In St. James, Louisiana, folks are celebrating. A district judge ruled, in a judgment made public Monday, that the state Department of Natural Resources broke the law when it issued a key permit to Energy Transfer Partners for its Bayou Bridge Pipeline.
Now, the state is requiring that the company come up with environmental protection and emergency plans, in case any shit goes down.
Let’s break this down real quick. This 163-mile pipeline is set to bring crude oil south from North Dakota’s Bakken Formation. This is the same oil that runs through the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline up north. The Bayou Bridge Pipeline, however, would run from Lake Charles, Louisiana, to St. James, traversing a sensitive wetlands region and bodies of water that are invaluable to local indigenous groups like the Houma Nation.
Local groups are challenging this pipeline on a bunch of different fronts. In particular, the already-overburdened community of St. James, a largely black town with a population just over 21,000, was not having it. Especially not without some type of evacuation or emergency plan in case the pipeline spills or—even worse—explodes. So, last year, community groups like the Humanitarian Enterprise of Loving People (H.E.L.P.) and the Gulf Restoration Network filed a lawsuit against the state department for its issuing of the project’s coastal use permit.
This permit was one of the key ones necessary for the project to begin. In past projects Energy Transfer Partners has spearheaded (like Dakota Access), an emergency plan wasn’t in place before such permits.
“We already have a lot of plants here,” H.E.L.P. representative Rev. Harry Joseph, a named plaintiff, told Earther. “That would’ve made things worse because my concern was always: What if something happens? How would people get out? That’s a big thing for us that they gotta’ give us an evacuation route.”
Judge Alvin Turner saw his point, evidently. In his April 30 ruling, he called for such emergency and environmental plans to be completed before the continued use of the permit. Energy Transfer Partners, which has caught slack from environmentalists for its egregious track record with other projects elsewhere, was hoping to have this pipeline done by the second half of this year.
Without this permit, that seems unlikely. But when Earther has reached out to Energy Transfer Partners for comment, the company responded that construction will continue as planned in places not affected by the Department of Natural Resources permit. The company declined to elaborate where that would be.
The fight’s not over yet.
Update 4:13 p.m.: This post has been updated to include comment from Energy Transfer Partners.