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Critics of Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana Decry State & Company Surveillance of Protesters

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In Louisiana, newly disclosed documents reveal a state intelligence agency regularly spied on activists opposing construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, which would carry nearly a half-million barrels of oil per day across Louisiana’s wetlands. The documents show the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness regularly drafted intelligence memos on anti-pipeline activists, including a gathering of indigenous-led water protectors who’ve set up a protest encampment along the pipeline’s route. Other newly revealed documents show close coordination between Louisiana regulators and the company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners. This comes just one week after a U.S. district judge in Baton Rouge ordered a temporary injunction against construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline in order to “prevent further irreparable harm” to the region’s delicate ecosystems, while court challenges proceed. For more, we speak with Pastor Harry Joseph of the Mount Triumph Baptist Church. We also speak with Pamela Spees of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In Louisiana, newly disclosed documents reveal a state intelligence agency regularly spied on activists opposing construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, which would carry nearly a half-million barrels of oil per day across Louisiana’s wetlands. The documents show the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness regularly drafted intelligence memos on anti-pipeline activists, including a gathering of indigenous-led water protectors who set up a protest encampment along the pipeline’s route.

AMY GOODMAN: Other newly revealed documents show close coordination between Louisiana regulators and the company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners. In some cases, state regulators used language drafted by the pipeline company in its public documents. This comes just one week after a U.S. district judge in Baton Rouge ordered a temporary injunction against the construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline in order to prevent further irreparable harm to the region’s delicate ecosystems, while court challenges proceed.

Critics of the pipeline include retired Lieutenant General Russel Honoré, who led the relief efforts in New Orleans after Katrina. He’s featured in a new short film by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade about the pipeline.

RUSSEL HONORÉ: I’m Russel Honoré, lieutenant general of the United States Army. I spent 37 years, three months and three days in the United States Army, retired in 2008 as the 33rd commander, and I moved back to Louisiana, my home state. Most people have some reference to me in Hurricane Katrina as the joint task force commander.

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORÉ: Weapons down! Weapons down, damn it!

RUSSEL HONORÉ: The state of Louisiana has been blessed with natural resources. We call it the sportsman’s paradise. But we’re the second-largest energy producer in America. That comes at a cost. Wealth from the oil and gas industry has hijacked our democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED: Over time, our wetlands have been destroyed, much by the exploration industry. And, of course, between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, we’ve got a hundred chemical plants, all of them trying to do the minimum when it comes to clean air. When you go west from Baton Rouge, you get off into the oil patch. And you work your way toward Lake Charles, which has turned into a production corridor of oil and gas with refineries and chemical plants.

RUSSEL HONORÉ: The other issue we have is pipelines, when you had 170,000 miles already in your state. My big concern with pipelines is, we don’t have the laws, we don’t have the people, we don’t have the regulation, and we don’t have fines and penalties that motivate companies to prevent oil spills. You know how they replace pipeline now? When it breaks. And it breaks in towns, in communities. It breaks out in the swampland. It breaks next to lakes and rivers here in Louisiana. And in the case of this Bayou Bridge pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners do not have a good history. They have multiple spills way too frequently. It’s time for the people of Louisiana to stand up; otherwise, people a century from now will be cursing us because we watched this happen in plain sight.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s retired Lieutenant General Russel Honoré, who led the relief efforts in New Orleans after Katrina. Other opponents of the Bayou Bridge pipeline include members of the Mount Triumph Baptist Church in St. James, Louisiana.

CONGREGANTS: [singing] Friends don’t treat me like they used to
Since I laid my burden down.

CHURCH ADMINISTRATOR: Freetown is actually a historical black community, which is in St. James Parish on the west bank of the Mississippi River. The actual township was founded after slavery. I’m church administrator, also usher. My mom was baptized here. My grandmother was a member here. So it runs deep. Thirty years ago, we were designated industrial land use area. Currently, there are approximately 118 tanks in this area. We know that the pipelines leak. We know that the tanks do have emissions. We know that it causes cancer. We know you get upper respiratory. We know that there is asthma. We know we have skin irritations, stomach, headaches, you name it.

PASTOR HARRY JOSEPH: The Bayou Bridge pipeline is going to come in. That means that we’re going to have more tanks. We can’t afford to have nothing else in this area. That’s just going to destroy what we have. I think they have put us underneath the bus. And this ain’t nothing new. It’s always the poorest, the black and the Indians or the Hispanics. They just figure they can just walk over people. The few whites that was here, they have been bought out already. We’re going to be the ones that suffer the burdens.

CHURCH ADMINISTRATOR: They build on top of African-American communities. Well, they don’t expect a fight. And there’s no such thing as this pipeline is never going to leak. It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of when.

AMY GOODMAN: That piece produced by the Louisiana Bucket Brigades.

And for more, we’re joined by three guests. You saw in that video Pastor Harry Joseph of the more than century-old, more than 130-year-old Mount Triumph Baptist Church in St. James. Anne Rolfes is with us, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, which is producing these videos. And Pamela Spees of the Center for Constitutional Rights, senior staff attorney on the #NoBayouBridge project, she also is from Louisiana, from Lake Charles.

You’re the beginning of the pipeline, and, Reverend, you’re the end of this pipeline.

PASTOR HARRY JOSEPH: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s begin with Pam. You’re from there, and you’re bringing this lawsuit. And as we started this piece talking about the surveillance of the activists, people like the reverend, people like Anne, talk about what you have found and the significance of this pipeline project.

PAMELA SPEES: Well, you know, what we found, there are a number of lawsuits that we have filed on behalf of the groups who are opposing this pipeline. And one of them was against the Department of Environmental Quality for these records.

And what was so astonishing to see, probably not surprising for folks who have lived in Louisiana, but the fact of the surveillance, that it was confirmed, that you have intelligence officers in the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security who are doing these assessments of these small groups—right?—who are doing everything they can to engage in civil disobedience and protest this project and try to stop it, you know, before the permits. And then, you know, those assessments are being sent to all of the other law enforcement agencies and to the heads of the environmental regulatory agencies.

And yet, what we did not see in the emails that we got from this agency is any discussion of the pipeline company’s history of accidents, right? So, here you have a pipeline company which is notorious in the industry for its record of leaks and spills, and yet we didn’t see anything in these records that showed any concern, any discussion about that. And yet, what the concern is, is the folks who are opposing it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the extraordinary record of these emails and the surveillance that you uncovered, it’s as if they were like investigating a criminal operation here—

PAMELA SPEES: Right.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —just because you were opposing the pipeline. Buren “Ric” Moore, the intelligence officer who offered the emails, at one point says, quote, “In the case of terrorism, to wait for an indication of crime before investigating it is to wait too long. There is no guarantee of success, but there has to be a guarantee of effort. Let’s make it hard to hurt us. If you see something suspicious, report it.” Anne Rolfes, what do you—when you saw these emails, what was your reaction?

ANNE ROLFES: I do see something suspicious, and it’s that Energy Transfer Partners has polluted drinking water around the country. They have a track record of accidents. And that’s what the agencies clearly ought to be investigating, and not regular people who are exercising our First Amendment rights. You know, on the one hand, it’s a pretty ridiculous situation, and yet they’re forwarding a picture of me to the FBI and to the Department of Home—and to, you know, other agencies and to the National Guard. And then, when I see footage from North Dakota and from Standing Rock of the National Guard, on site, using rubber bullets on people and tear gas, I mean, it’s chilling, which is exactly what they intend.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, of course, the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota, that—also owned by Energy Transfer Partners, as is the Bayou Bridge pipeline.

ANNE ROLFES: Yes, and the Bayou Bridge pipeline is the southern leg of the Dakota Access pipeline. So, it’s connected in every way, clearly, including their surveillance techniques.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the connection of the sheriffs in Louisiana to what’s happening in North Dakota? You’ve spoken about visits.

ANNE ROLFES: Yes. So, there’s a parish called St. Charles Parish, where the sheriff, who is Greg Champagne, was president of the National Sheriffs’ Association. And so, he took a trip to Standing Rock to help the Morton County, which is where the pipeline was—the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, and came back and had a very aggressive Facebook post saying that the people who were objecting to the pipeline were violent, and castigating opponents as people who deserved law enforcement watching them. And so, again, that’s concerning for us. What we then see Sheriff Champagne do is stand in front of a gas pipeline explosion in Louisiana, just shortly thereafter, when a man was killed, saying, “No problem here.” Major, major fire in the swamp, but “Nothing to see here,” talking to the news cameras as if this is normal and as if this is OK.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Pastor Harry Joseph, the impact of, first of all, the overall industry, the energy industry, on Louisiana and specifically on your community, and your concerns about this pipeline?

PASTOR HARRY JOSEPH: Well, we already have a lot of stuff in our area. We have plants, and we have the tank farm already there. And with this pipeline coming in, that’s just telling me there are going to be some more tanks. And with the tanks that they have, they are not very much protected, because there are leaks, and they bleed. And when they bleed those tanks, we breathe whatever’s coming out. And what I’m concerned about with this one is that we don’t know what we’re going to—what’s coming through the pipe. We don’t know what we’re going to be breathing. And we already have people—like you heard already, that we are sick. People have got cancer. People are dying with cancer. Nobody wants to take responsibility for what is going on now. So, who’s going to take responsibility for what’s going to go on in the future, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what you’re facing right now.

PASTOR HARRY JOSEPH: Well, right now we’re facing—like I said, we are facing that we’re in a community where we don’t have a routeway out if something do happen. We have the Sunshine Bridge, and then we have a little town called Moonshine. And between the Sunshine Bridge and Moontown, you’re talking at least about 30 miles. And between that, they’ve got plants already there. They’ve got oil field areas—well, oil tanks. And we have people that live there. We had the land called burden land, which we have between them. That was our exit route. The plant bought that and shut it off. So now people can’t get out if they have to get out. And we’ve been fighting for at least two—at least three years to get a routeway. And our local government can’t give us a routeway.

AMY GOODMAN: Was your community consulted and your church consulted when it came to the building of this pipeline?

PASTOR HARRY JOSEPH: Yeah. Like I said, the community, we all went to—we went to court. We went to the community. We went to our local meetings. And we went in high numbers to let them know that we didn’t want any of this. But they still voted it in, because in our community we have a seven panel of councilmen, and, in our area, of three blacks and four whites. And when they voted that out, a lot of people was hurting because we had a 4-3 vote. And we just knew we was going to win this battle, but we lost it.

AMY GOODMAN: And the 4-3 vote was along color lines?

PASTOR HARRY JOSEPH: Voting four white and three blacks. And we knew we had it won, because one of the councilmen, in, I want to say, the 3rd District, he asked the question: What comes through the pipe? And they told him that they couldn’t tell him that.

AMY GOODMAN: He said, “What oil would go through the pipe?”

PASTOR HARRY JOSEPH: Through the pipe, and they told him that they couldn’t. The pipeline company told him that they couldn’t tell him. And I knew then that we had won. But at the end, he still voted yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Pamela Spees, in terms of the—what your—the way that the companies have worked together with local officials and even the state to craft regulations and legislation on this, could you talk about that, as well?

PAMELA SPEES: Well, I think there’s—you know, what we’re seeing in the records is the working together on the approval process for these projects. But we know that there’s a massive lobbying effort and, you know, that the corporate interests, the oil and gas interests, are baked into the political process. It’s just—it’s the go-to concern—right?—as opposed to folks showing up and trying to bring a different voice into the discussion. And so, the deck is really stacked. And I think what was—and that’s—you know, for folks who are from Louisiana, who grew up there, it’s something that was sort of in the air that you breathed, and you understood that that was the case. But what I think is changing now is that folks are beginning to question it, I think, after the BP spill and watching what happened at Standing Rock. And then the growing awareness about this pipeline and who’s behind it is actually bringing more folks to awareness.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the argument that the companies say, that they’re creating jobs, that they’re making it possible for the economy of Louisiana to thrive?

PAMELA SPEES: Well, what’s been so interesting about that is what these folks have documented on the job sites, right? So, all of the workers who are constructing this pipeline appear to be from out of state. You know, that’s something that these folks have documented and tried to bring to the attention of Governor John Bel Edwards, who has used this as a rallying point for support for this project.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to clip from CERAWeek, an annual energy conference in Houston. This is the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, Kelcy Warren.

KELCY WARREN: You’re talking about somebody that needs to be removed from the gene pool, we had people drilling holes in our pipe, drilling holes. Now, they didn’t know that we didn’t have oil in the pipe at the time, but had they, they would have found out in a very, very bad way. And so, you know, it’s just the—we’re combating something that’s relatively new, but it’s all of our problems. And we were slow to respond. I think I mentioned to you, Dan, when we talked earlier, that we were slow to respond to social media. We had a CEO—me—that was kind of out of touch with that a little bit, behind on that. And we don’t do that anymore. We monitor social media. And there’s constant lies being said about our company that we’re—that we’re having to police.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk about—Anne Rolfes, if you can respond to what Kelcy Warren said, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, who he was referring to?

ANNE ROLFES: In Louisiana, we are standing up to stop their pipeline. There is nobody who has their hands on the equipment, who is fooling with the equipment. And I think that’s really a distraction from the issue. You know, we understand who the violent party is. And the violent party is Energy Transfer Partners. Yes, some people have taken particular action along public—along other pipeline routes to stop the pipeline. That has happened, but that has been very rare. And what we are doing in Louisiana is peaceful civil disobedience that is within our rights. Right? And I should say that, you know, there is a reason people are taking action like that: because the systems that are supposed to be protecting us are clearly failing, as we’re seeing in Louisiana.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s a protest outside Cipriani’s today—

ANNE ROLFES: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —where U.S. Bank is being honored.

ANNE ROLFES: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Why?

ANNE ROLFES: Because U.S. Bank is receiving an award for being a good corporate citizen, when in fact they are funding and fueling the violence by Energy Transfer Partners. So we’ll be there to encourage U.S. Bank to keep the promise that it once made not to fund the pipeline, because it’s their cash flow that’s perpetuating the harm and the abuse in Louisiana. I mean, we have serious violations happening already in our state, where they are going in and chopping down cypress that are hundreds of years old, where they are going into a community that is already overwhelmed by pollution, that is already overwhelmed by racism, and adding to that problem.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Pastor Harry Joseph, what are you hoping to get accomplished in your presence here and in the continuing protest there?

PASTOR HARRY JOSEPH: Well, I’m hoping somebody listening—somebody hear us that we already have enough in our community and we don’t need nothing else, because we have people that’s living there now that are trying to figure out how they’re going to get out, because people there, we’re not rich, we are poor people, and they have already bought the white out. And we, as blacks, are there wondering what we’re going to do, because we’ve got to raise our kids. And we have our children coming up sick. So, they got a lot of people that would love to get out of this community, because there are no other things that are coming in.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we have to leave it there, but we will certainly continue to follow this story. Pastor Harry Joseph, Anne Rolfes of Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Pamela Spees of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

And we have this breaking news: President Trump has just fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replaced him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Trump announced CIA’s Deputy Director Gina Haspel will be tapped to succeed Pompeo at the CIA. The Intercept reports Gina Haspel was directly involved in the CIA’s torture program under George W. Bush. She was responsible for running a secret CIA black site in Thailand where prisoners were waterboarded and tortured.

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