Employees at the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) don’t appear to take the issue of climate change and rising sea levels too seriously. That’s at least one of the takeaways from a batch of documents the Center for Constitutional Rights received through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, which it released Thursday.
Elizabeth Hill, who handles the department’s Water Quality Certifications, appears to joke about a comment extension a local nonprofit requested on a permit needed to begin construction on the 163-mile long crude oil pipeline, in an email dated October 4, 2016. “I’m sure this like every other project is going to cause global warming and rising sea levels. Since we already know that is an extension necessary?” Hill writes to James Little, a project manager for the New Orleans District of the Army Corps of Engineers, which was handling another major permit for the pipeline.
The state’s DEQ office said, in an email to Earther, the agency doesn’t have an official position on climate change, but “the secretary acknowledges the validity and seriousness of the issue.”
This email interaction is just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the documents, which the Center for Constitutional Rights released in partnership with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a local environmental group, shed light on how state government officials have been in close communications with representatives from Energy Transfer Partners, the main developer behind the pipeline project. (It’s also behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.)
The emails suggest that a contractor, Perennial Environmental Services, Energy Transfer Partners typically hires to handle permit applications influenced the language for the joint public notice the DEQ and Army Corps posted regarding the project. A rep from the contracting company sent Little, the Army Corps project manager, the language in an email dated August 30, 2016, and the state published what the company sent verbatim.
These notices inform the public of the impacts from the Bayou Bridge Pipeline’s construction. By taking language directly from its developer, pipeline opponents worry the “subjective statements” on these impacts are being skewed in favor of industry, said Anne Rolfes, executive director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, to Earther.
“The so-called regulators are sitting back, and the oil industry has taken over their offices,” Rolfes told Earther, in an email. “Our state and federal government are allowing a company with a known track record of pollution and water quality contamination to write government documents. That’s a problem.”
DEQ Press Secretary Greg Langley told Earther the water quality certification was written at the office’s headquarters, but he didn’t comment on whether that certification’s public notice also came directly from the agency, which these emails would contradict. The Army Corps did not respond to a request for comment as of publication of this article.
The newly released documents also confirm that the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) and the Louisiana State Police Department have received emails from a GOHSEP state intelligence officer, Buren Moore, on protest efforts engaged in by the Bayou Bridge Pipeline protesters, who call themselves “water protectors.
These include information on live streams on the pipeline project and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s focus areas for 2018, as well as details around the vetting process for who could join the L’Eea Est La Vie Camp, an indigenous-led resistance camp that is planning to stop the pipeline through any (nonviolent) means necessary. In Standing Rock, state officials were similarly monitoring protest efforts, and that ultimately escalated to full-on undercover infiltration from federal and state agencies. “They are clearly trying to intimidate us,” Rolfes said, “but we won’t back down.”
Earther has reached out to these offices for comment on why they are monitoring these efforts. The state police department did not respond to a request as of publication.
GOHSEP Communications Director Mike Steele clarified that the office is responsible for monitoring any event, including ones that could escalate into large protests, to maintain “institutional awareness of the issue.” This is common practice throughout the office, and Steele said they support law enforcement agencies only when requested. So far, he knows of no local agencies requesting support from the state office related to these pipeline efforts. From what Steele can tell, the information Moore communicated was all public information, as well, available to anyone on social media.
“We don’t have any investigative powers or law enforcement powers,” Steele said.
The fight against the Bayou Bridge Pipeline is quickly heating up, and its fate currently rests in the courts. A federal judge ordered construction to halt on part of the pipeline February 23. Opponents are adamant that this project would do their state no good and don’t want to see it completed. This batch of documents is the latest indicator Louisiana officials might think otherwise.