BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Just weeks after construction equipment for the Bayou Bridge pipeline was reportedly damaged in Assumption Parish, a new push is underway at the state capitol to create protections for those lines.
A bill by Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, would bar unauthorized entry into pipeline sites, adding them to a list of protected "critical infrastructure" that already includes refiners and chemical facilities. He argues it's a matter of public safety, and does not infringe on the rights of protesters. "If you don't damage anything, this law does not apply," he told a Senate panel Tuesday.
Under the legislation, those who intentionally do damage to one of tens of thousands of pipelines that crisscross the state could face up to 20 years behind bars and a $25,000 fine.
However, some, including crawfishermen, worry that because the bill bars entry, it could end up infringing on their rights. "We can potentially be targeted whenever we cross a pipeline or we travel within a pipeline," argued Jody Meche from Henderson, Louisiana. Meche worries they could be penalized for going out to harvest in the Atchafalaya Basin, a place he says is riddled with pipelines.
"We have that window of opportunity, it's ready, set, let's go," he said. "We got to go get 'em and we got to catch as much as we can while we can. I can't be in Baton Rouge testifying before you people, I can't be in court defending what I do for a living."
Meanwhile, some environmental activists currently protesting the Bayou Bridge pipeline worry this is giving too much power to oil companies. "I think all the environmental promises are being broken now, and what will they do when it's finished?" said Pat Trahan, who lives in Youngsville, Louisiana. She says the Bayou Bridge pipeline crosses her property.
A Senate panel approved the measure Tuesday, sending it to the full Senate for consideration. The legislation has already cleared the House. The bill was amended in Senate committee to state explicitly it cannot prevent people from peacefully protesting the pipeline.