A judge issued a setback to the company behind the Bayou Bridge pipeline, the final link needed to bring oil from the Dakota Access pipeline to refineries in St. James Parish, Louisiana. 

On Monday (May 7), a ruling made on April 30 by Louisiana’s 23rd Judicial District Court Judge Alvin Turner Jr. became public. The judge ruled that the permit that Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) granted to Energy Transfer Partners to build the 18-mile stretch of the pipeline was illegal because it did not consider how the pipeline would impact the town and its residents. He said the permit application also failed to include an emergency response plan to address spills that could occur during construction or after the pipeline was in use.  

If completed, the 163-mile Bayou Bridge pipeline would go through the riverside town of St. James Parish, a predominately African-American community that already contains dozens of refineries and industrial facilities that pose health hazards. It would also run through the Atchafalaya Basin, the nation’s largest river swamp. Bayou Bridge is owned by the same company, Energy Transfer Partners, that operates the Dakota Access pipeline.

EcoWatch reports that Judge Turner stated in his ruling: “Once constructed, this pipeline has the potential to impact some of Louisiana’s most coveted and ecologically sensitive areas such as the Atchafalaya Basin, as well as other wetlands through Louisiana.” He ordered DNR to demand that Energy Transfer Partners resubmit its permit application with a plan to deal with spills and other environmental disasters.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include St. James residents, the Gulf Restoration Network and Bold Louisiana. They are represented by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic. Per EcoWatch:

“Here in St. James, we are in desperate need for an evacuation plan that will allow us to get out fast when something spills or explodes,” said Genevieve Butler, resident of St. James and petitioner in the lawsuit, in a statement received by EcoWatch.

“More facilities keep coming, and each one puts us at more risk, but none of them want to do anything about our situation. Well, now Bayou Bridge has to step up. I hope all the others see this ruling as a sign that they have to give our community the protection we deserve.”

Pastor Harry Joseph of Mt. Triumph Baptist Church and another petitioner added, “It seems like the state agency didn’t think too much about the people who live here when it was giving Bayou Bridge this permit, and neither did Bayou Bridge. So we went to court, to somebody who we felt would listen to us, and he did.”

St. James Parish is in the state’s petrochemical industry region and is commonly called Cancer Alley, with residents frequently reporting strong chemical smells and suffering from cancer, asthma, multiple sclerosis and skin conditions caused by the toxic air.