BATON ROUGE, La. (CN) – Louisiana Governor John Bel Edward’s office complied with the records law when it turned over no documents pertaining to a records request from environmentalists seeking documents related to a proposed pipeline, a state judge ruled Friday.
State District Court Judge Wilson Fields denied the Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s request to order the governor’s office to search again for records related to all correspondence between the governor, his staff and companies involved in the pipeline company’s proposal to build a 163-mile pipeline that will come into contact with eight watersheds and cut through fragile wetlands.
After the governor’s office told the Bucket Brigade several times it had no relevant records this fall, it gave an email between staff members about a meeting between the governor and a lobbyist for the pipeline to a journalist.
After the Advocate ran a story last month that mentioned the meeting, Edward’s office sent the Bucket Brigade the email and explained it had conducted a new records search.
Fields said in his ruling from the bench Friday that the governor’s office “tried to adhere to” the Bucket Brigade’s request on a few different occasions to make sure the documents they were seeking were furnished.
“The Office of the Governor has produced and provided the documents they have in their possession – they have complied with the public record request,” Fields said.
Edward’s office turned over a “slim volume” of emails to the Louisiana Bucket Brigade related to its correspondence with lobbyist and others for the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, attorney Pamela Spees said during the hearing, but only after a journalist for the Advocate obtained the documents through a separate records request of her own.
Spees said the group is concerned records are still missing.
Matthew Block, custodian of records for the governor’s office testified Friday that the office “not by any malicious intent, but by accident,” did not find any records – emails or other correspondence, including calendar events – that pertained to the Bayou Bridge Pipeline.
Block testified that when the group asked for records related to the governor’s correspondence with the pipeline company and its affiliates, he took that to mean the environmentalists wanted to know if meetings had been scheduled – he thought the inquiry was about the governor’s calendar, he said.
Block further testified that after the group’s first request, sent in early October, turned up no relevant records and the group re-phrased the request to include specific names, he thought they wanted only external correspondences.
“I just want to be clear,” Block told Spees, referring to the email correspondence the Advocate obtained, “That record was an internal record. You did not ask for that.”
A January 16, 2018 email from the governor’s office alerted the Bucket Brigade it may not have searched its records correctly and said the agency would search again.
The next day, January 17, the Advocate ran a story in which it referred to documents obtained from the governor’s office that showed the governor had met with a lobbyist for Energy Transfer Partners – Mary Landrieu, a former Democratic senator from New Orleans, to talk about the Bayou Bridge Pipeline last year.
Energy Transfer Partners is majority owner of the pipeline, which is also owned by Phillips 66 and Sunoco.
The companies plan to build the pipeline from Lake Charles to St. John.