A bald eagle, one of the many wonders a person can find in the Atchafalaya Basin.
Photo: AP

The fight against the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana isn’t looking too good. A federal district court judge had ruled back in February to halt construction of the crude oil pipeline through a sensitive wetlands region. On Friday, a federal appeals court shot that down.

That case was in a bit of a limbo state. Though construction had paused in the Atchafalaya Basin, developer Energy Transfer Partners quickly appealed the earlier decision, and another judge said construction could continue while the suit was pending in the appeals court. So, business continued as usual. Now, there’s nothing stopping construction.

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“They’ve made significant progress in the basin over the last couple of weeks,” said Misha Mitchell, a counsel on the case and attorney with the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, to Earther.

The case is continuing, however. What’s left to decide is whether the Army Corps of Engineers should’ve authorized a key permit here in the first place. Mitchell’s goal is to achieve a resolution as quickly as possible. Once the pipeline is completed, things get a little more complicated because, well, the damn thing is done.

The pipeline is nearly complete with October as the intended completion date, so these last few months will prove crucial—both in the court and on the ground.

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Environmentalists and local community groups, including members of the United Houma Nation, have been trying to stop the 163-mile pipeline since last year. The battle’s really revved up this year with the launch of a protest camp and acts of civil disobedience seemingly taking place every week. Many people are concerned about what an oil spill or even explosion would mean for their water, their lands, and their lives.

The earlier court, under District Court Judge Shelly Dick, ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t properly follow the National Environmental Policy Act when it granted a permit for construction to begin in the Atchafalaya Basin, an important habitat to migratory birds and ancient cypress trees. Chief Judge Edith Jones disagreed in her appeal decision, writing that the previous court’s decision was an “abuse of discretion.”

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This isn’t the only court case on the project, either. The federal case that just left the appeals court Friday focuses on the wetlands. Another state case, however, is concerned with people—the people in St. James Parish, in particular. They want an emergency response and evacuation plan in case of an accident, which apparently the state doesn’t think Energy Transfer Partners needs to whip up even after a court ordered it to.

It’s all a mess, man. However, opponents remain hopeful.

“What’s in our favor is that in order for them to realize their vision, they need to complete every last inch of this pipeline,” said Anne Rolfes, the executive director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental group opposed to the project, to Earther, “And it is not built yet.”

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