), Gulf Restoration Network, Waterkeeper Alliance and Sierra Club, represented by lawyers with Earthjustice – was likely to succeed, and that construction of the 162-mile pipeline would cause grave ecological damage to the Atchafalaya Basin.
The injunction blocked construction in the Basin that threatened ancient cypress and tupelo trees in the path of the pipeline that serve as critical habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife. In addition, construction of the pipeline decreases natural flood protection in the basin, which protects millions of people in coastal Louisiana and the Mississippi River valley from Mississippi flood waters, particularly when waters are rising, as has been the case for the past few weeks. As the plaintiffs explained to the Court, construction could not lawfully commence in many portions of the pipeline due to dangerous high water conditions.
“Opening trenches during high water periods is reckless. The Atchafalaya Basin is both critical for our nation’s migratory birds and for flood protection for millions of people. Those trenches will allow river water full of sediments to fill swamps lakes and bayous,” said Dean Wilson, executive director of Atchafalaya Basinkeeper. “Decades of unrestricted oil and pipeline development and lack of enforcement had already devastated the Basin making all of us more at risk from devastating river floods.”
The Bayou Bridge pipeline project proposes to connect the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, which transports volatile and explosive Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to refineries in St. James Parish and export terminals, forming the southern leg of the Bakken Pipeline. Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), which owns the Dakota Access Pipeline and is a joint owner in the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline, has one of the worst safety and compliance records in the industry.
“In the first 11 weeks of 2018, ETP has been hit with 36 violations and $12.8 million in proposed fines by federal and state regulators for their repeated failures to comply with regulations and laws designed to prevent spills, explosions, fires, loss of life and to ensure the public safety of their oil and gas operations and pipeline construction operations in multiple states,” said Donna Lisenby with Waterkeeper Alliance. “We will continue fighting to hold this reckless company accountable for its weekly acts of water pollution and harm to communities.”
“The Bayou Bridge pipeline would pose an unacceptable risk to the wetlands, water, and communities along its route, and should never be built,” said Julie Rosenzweig, director of Sierra Club Delta Chapter. “Allowing a company with as egregious a track record as Energy Transfer Partners to move forward with construction in spite of ongoing legal challenges is unconscionable. We will continue making our case against this dirty, dangerous pipeline.”