Keystone XL: Crime Against Humanity?


Based on the same publicly available scientific information, the World Bank issues a report calling for prompt action to ward off global warming, a coalition of the world’s largest investors calls on governments to act promptly to ward off global warming, the United Nations reports that greenhouse gas levels reached a new record, and eighteen United States Senators (nine from each party) write a letter to President Obama calling on him to approve expanded fossil fuel exploitation without regard for global warming.

At the same time students at Harvard are voting to divest from fossil fuels, and grassroots groups from British Columbia to Palm Beach, Florida, to London are demonstrating in solidarity with the Tar Sands Blockade in East Texas, where that two months long non-violent direct action is aimed at stopping construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline that is designed to set off “the biggest carbon bomb on the planet” (the Canadian tar sands), amplifying the catastrophic impact of global warming.

On November 18, thousands of demonstrators paraded around the White House, calling on the President to block the Keystone XL pipeline, only to get more coverage from Canadian media than American media, where little was heard from the mainstream that was busy pursuing Twinkies, with CNN an exception.

TransCanada Pipeline Imports Canadian Oil

The current focal point for all these activities is the TransCanada construction project in East Texas, where the Tar Sands Blockade has been stepping up its tactics to slow the pipeline’s progress – or as UPI reports it: “Protests mar Keystone XL build in Texas” over a story that makes no effort to sort out facts from claims.

When President Obama put the northern section of the Keystome Pipeline on hold last March, he also signaled his bureaucracy to let the southern leg begin.  TransCanada began construction last August and when the work crossed into Texas in September, the Tar Sands Blockade set up a treehouse network with nine tree-sitters in the right-of-way for the pipeline, vowing to block construction until the pipeline was cancelled.

The White House is expected to decide whether Keystone XL can be built some time in the next month or so, and all it takes to proceed is a Presidential signature.  For President Obama, this decision will be a clear signal defining his real priorities: stopping the rise of the oceans and healing the planet, as he campaigned, or settling for short term economic gains with unknown long term consequences.

Baptist Church Sides With Tar Sands Blockade 

In Nacogdoches, Texas, the current front line between the Tar Sands Blockade and TranaCanada’s construction workers and private police, the blockaders have been surprised by the appearance of a new ally – the Austin Heights Baptist Church that has extended hospitality to the protesters. Â  The story reported by The Baptist Standard included these passages:
“Our earth-care ministry group has been involved for years in environmental projects—recycling, environmental education discussion groups, looking at how our church can reduce its carbon footprint,” Pastor Kyle Childress said”¦.    

“These are mostly kids in their 20s who are a long way from home. There are a few Texans, but most are from out-of-state—places like New York, California and Chicago. They are urban, secular young people for the most part,” Childress said. “A handful of them are churchgoing Christians, but most aren’t. Most see the church as part of the problem.””¦Â 

During one encounter, Childress talked to a 20-something protester about the pressure many churches feel to incorporate the latest technology into worship in order to appeal to young people.

“He told me, ‘If more churches were on the front lines of things that matter, they wouldn’t have any problem getting young people to church”¦’”

Biggest Action Yet in Two Month Blockade 

On November 19, over 100 protesters stepped up their non-violent efforts to slow construction, shutting down two sites for most of the day.  Local police also stepped up their violent tactics to remove the protesters  eventually arresting 11.  Cherokee County sheriff’s deputies pepper sprayed and used torture techniques on protesters who chained themselves to heavy equipment.  Deputies violently dragged away those they arrested.  Deputies pepper sprayed protesters who were just holding signs, one of them a 75-year-old woman, as CNN reported.

The following day, responding in part to police violence, local supporters in Nacogdoches joined with blockaders for a rally and candlelight vigil at Cherokee County Jail, where some protesters are still being held with high bail on extreme felony charges.  Combined bail for the 11 arrested is $132,250.

One reason for strong local support from Nacogdoches is that Keystone XL threatens local water resources.  According to a Tar Sands Blockade news release:

Today’s Day of Action [Nov. 19] is in solidarity with local landowners struggling to protect their water and land from TransCanada’s toxic tar sands pipeline. 

Keystone XL would cross 16 large rivers in Texas, including the site of today’s latest tree blockade, the scenic Angelina River. Nestled amongst 50 foot pine trees in forested bottomlands, the tree blockaders have settled in for a long standoff in protection of their fresh drinking and agricultural water. The waters downstream feed into the popular Sam Rayburn Reservoir, the largest lake entirely within the state of Texas, renowned for its angling opportunities and competitions. 

18 U.S. Senators Happy to Risk the Planet Â 

The White House has not yet responded to the letter from 18 Senators urging the President to approve the Keystone pipeline as soon as possible.  The nine Democrats (left) and nine Republicans are mostly from oil states:

Max Baucus (D-Mont.)                                     John Hoeven (R-N.D.)

Jon Tester (D-Mont.)                                        Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

Kent Conrad (D-N.D.)                                      Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas)

Mary Landrieu (D-LA)                                    Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)

Mark Pryor (D-Ark.)                                        David Vitter (R-La.)

Jim Webb (D-VA)                                              John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)

Mark Begich (D-Alaska)                                  Mike Johanns (R-Neb.

Kay Hagan (D-N.C.)                                          Richard Lugar (R-Ind.)

Joe Manchin (D-W.V.)                                    Rob Portman (R-Ohio)

Despite on the climate science available to them today, whether they’ve looked at it or not, they’ve decided that it’s in the best interest of the United States to ask the President to commit a crime against humanity.

They’re rationale, as puts it, with two false assertions to support the conclusion:

Climate change is an imaginary threat.

The fiscal cliff is not.

It’s time for real job and economic growth. Â 

TransCanada pipeline faces off against angry Texans, law, politics

The former site of David Hightower's muscadine vineyard, now a desert thanks to the work of TransCanada

TransCanada had a good September in East Texas, relentlessly clear-cutting its way through piney woods and oak groves to make way for the Keystone XL pipeline that will bring hot, pressurized, toxic tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast on its way to market in China. Despite Tar Sands Blockade establishing a tree-house barrier in Wood County, the month ended on a high note for the multi-billion dollar Canadian corporation as it won another round in court and wiped out a resisting vineyard.

Tar Sands Blockade established a tree-house encampment in the path of TransCanada’s earth-stripping equipment on September 24. Although the company encouraged sheriff’s deputies to torture two blockaders who chained themselves to a backhoe the next day, the faceoff remained peaceful but tense the rest of the week with the construction workers some 20 feet away from the trees with nine tree-sitters waiting 80 feet above.

Friday’s court decision in three eminent domain cases gave TransCanada a firmer legal basis for pressing ahead and dislodging the tree-sitters, when Jefferson County Court Judge Tom Rugg, Sr., granted the company the formal right to take possession of the land it had already been clearing. Having required TransCanada to put up more money in the surety bonds it posted, the judge concluded that “The statutory requirements for the issuance of writs of possession are now met.”

Even though the Texas Supreme Court issued a decision in March 2012 that raised the bar for pipeline companies using eminent domain, Judge Rugg denied the landowners’ request to apply the law as stated by the Supreme Court to this case. While acknowledging that the Supreme Court case, Texas Rice Land Partners v. Denbury Green Pipeline-Texas, LLC, was “perhaps the most difficult issue” in the case before him, the judge held, in effect, that even though TransCanada had not established it right to clear the land, it could continue to do so because the bonding would provide compensation to the landowners in the event that it was needed.

The judge did not address the question of how money could be a just compensation to a landowner whose was destroyed in whole or in part.

Earlier the same week, David Hightower of Winnsboro came to the end of his resistance to the pipeline clearing crews. Hightower, who was living in his childhood home after serving 40 years in the Air Force, had planted a muscadine grapevineyard and nurtured it over the years into a home business. He asked TransCanada to shift the pipeline route. TransCanada wiped out his vineyard.

The use and abuse of eminent domain, especially by pipeline companies, has been an increasingly contentious Texas issue for several years. The dispute in Denbury goes back to 2008, but by the time the court ruled in favor of the landowners, the pipelines company had already completed the pipeline.

The Supreme Court has reaffirmed the Denbury decision twice more this year. Judge Rugg’s reluctance to apply the decision to the cases before him extends the uncertainty surrounding Texas eminent domain law and some observers are saying the Texas legislature may take up the question in its next session in 2013 (the Texas legislature meets every other year).

Judge Rugg, who is serving a one-year fill-in term until a new judge is elected this fall, will eventually return to his former job in the District Attorney’s office where he worked on civil and probate cases. He took an $18,000 cut in salary, to $139,000, to serve as county judge.

Talking about the Denbury decision to local public radio, the judge observed that:

“It’s opened up a real can of worms and I’m not sure how it’s gonna get resolved”¦. That decision has left a lot of unanswered questions, so there are a lot of legal issues that will have to be sorted through over the next few years.”

Meanwhile it leaves people like the Holland family, who are part of Texas Rice Land Partners, already have some 50 or morepipelines on their property, but this is only the second time they’ve gone to court over the issue of eminent domain. The first time they were plaintiffs in the Denbury case.

TransCanada had offered the Hollands $446,864 for an easement, which the Hollands were prepared to accept on the same terms as their other pipelines. But TransCanada, with a pipeline that would be carrying a far more toxic load than the other pipelines, would not accept the usual terms, but rather wanted to be able to walk away from their pipeline any time, with no liability.

With the court order, the Hollands are to get $20,808, or about 5% of what TransCanada offered, even though a landowners’ compensation is supposed to bear some reasonable relationship to fair market value.

As David Holland put it: “There is something terribly wrong when a private company is allowed to take land for less than 5% of real world prices”¦. We are willing to grant an easement but we are not willing to assume uncompensated risks to the rest of our property.”

Tar Sands Blockade remains intent on remaining in its tree houses and mounting other actions until TransCanada abandons the pipeline. TransCanada has shown no indication it will do that.Tar Sands Blockade will be training more volunteers in non-violent direct action at an October 12-13 training camp.