L’EAU EST LA VIE CAMP, LOUISIANA — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has just granted a permit to a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) for the Bayou Bridge Pipeline (BBP) in Louisiana. The Corps neglected to perform an environmental impact review of the pipeline project that opponents say will put local communities, indigenous peoples, and the environment at risk.
ETP is the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, made famous last year by water protectors defending the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s right to clean water just outside of Bismarck, North Dakota. If completed according to plan, the BBP will connect with the Dakota Access, bringing fracked oil from North Dakota south, where it will eventually be exported overseas.
Although it issued the permit for BBP without producing an Environmental Impact Statement, despite numerous demands that it do so, the Corps nevertheless claims that it “neither supports nor opposes this project” and that it “carefully weighed the energy benefits of the project while ensuring environmental protections remain in place.”
350, a nationwide environmental justice organization, was quick to react on social media. Kendall Macke, 350’s US Keep it in the Ground Campaigner, stated:
“The Army Corps and Energy Transfer Partners should expect resistance. Bayou Bridge is another dangerous pipeline from a company that’s shown complete disregard for Indigenous rights, the land and water, and our climate.”
ETP is no stranger to resistance and activists in Louisiana are not prepared to back down.
Resistance to the BBP
Resistance to the BBP has existed since the pipeline was only a pipedream and has built exponentially since. While the pipeline resistance in North Dakota at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation garnered near constant media attention, other pipeline fights across the country and in Canada have received much less, despite growing momentum. From Minnesota to Louisiana, environmental activists and local residents who are resisting pipelines are not backing down.
“There are probably 20 or so pipelines being protested in various ways at any given time, and they affect many more reservations and traditional homelands than that,” Aaron Carapella, a Cherokee cartographer in Warner, Oklahoma, told MintPress News in 2016.
Just as at Standing Rock, a camp has been erected in Louisiana. The camp, L’eau Est La Vie (“Water Is Life”), sits atop 11 acres of land purchased by the coalition and it is in the direct pathway of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline.
Reaction to the Army Corps
MintPress had the opportunity to speak with a representative from the L’eau Est La Vie pipeline resistance camp, who said of the approval:
“We hoped that the Army Corps would respect our sovereignty and respect our opinions and the people’s opinions, but they haven’t. What we want people to know is that this is an extreme insult, an extreme act of genocide to this land and to the people here.”
The Indigenous Environmental Network released a joint statement, with leaders of organizations in the Stop Energy Transfer Partners Coalition, in response to the Army Corps’ approval of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. Responses from leaders of some of the most prominent and well-known organizations can be read below:
“The Houma Nation and all those south of the proposed Bayou Bridge pipeline route deserve the right to clean water for drinking, for bathing, for fishing, for life. We know the risks and Energy Transfer Partners has got the track record for us to know the gamble is not worth it.” — Monique Verdin, United Houma Nation Tribal Councilmember
“As a regulatory agency, if you look at ETP’s safety record, you have absolutely no cover to assert that this pipeline does not pose a threat to environmental quality in Louisiana. The state has an obligation to explore better economic opportunities for Louisianans that don’t put our drinking water at risk or destroy our wetlands.” — Alicia Cooke, 350 New Orleans
“If Energy Transfer Partners wants to provoke a giant, then that’s what they will get. Landowners, impacted communities, indigenous peoples and environmental groups have made their stance clear; for the benefit of the water, the land and Gulf Coast communities, this dirty Bayou Bridge Pipeline cannot be built. As we stood against DAPL and demand to keep fossil fuels in the ground, we stand against Bayou Bridge.” — Dallas Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network
“The Trump Administration is once again operating with reckless abandonment in its pursuit to put corporate polluters’ profits above all else. In their attempt to force this pipeline on the people of Louisiana, communities and families will face further threats of polluted air and water, the threat of explosions and spills.” — Kelly Martin, Sierra Club
“Greenpeace is proud to stand in solidarity with communities and local leadership opposing Energy Transfer Partners’ proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline. We collectively know that these pipelines leak, they spill, they explode, and they put drinking water, our climate, and the health and safety of communities at risk. They undermine Indigenous sovereignty and threaten human rights. This company has thrown everything they’ve got at trying to silence opposition to their controversial projects with intimidation tactics, including hiring unethical private security firms like TigerSwan, filing dubious lawsuits, and encouraging violent and dehumanizing treatment of indigenous communities and their allies. But we know that this movement will not be silenced. Our response: We will only grow louder!” — Diana Best, Greenpeace USA
Threats from the BBP
Energy Transfer Partners plans to construct a 162.5-mile crude-oil pipeline from Lake Charles to St. James, Louisiana. If construction takes place, numerous communities will be impacted along the route.
The oil moving through the Bayou Bridge Pipeline will come from the Dakota Access Pipeline, after originating in the fracked shale fields of North Dakota, and eventually end up overseas. Fifty-four miles of the pipeline will be located in the Louisiana Coastal Zone. The Dakota Access Pipeline and fracking fields of North Dakota are both ripe with their own controversies and are being resisted daily by activists across the country as well.
The pipeline will “directly go through 700 bodies of water. One of those is Bayou Lafourche. It is the official drinking water source for 300,000 of us and the official drinking water source of the Houma nation,” a representative from the L’eau Est La Vie camp told MintPress News. In 2016, without discussion or local input, the Bayou Lafourche Fresh Water District unanimously approved the pipeline company’s permit to run under the bayou.
According to the L’eau Est La Vie camp’s website:
“Bayou Lafourche has also historically counteracted subsidence [sinking of the Earth’s surface in response to geologic or man-man causes] in the area by introducing freshwater, sediments, and nutrients from the Mississippi River. To counteract coastal land loss, Louisiana’s Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force has been working since 2015 on a project of year-round pumping and siphoning to divert more water into Bayou Lafourche near Donaldsonville, in addition to bank stabilization and dredging.”
Communities of all shapes and sizes along the pipeline route are at risk. Many of these communities are in an area locally referred to as “cancer alley.”
“There are so many pipelines in that area that we can’t take any more. We don’t want any more,” a camp representative said. The fight against the Bayou Bridge Pipeline is a fight for everyone and for the future of the planet. The representative concluded:
“Every demographic, every cause, the Bayou Bridge Pipeline fight is relevant to. Whether it be indigenous rights, black lives, worker’s rights, environmental rights, animal rights – all those things are relevant. It has to do with all of us. This is growing problem. Everybody can be a part of this, everybody can help. It affects all of us.”
Next steps in fighting the BBP
Activists had previously been requesting that supporters write to their elected officials demanding that the Army Corps complete an Environmental Impact Statement, but the time for simply writing letters has passed. The camp was also previously requesting that supporters take a pledge to resist the BBP via the camp’s website. While supporters are still welcome to make this pledge, the time to act is now.
When asked what Americans across the country standing in solidarity with those fighting in Louisiana can do, the camp representative said it is fairly simple: “Hold events, raise money, and distribute information.” From construction assistance to monetary donations, “reach out to our camp, specifically tell us what they can do to help so we can have private conversations.”
L’eau Est La Vie is eager to use assistance appropriately and efficiently, to avoid the loss and overabundance of donations that happened in places like Standing Rock. Printable zines for sharing can be found on the camp’s website.
One of the most impactful forms of protest to come out of the Standing Rock movement was successful calls for the public to divest from large banks. Large banks continue to fund projects such as the BBP, though they are now more strategic about their choices in response to the attention Standing Rock brought. While some large banks have pulled their money from projects like DAPL and BBP, the camp is reminding Americans to continue divesting by moving money into local credit unions.
The L’eau Est La Vie camp will continue to be a source of support and information for homeowners impacted by the pipeline who have been pushed around by these companies for years. According to a camp representative:
“The company has just barrelled over the rights of the landowners. … The average price people like that got for the easements on their land, for permission to build a pipeline through their land, was ten dollars. Even $10,000 is chump change to them.”
Ten dollars is, put simply, disrespectful.
The L’eau Est La Vie camp sits upon 11 acres that is owned by the group. And in their strongest act of protest, they will continue to hold that land, for themselves and for the surrounding community that does not want or accept the BBP.
The resistance brings a lawsuit & demonization of activists
“We also are assisting in the lawsuit that’s happening the first week of January,” a camp representative told MintPress News. Their coalition has partnered with the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic to sue the pipeline company because of the extreme situation in the town of Freetown.
Almost all of Freetown’s residents are black, as the town was founded after just after the end of slavery. As the camp representative told it:
“The ancestors of our comrades in Freetown founded that town just across the river from the plantations. Now that town is filled with pipelines and giant chemical tanks. The rates of asthma and cancer are high.”
Simply put, Freetown cannot survive yet another pipeline and they’re going to fight it tooth and nail.
Not only is the daily life of a full-time, or even part-time, pipeline activist challenging in itself, some members of the U.S. government are attempting to crack down on the resistance. As the camp representative told me, “They’re eager to criminalize us as terrorists. And they’re eager to stop this voice.”
Recently, four Democrats joined 80 Republicans on a letter asking if Attorney General Jeff Sessions has enough power to treat pipeline sabotage as domestic terrorism. The letter encourages the Attorney General to treat pipeline interference as an attack on the national security of the United States. That broad definition could lead to activists who chain themselves to pipelines or equipment being treated as terrorists. Legislators are also putting pressure on Sessions to include climate activists in a criminal category.
Takeaway: no retreat, no surrender
The Army Corps approval of the permit for the Bayou Bridge Pipeline is a huge setback in the fight against it, but the fight is far from over. In fact, a permit from the Atchafalaya Levee District as well as approval from the Coastal Protection Restoration Authority are still needed before the project can proceed. According to a representative from camp, two allies of the resistance happen to sit on the board that will decide if the permit will be approved.
Those at the L’eau Est La Vie camp are not deterred, sad or scared about the Army Corps decision. The approval was expected and they are prepared to move forward, as strong as ever. In their own words:
“We’re uniting in a really great way and we’re organizing and we’ve learned from previous struggles.”
Top photo caption: If approved, the project will run though 11 parishes and cross around 600 acres of wetlands and 700 bodies of water, including wells that reportedly provide drinking water for some 300,000 families. Photograph: Alaina Dunn/ Guardian
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