Crawfishermen fight pipeline, hope EPA will impose stricter environmental laws

Posted at 10:38 PM, Jul 05, 2018

President Trump says EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, resigned on his own accord and was not forced out.

Trump told reporters on Air Force One, he and Pruitt had been talking about his exit for "a little while," and Pruitt said he didn’t want to be a distraction.

Now, crawfishermen here in Acadiana are looking to the future and hope the new EPA director will impose stricter environmental regulations.

Fishermen say the oil and gas industry has been hurting their livelihoods over the years by building pipelines and dredging.

"But I’ve been crawfishing from the time I was about 5 or 6 years old, old enough to follow my dad and my uncle and my brothers because my whole family is a fishing family. I grew up in the basin, fishing," said Jody Meche, who is a fourth generation fisherman from Henderson.

He spends more than 200 days a year on the basin, and over the years he’s seen a decline in wildlife in the Atchafalaya Basin

"Historically this level of water would traverse across a 20 miles span of the Atchafalaya Basin. But now you can imagine the Corps [of engineers] and the pipeline and the oil and gas industry has dug these canals, these spoil banks and they’re continuous almost with no gaps," said Meche, who is also the president of the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Assoc- West (LCPA-West). "And the heat of the summer weather and the warmer weather just kind of boils and cooks and decays the vegetation and creatures in the basin. But oxygen and water flow would help that."

Meche and KATC’s Dannielle Garcia stood on the banks of the basin in Henderson, where there was a stagnant water area.

He said it’s because of loose environmental regulations as well as the pipeline construction through the area, that sand piles are building up, hurting the environment and also impacting the fishing industry.

As part of LCPA-West, Meche is suingthe Army Corps of Engineers along with EarthJustice, the Sierra Club, and the Gulf Restoration Network over granting permits that allow construction on the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, the 162.5-mile-long crude oil pipeline that runs from Lake Charles, through the basin, to St. James.

He said he joined the lawsuit because of the pipeline’s track record of disregarding the environment and in the hopes it will raise awareness of the basin.

"When all of this work was done, the dredging by the core, the dredging by the pipeline companies, the dredging by the oil and gas industry, the lack of consideration for the natural flow of things, and not trying to impact it as little as possible to where the natural conditions continue to happen [has negatively impacted the basin]," said Meche.

He has seen a major decrease in crawfishermen in the Atchafalaya Basin, going from 3,000 to less than 300.

Meche said he is not against the oil and gas industry or the Trump Administration.

But he is against how companies and the government have handled construction in the basin.

He hopes the new EPA director will pay closer attention to the needs of fisherman and the environment.

"That’s their responsibility, to protect our environment for future generations you know. Do the work to where you’re leaving it better than when you got there," he continues by saying taking care of the environment should be a bipartisan issue. "It’s an easy issue to work on, as far working across party lines. Because it’s something that’s going to affect Democrats as well as Republicans and independents."

He remains hopeful these issues can and will be fixed, so his grandchildren and others can enjoy the basin.

"I have two granddaughters and I would love them to see some of the basin that I was able to see and that their grandfather was able to see. But if we don’t start taking care of it then our future generations, those young kids, will never be able to experience the wild places that the Atchafalaya Basin has to offer," said the crawfisherman.