Judge hears testimony on pipeline’s environmental impact


BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A federal judge heard testimony Thursday that construction of a crude oil pipeline in a Louisiana swamp is tearing down irreplaceable, centuries-old trees, destroying animal habitats and jeopardizing fishermen’s livelihoods.

But the company building the Bayou Bridge pipeline though the heart of Cajun country insists that governmental regulators issued a permit for the project after thoroughly and properly assessing its ecological risks. Environmental groups have asked U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick to issue a preliminary injunction that would suspend construction of the pipeline through the environmentally fragile Atchafalaya Basin. A hearing for the groups’ request adjourned for the night without a decision by the judge and is scheduled to resume Friday. The judge set aside more than two hours for lawyers to present their arguments before she rules. On Jan. 30, Dick rejected the groups’ request for a temporary restraining order that would have stopped construction until Thursday’s hearing.

But the judge pledged to give both sides a fair and thorough hearing before she decides whether to order a halt to the pipeline construction in the basin until the case is completely resolved.

The groups, including Sierra Club, sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Jan. 11. Their suit accuses the Corps of violating the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws when it approved a permit for Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC to build the 162-mile-long 24-inch-wide pipeline from Lake Charles to St. James Parish. The Corps says it completed two environmental assessments for the project before issuing the permit. The groups claim the Corps’ review of the project was inadequate and ultimately want the court to vacate the permit. Justice Department attorney Judith Coleman said the Corps isn’t an opponent or proponent of the project. On Thursday, the judge heard several hours of testimony from five witnesses for the environmental groups. The testimony was designed to show that the construction work, including tearing down centuries-old trees to make room for the pipeline, is causing harm to the basin’s ecological system and wildlife.