Louisiana Officials Engaged In Surveillance Of Bayou Bridge Pipeline Opponents
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is an environmental justice organization that advocates for communities most impacted by the state’s oil refineries and chemical plants. It has fought construction of Energy Transfer Partners’ Bayou Bridge oil pipeline, and newly released documents indicate activists were targets of surveillance.
The environmental justice organization and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a public records request [PDF] with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ).
James Waskom, the director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, forwarded an email on January 4 that included details on the Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s “2018 focus areas.” It was from Buren Ric Moore, an intelligence analyst at the Louisiana State Analytical & Fusion Exchange Liaison.
The analyst noted [PDF], “On 4 January 2018, the Brigade will live stream from a hearing regarding the Bayou Bridge pipeline at St. James Parish at 12:15 pm.”
L’Eau est la Vie, an indigenous encampment, was also monitored. Moore suggested the encampment was more “formally organized” than the encampment at Standing Rock setup to oppose the Dakota Access pipeline.
Meanwhile, No Bayou Bridge is organizing a resistance camp, which they call L’Eau est la Vie, French for “water is life.” Unlike the Standing Rock protest camp, L’Eau est la Vie is more formally organized. Instead of merely showing up, the indigenous-led camp requires that they be first vetted. The vetting process claims to include a written application, a phone interview, and both webinar and in-person training on topics including swamp survival skills, anti-oppression, and “direct action.” The application asks potential protesters if they have participated in resistance camps before, have received direct action training, or have previous organizing experience.
The Department of Natural Resources, the Louisiana State Police, and the Louisiana National Guard each received intelligence reports on pipeline reports. An FBI agent was copied on one of the emails.
The same documents also show coordination between representatives of Energy Transfer Partners and the very agencies in charge of awarding permits to the Bayou Bridge pipeline project.
An Energy Transfer Partners employee sent LDEQ’s Elizabeth Hill, who is a permit writer for water quality certification, “draft responses” [PDF] to assist her in “closing out the public comments” she was addressing.
“These documents expose that Bayou Bridge employees have taken over the function of the state regulators,” declared Anne Rolfes, founding Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “Throughout this process, there has been a terrible gap between the access afforded to this company and the access that those of us who live here get.”
“The door has been slammed in our faces and we have been surveilled, while an out-of-state polluter with a track record of human rights abuses and contaminating drinking water gets the red carpet,” Rolfes added.
On February 27, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick ruled the Army Corps of Engineers was “arbitrary and capricious” in granting several of the construction permits for the pipeline. She refused to accept the an environmental impact statement was unnecessary and the project could simply offset any damage by buying “credits equivalent to more than 2,000 acres of damaged wetlands at mitigation banks located in different ecological areas” along the route.
She sided with environmental groups like the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, who maintained the pipeline would likely cause “irreparable harm to both ancient trees within the Atchafalaya basin and to its hydrology, the flow of water through the basin.”
The Bayou Bridge Pipeline Project immediately filed an appeal.
CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pamela Spees said, “The documents reveal an unacceptable disparity in the public agencies’ treatment of pipeline and industry representatives in contrast to the communities they’re obligated to serve.” (She grew up in Lake Charles, a community that would be impacted by the Bayou Bridge pipeline.)
According to CCR, “Louisiana officials are aligned with a growing national trend of surveillance intended to intimidate those who exercise their First Amendment rights.”
“Since the Standing Rock camp opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota was disbanded last year, 56 bills that heighten the risk and criminal penalties of dissent have been introduced across 30 states. Many of these bills seek to frame protests as ‘riots’ and activists as ‘terrorists” or “jihadists,’ in attempts to criminalize protected free speech activity.
Spees, as well as Rolfes, indicated there were additional public records requests that would be filed with agencies named in the documents to uncover more details on how the government responded to pipeline opponents.