NEW ORLEANS (CN) – The release of documents obtained through a public records request this week underscored conservationists’ suspicion of a close relationship between a pipeline company and government officials.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, on behalf of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, released 17 documents on Thursday that they obtained from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade works with communities near state oil refineries and chemical plants to address air quality issues.
Among other things, the documents appear to show that a consulting firm employed by Energy Transfer Partners, part owner of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, drafted answers to public comments related to the proposed pipeline project and sent them to officials at the Army Corps of Engineers and the DEQ.
Marshall Olson, environmental project manager for the consulting firm Perennial Environmental Services out of Houston, on March 17, 2017 sent an email with the subject line “Bayou Bridge Pipeline Project (MVN-2015-02295-WII) – Response to public comments” to James Little with the Army Corps of Engineers. Olson attached a document containing 13 pages of “draft” responses to public comments.
“James, Please find attached the draft responses to the second round of public comments received from January 12, 2017 to January 31, 2017 for the Bayou Bridge Pipeline Project,” the email says.
“As you are aware, there were a number of form letters that were received during the second comment period that were the exact same as the form letters received during the initial public comment period,” Olson’s email states. “Therefore, the last row of the response matrix references the form letter responses provided in the initial set of draft responses to public comments that were submitted to you on January 6, 2017. For your reference, I have attached an updated version of the initial response matrix to this email as well. Please let us know if you have any questions or need any additional information.”
Five days later, Monica Howard, director of environmental science for ETP, forwarded the email to Elizabeth Hill, environmental scientist staff on the water permits division of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
“FYI, if this is of any assistance in your closing out the public comments you are addressing,” Howard wrote.
Another email referenced Hill as “water permit writer” for the pipeline’s proposal.
DEQ spokesman Gregory Langley was adamant that employees for the DEQ, and not the consulting firm, responded to the public comments.
“They don’t write any of that,” Langley said, referring to the consulting firm in a phone call Friday. “They may have been doing their own responses hoping to get us to respond the same way… and the language could be similar. But they don’t write the responses themselves. That was all written here in this building by people from LDEQ.”
Langley speculated that the public submitted about 100,000 comments during the comment period. He said at least 24,000 of those pertained to water quality certification, which applies when a pipeline plans to cross wetlands. The DEQ was tasked with replying to those comments.
Langley declined to estimate how many comments were submitted in opposition to the pipeline.