Courthousenews.com: Louisiana Pipeline Project Spurs Demand for Land-Grab Records

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By Sabrina Canfield

BATON ROUGE, La. (CN) – Three environmental groups filed a lawsuit accusing a Louisiana pipeline company of refusing to hand over records about its claim to easements across hundreds of residents’ private properties.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in East Baton Rouge Parish District Court by lead attorney Pamela Spees with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, claims 400 parcels of private property are being taken for the construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline.

Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC – which is majority owned by Energy Transfer Partners, which also owns the Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as by Phillips 66 and Sunoco – has tried to seize even unwilling homeowners’ land on the pretext that “it has legal authority to exercise eminent domain and take private property because it is a ‘common carrier’ under Louisiana law and that its proposed pipeline is ‘in the public interest and necessity,’” according to the complaint brought on behalf of Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, Louisiana Bucket Brigade and 350 New Orleans.

The conservation groups claim that, in 2016, before it received the required permits for the proposed pipeline, Bayou Bridge Pipeline “began pursuing easements and/or servitudes across privately-owned property and expropriating the properties when negotiations with landowners failed.”

“In court filings in expropriation cases, BBP asserted ‘common carrier’ status …which includes ‘all persons engaged in the transportation of petroleum as public utilities and common carriers for hire,’” the complaint states.

Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, Louisiana Bucket Brigade and 350 New Orleans argue that, by asserting inherently sovereign power and functioning as an instrumentality of the state, BPP is subject to Louisiana’s public records law.

The groups filed a public records request last month with BBP and Energy Transfer Partners seeking disclosure of all documents related to the proposed pipeline.

In response, BBP allegedly claimed that neither it nor its parent company are subject to the Louisiana Public Records Act.

“To date, plaintiffs have received no further response or records from defendant BBP,” the complaint states.

Atchafalaya Basinkeeper is a nonprofit with a mission to protect and restore the lakes, streams, bayous, wetlands and ecosystems of the Atchafalaya Basin, which the pipeline will cross.

350 New Orleans is a nonprofit volunteer group founded to connect the Louisiana region to the international climate change movement

Louisiana Bucket Brigade says in the complaint that it is nonprofit “working for health and justice with communities that neighbor Louisiana’s oil refineries and chemical plants toward a healthy, prosperous, pollution-free and just state.”

Its director, Anne Rolfes, said in a statement that the group “will not allow Bayou Bridge to quietly seize hundreds of people’s land for private profit with no public oversight.”

“The entire process has taken place behind closed doors, leaving in the dark the local people who bear the risks this dangerous pipeline poses to our health, natural environment, and even our very livelihoods,” Rolfes said.

In response to a request for comment on the environmentalists’ public-records lawsuit, Energy Transfer Partners avoided addressing claims that it is improperly taking land from hundreds of residents and dodging records requests.

“As with any infrastructure project, we respect that there are a wide range of opinions,” Alexis Daniel, the company’s public relations specialist, said via email. “Pipelines, like Bayou Bridge, are heavily regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation for both safety and reliability, and have proven to be the safest most efficient means of transporting energy resources. This project has been in development since 2015 and has been carefully vetted by all applicable regulatory agencies and local governments along its route. We have mobilized the construction crews and have begun construction activities.”

But the environmentalist groups said in a news release that Energy Transfer Partners’ existing pipelines have a terrible track record for spills and violating regulations, pointing to a handful of examples.

For instance, the Dakota Access Pipeline had five spills in its first six months of operation, the groups said.

In addition, they claim, construction of the Mariner East 2 Pipeline in Pennsylvania was suspended for failure to comply with building requirements, and construction of the Rover Pipeline in Ohio was suspended after emails revealed an historic home was purposely demolished by the company to avoid additional costs and prolonged regulatory battles.

The groups’ lead attorney, Spees, said during a press conference Tuesday outside the Baton Rouge courthouse, “Eminent domain is an extraordinary and controversial power, and those most often burdened frequently lack the financial means and political clout to protect their rights in the process.”

“This authority is all the most dangerous and troubling when it is placed in the hands of a powerful corporation that claims it should not be subjected to the same transparency requirements as state agencies exercising that authority,” Spees added.

Tuesday’s lawsuit is just one of several legal actions taken in the past few months by groups opposed to the Bayou Bridge Pipeline.

BBP did not immediately respond Wednesday to an email request for comment. Its website says in bold black letters superimposed over cypress trees in a wetland that “Louisiana supports the Bayou Bridge Pipeline project.” It lists supporters including Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who has reportedly touted the pipeline as offering the safest means of transporting oil.

Other listed supporters include the trade group Independent Petroleum Association for America and Consumer Energy Alliance, which is supported by the oil industry and reportedly worked to defeat low carbon fuel standards and beat back climate regulation.

Ultimately, plaintiffs have repeatedly said, Louisiana and the nation need to refocus attention on developing renewable energy over pipelines.

Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, Louisiana Bucket Brigade and 350 New Orleans say Louisiana and the rest of the country need to refocus attention on developing renewable energy over pipelines.

Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas and the Dakotas already generate most of their power from renewable sources, according to a CBS Moneywatch report from last summer, which says renewables are practically free once the infrastructure is set up and offer the best solution to energy production.

This week’s lawsuit calls for an expedited hearing. A date has not yet been set.

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