Pipeline is Environmentally Destructive, Not in the Public Good
January 8, 2020, Lake Charles, LA – Today, attorneys representing Louisiana landowners whose property was taken by an oil pipeline company argued before the Third Circuit Court of Appeal for the State of Louisiana, urging the court to reverse a decision allowing expropriation of the land despite having found the company had unlawfully trespassed. The Bayou Bridge Pipeline Company (BBP) trespassed onto privately-owned land in the ecologically sensitive Atchafalaya Basin and began constructing a pipeline—including clearing trees and trenching—before beginning any legal process to obtain the land. A judge found that BBP had unlawfully entered and damaged the land, but nonetheless allowed the company to take the land using the state power of eminent domain.
“Bayou Bridge’s action against me and my fellow landowners should alarm all Louisiana property-owners,” said Katherine Aaselstad. “It demonstrated that the corporation can take anyone’s land, even in the environmentally precious Atchafalaya Basin, if they can line their own pockets, exporting energy abroad.”
After landowners sought an injunction to stop BBP from trespassing and constructing its pipeline on the land, BBP began eminent domain proceedings against the landowners. The landowners opposed the expropriation, filing counterclaims and challenging Louisiana’s delegation of the power of eminent domain to private oil companies. During a three-day trial, the court allowed evidence of general economic development and incidental benefits of oil and petroleum products, but refused to allow questioning regarding the actual users and uses of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline and adverse environmental and economic impacts. The judge ultimately found that BBP had trespassed, but allowed the private company to take the landowners’ property—awarding them just $150 each for the loss of their property and the trespass.
Today, attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights and Atchafalaya Basinkeeper urged the court to reverse its ruling allowing BBP to take the property and to find unconstitutional Louisiana’s delegation of the power of eminent domain to private oil pipeline companies. They say that, far from serving a public and necessary purpose that would justify the exercise of eminent domain, the Bayou Bridge Pipeline is contrary to the public interest.
“It is surprising to many people that pipeline companies have been handed the extraordinary power of eminent domain over Louisiana landowners,” said Pam Spees, senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “That is cause enough for concern, but as this case shows, BBP didn’t even bother to respect that very accommodating state law, and instead bull-dozed ahead, took the property, destroyed trees, built its pipeline, and then only sought an expropriation judgment after a courageous landowner sued to get them off the land.”
BBP is a joint venture of Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in North Dakota, and Phillips 66. Both companies have a lengthy record of leaks and spills. The Bayou Bridge Pipeline is the tail end of the DAPL, spanning 162.5 miles across southern Louisiana, including wetlands and the Atchafalaya Basin, the country’s largest river swamp, containing old growth trees and many endangered species.
“This case is important not only for Louisiana property owners, but for all Louisianans,” said Misha Mitchell, attorney with Atchafalaya Basinkeeper. “These landowners have stuck out their necks to demand constitutional protection and to ensure that oil pipelines are evaluated not only in terms of economic benefits but with the greater public interest in mind, including public safety and welfare.”
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.