Quantcast
Energy

Maple Syrup Farmers vs. the Constitution Pipeline

The civil disobedience movement of which I'm a part, We Are Seneca Lake, opposes the transformation of a beautiful upstate New York lakeshore into a giant storage depot for natural gas from out-of-state fracking operations.

To that end, whenever possible, we like to lend a hand to those who are also fighting out-of-state fracking operations, including pipelines.

So on Friday, six Seneca Lake defenders drove across the border to stand with our brothers and sisters in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania who oppose the seizure, via eminent domain, of the Holleran-Zeffer maple grove and its transformation into a 120-foot-wide right-of-way for the proposed 128-mile-long Constitution Pipeline.

We Are Seneca Lake defenders joined two dozen other protesters in the Holleran-Zeffer maple grove. Photo credit: Colleen Boland

This pilgrimage is one that many others have made before us ever since Jan. 29 when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a partial Notice to Proceed with tree-cutting along the Pennsylvania portion of the pipeline, which will carry natural gas from the fracking fields of northeastern Pennsylvania into Schoharie County, New York—and, from there, throughout New England, Canada and possibly to overseas markets.

After visiting the maple grove, we attended the court hearing where Judge Malachy Mannion of the U.S. District Court in Scranton was ruling on whether the five defendants were guilty of contempt of court for obstructing tree cutting on their property and whether his previous order allowing the tree-cutting to make way for a shale gas pipeline could be challenged in court.

Accompanying us on yesterday's road trip was our beloved videographer, Bob Nilsson.

Nilsson had a particularly dramatic day. First, en route to the maple farm, while filming a chainsaw-wielding group of tree cutters on a nearby property, he was charged by one of them and nearly punched out.

This is Bob Nilsson, videographer for We Are Seneca Lake. Note: his name is Bob. Not “Jeff." Photo credit: Colleen Boland

Then, later that afternoon, while Nilsson was seated in the back of the courtroom in Scranton, a witness under oath wrongly fingered him as “Jeff," an individual who was alleged to have participated in obstructing a tree-cutting crew in the Holleran-Zeffer maple grove on Feb. 10.

The witness—retired state trooper Monty Morgan who now works security for the pipeline company—claimed that he recognized the gray sweatshirt and goatee.

From up on his bench, Judge Mannion sized up our videographer's clothing and facial hair.

“Is your name Jeff? What is your name, sir?"

“My name is Bob Nilsson."

But that single case of mistaken identity may ultimately have helped to play a role in the final verdict of that hearing. The lawyer who argued the case for the defense, Mike Ewall of Energy Justice Network, went on to demonstrate that Morgan could identify none of the defendants among those who were said to have prevented workers from cutting trees in recent weeks. (Energy Justice Network is the only staffed organization in northeast Pennsylvania supporting landowners facing eminent domain).

Read page 1

Ruling that the lawyers for pipeline company, Oklahoma-based Williams Partners, had inadequate proof of identity, the judge dismissed the contempt of court citation against the five defendants. The five had stood accused of flaunting the judge's previous order to allow the tree cutting—which itself upheld the decision of FERC when it denied a stay on cutting the family's maple trees earlier this month. The pipeline right-of-way requires the destruction of 200 maples on this farm alone—roughly 80 percent of the family's sugaring trees.

“We consider this a victory because the judge found insufficient proof of contempt," Ewall told me after the hearing ended. “Constitution Pipeline Company is threatening this family's livelihood for a pipeline that may never be built. They still don't have FERC's permission to construct, yet they bully and intimidate landowners while offering paltry compensation for taking their land."

Megan Holleran, 29, a family spokeswoman, agreed: “This is the best outcome that we could have hoped for." She seemed visibly relieved at the ruling, noting that her mother was one of the defendants. “We still have hope that the Constitution pipeline company will wait to cut trees until they have construction permission. We will continue to ask for that."

At the U.S. District Court in Scranton, family spokeswoman Megan Holleran speaks with the landowners. attorney, Michael Ewall after the hearing that found insufficient evidence to charge five of her family members with contempt. Photo credit: Colleen Boland

But, for those who support maple sap lines over gas pipelines, the Holleran family's triumph over the contempt charge was the only good news of the day—and could prove a Pyrrhic victory in the end.

The maple trees themselves were put on the literal chopping block.

Judge Mannion reaffirmed his earlier decision to grant eminent domain status to the pipeline company and made clear in his ruling that, from here on out, he will direct U.S. marshals to “arrest and detain people interfering with tree cutting" and that “violations of this order may result in other penalties," including the costs of additional security and the costs to the pipeline company for delays.

Further, he warned the landowners that they have “an affirmative duty" to remove people from their land who intend to obstruct the tree cutting—or they themselves will be compelled to pay such costs.

Survey stakes mark the path of the proposed Constitution pipeline as it cuts through the Holleran-Zeffer family's maple grove near New Milford, Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Colleen Boland

In other words, the property owners cannot stop their trees from falling and have no right to tell the FERC-approved tree cutters to get off their land even if ...

  • those trees are the basis of the family business.
  • the owners do not consent to the seizing of their property by eminent domain to serve the needs of a pipeline company hellbent on fossil fuel expansion.
  • the sap is already running in the sap-gathering lines, and even if the maple sugar season is heartbreakingly early this year and the emergency of fossil-fuel induced climate change hangs over us all, and any hope of survival depends on many more trees pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and much less natural gas heading to burner tips.

As the federal judge in a federal courthouse made clear yesterday, with me and an ill-treated videographer bearing witness, the rule of law dictates that the trees must fall.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Mark Ruffalo: There's No Fracking That Can Be Done Safely

Harvard Study: U.S. 'Likely Culprit' of Global Spike in Methane Emissions

Lawsuit Filed Over Oklahoma's 'Fracking' Earthquakes as Its Third Largest Quake Is Felt in 7 Other States

Second Review of EPA's Fracking Study Urges Revisions to Major Statements in Executive Summary

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Politics
Mike Pence at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, MD. Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0

Pence Family Gas Station Failures Cost Taxpayers More Than $20 Million

A failed gas station empire owned by the family of Vice President Mike Pence has left communities in his home state saddled with millions of dollars in ongoing cleanup costs, the AP reported this weekend.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Emilie Chen / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Against All Odds, Mountain Gorilla Numbers Are on the Rise

By Jason Bittel

The news coming out of East Africa's Virunga Mountains these days would have made the late (and legendary) conservationist Dian Fossey very happy. According to the most recent census, the mountain gorillas introduced to the world in Gorillas in the Mist, Fossey's book and the film about her work, have grown their ranks from 480 animals in 2010 to 604 as of June 2016. Add another couple hundred apes living in scattered habitats to the south, and their population as a whole totals more than 1,000. Believe it or not, this makes the mountain gorilla subspecies the only great apes known to be increasing in number.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
WeWork offers small businesses workspace in a collaborative community. Jonathan Wiggs / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

$20 Billion Startup WeWork Goes Vegetarian, Citing Environmental Concerns

Growing office-space startup WeWork is introducing a new flavor of corporate sustainability with its announcement Thursday that the entire company is going vegetarian, CNN Tech reported Friday.

The company of around 6,000 will no longer serve meat at events or reimburse employees for pork, red meat or poultry.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Greenpeace activists unfurled two large banners in the high bell tower of Kallio church in Helsinki, Finland on Monday. Greenpeace

'Warm Our Hearts Not Our Planet': Greenpeace Demands Climate Action From Trump and Putin

By Jessica Corbett

As U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin came together in Helsinki, Finland on Monday for a closely watched summit, Greenpeace activists partnered with a local parish to unfurl two massive banners on the Kallio church's bell tower to call on the leaders to "warm our hearts not our planet."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Many roofs were torn off when high winds from Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. U.S. Air Force photo by A1C Nicholas Dutton

Hurricane Maria Aftermath: FEMA Admits to Deadly Mistakes in Puerto Rico

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was sorely unprepared to handle Hurricane Maria and the subsequent crisis in Puerto Rico, the agency admitted in an internal performance assessment memo released last week.

FEMA's after-action report details how the agency's warehouse on the island was nearly empty due to relief efforts from Hurricane Irma when Maria made landfall last September, with no cots or tarps and little food and water.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks to staff at the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters on July 11 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

3 Ways Andrew Wheeler Can Help Restore the EPA’s Dignity and Mission

By Jeff Turrentine

Plenty has been written in the past week about Andrew Wheeler, who has taken over as interim U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator after Scott Pruitt's abrupt yet way overdue resignation. (Some of us were even writing about Wheeler months ago!)

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Health
Bob Berg / Getty Images

How Summer and Diet Damage Your DNA, and What You Can Do

By Adam Barsouk

Today, your body will accumulate quadrillions of new injuries in your DNA. The constant onslaught of many forms of damage, some of which permanently mutates your genes, could initiate cancer and prove fatal. Yet all is not doomed: The lives we lead determine how well our cells can handle this daily molecular erosion.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme / Maxime Aliaga

300+ Mammal Species Could Still Be Discovered, Scientists Say

By Sara Novak

You can't protect an animal that you don't know exists. Tapanuli orangutans, for example, are found only in the Tapanuli region of Sumatra; they were only identified as a species last year, when scientists found them to be genetically different from other Bornean and Sumatran orangutans. With just 800 left, this newly discovered species is the most critically endangered ape.

It's hard to believe that with only seven great ape species on the planet—Tapanuli, Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, eastern and western gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos—a species could have gone undiscovered until 2017. But, in fact, new research shows that many mammals still fly under the radar.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!