PART III: Calling for Reinforcements from Behind Enemy Lines in the Fight Against Keystone XL
[Editor's note: Thanks to Michael Bishop for providing EcoWatch this firsthand account of what happens when a company like TransCanada claims eminent domain on one's property and begins building a tar sands pipeline—the southern leg of the Keystone XL. Unfortunately, this is one of many examples of corporations putting profits before human health and the environment in pursuit of extreme fossil fuel extraction. The good news is that people like Michael Bishop are fighting back. This is the third of a four-part series. Read Part I, Part II and Part IV.]
To recap where we left off … After losing the condemnation hearing, my attorney filed an appeal and we moved forward. Under Texas law, TransCanada has the right to proceed with construction; a law that I question and challenge. After the condemnation suit, they filed a writ of possession and had all rights to the property they had condemned. In the interim, the Texas Veterans Land Board (TVLB), represented by Megan Neal of the Texas Attorney General's office began speaking with my attorney regarding a "settlement." I received an email from my attorney in March 2012 telling me that she and Megan Neal were negotiating a settlement with TransCanada and that if I did not accept it, the TVLB would "foreclose" on my property. I became irate.
I had not been in default, was not in arrears and had not violated any terms or conditions of the mortgage to warrant "foreclosure." In spite of the threat, the "pending agreement for settlement" never came and I watched the survey crews from TransCanada begin their preliminary work on my property.
This included a bulldozer that began moving dirt to lay out the pathway for the pipeline. I felt betrayed by the very state legislature that I thought was there to protect me, betrayed by the elected officials that I actually helped elect into office, and betrayed by the regulatory agencies that had a mandate to protect human health and safety as well as the ground and surface water in my state. The work continued daily and my thought was that I was being invaded by a foreign entity and no one would help me.
I questioned the business acumen of TransCanada's decision to begin construction without having settled all of the legal issues they were facing. If I were a stockholder, it would be of great concern to me that the CEO of this firm was moving forward with a project that had multiple, pending lawsuits in several states and an overall negative impression of this company by the public. The company has a definitive history of lying to landowners and in many cases, "bullying" them into submission through questionable tactics.
I finally received an email and phone call from my attorney on Nov. 7, 2012 advising me that a mediation hearing had been requested by TransCanada and that I must be in Austin, Texas on Nov. 9. I attended that meeting with Johnnie Johnson, my former business partner who was leasing land from me for her biorefinery to manufacture two renewable fuels, biodiesel and ethanol.
We began the negotiation at 9 a.m. and ended around 3 p.m. that day. I had refused to take offers that were made but in the end, the mediation attorney and my attorney came into the room to explain that Megan Neal with the Attorney General's office and James Freeman, the attorney for TransCanada were present and if I did not "accept their final offer," the TVLB would foreclose on my property. I am 64 years of age and was scheduled to begin medical school in January 2013, I have a wife with severe medical problems who was recently diagnosed with dementia and a 16-year-old daughter in high school. Again, I became irate and questioned the legality of this threat of foreclosure. I immediately felt helpless and thought that all three of them were in collusion. I took the offer under coercion and extreme duress but told my former partner that when this was settled, I would sue them and sue the state of Texas.
The minute this business was settled, title to the property was transferred and foreclosure was not in my future, I took legal action. This has been a long and frustrating effort but I did manage, for three days, to shut down their work on my property through a temporary restraining order (TRO). All of the facts, supported by sworn affidavit, were presented to Judge Sinz of the Nacogdoches County Court at Law—the same judge we have been in front of from the beginning of this battle. He agreed with me as to the need and reasons for a TRO and signed the order, shutting down their work until a hearing on the facts was held.
TransCanada requested an emergency hearing three days later and the judge acted as though he had never met me and dissolved the TRO and I knew then that the fight was far from over. I also knew at that point, the system was in harmony with TransCanada, for whatever reason. This may sound conspiratorial and paranoid but the evidence is overwhelming and I am not one that believes in “coincidence,” especially when it repeats itself multiple times.
I had also filed a suit against the Railroad Commission of Texas, the permitting agency for TransCanada Keystone Pipeline XL, L.P. It was also my intention, after researching the rules and circumstances around the Army Corps of Engineers permitting for the southern leg of the pipeline, to file a suit against that agency as well.
President Obama denied this firm a permit to cross the border and build in Nebraska because of the threat or potential threat to the Ogallala Aquifer. What many people don’t know, however, is that he issued an executive order to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite the southern leg of this very same pipeline.
This was done in spite of the classification of the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer that supplies all of East Texas. It is classified by the Department of Transportation as a Class 1C aquifer, ultra-sensitive area (USA). It has the same classification as the Ogallala but the President is ignoring our concerns and even went to Cushing, Oklahoma for a photo op, where he stood in front of the TransCanada pipe that is now being laid in Texas. This is an abomination and is political hypocrisy.
Regardless of whom you supported for President, you must be concerned about the future of our water supply. TransCanada has had 14 leaks in the past year and one of them was 10,000 gallons of bitumen or tar sands "oil." If you will recall, the Enbridge spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan shut down 35 miles of river, contaminated the drinking water of a small town, spilled more than 1 million gallons of this toxic mess into that river and has cost hundreds of millions in clean up. To add insult to injury, it has not been completely remediated, given that bitumen is heavier than water and sinks to the bottom of the water. And yet, our government blindly supports this project. Why? Follow the money.
This pipeline is crossing more than 1,000 waterways, including six rivers right here in Texas and it is not a matter of if but when this pipeline will leak. As I have stated before, God help us all when this happens. And yet, there is only silence on the part of our elected officials and regulators. Lawyers circle the wagons and throw legal technicalities to keep my suit, and others, from being heard by a jury. TransCanada fears us and fears that our efforts will prevail. When they lose in court, it will be their own fault. The truth cannot be hidden and in the end, we will win a victory for the environment, for the Constitutional patriots in this country and against the massive corruption surrounding this project.
I am amazed by the lack of understanding about this project by the general public and even more amazed that people in other parts of the country are so focused on the "northern segment" while the pipeline is actually being laid right here in Texas and will begin transporting diluted bitumen, tar sands crude oil, to Gulf Coast refineries by the end of the year. So many seem oblivious to this fact.
My former business partner and my sons just formed a non-profit corporation called Landowners Against TransCanada Pipeline to assist landowners in the U.S. The website and purpose of the corporation will be published and advertised in the next week but the primary purpose is to raise money to fight TransCanada legally. TransCanada has an immense budget and financial resources. Landowners like myself do not have the financial resources and are relying on the help and kindness of people who are opposed to this project for reasons of sovereignty, arguing against eminent domain, arguing that this project will be a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and that the material to be transported is highly corrosive and toxic.
This is a real war. Those of us behind enemy lines are anxious for reinforcements to arrive.
Tom Weis served as contributing editor in this series.
Visit EcoWatch’s KEYSTONE XL page for more related news on this topic.
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By Karen Charman
When President Donald Trump visited California on September 14 and dismissed the state Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot's plea to recognize the role of climate change in the midst of the Golden State's worst and most dangerous recorded fire season to date, he gaslighted the tens of millions of West Coast residents suffering through the ordeal.
Foxes Guarding the Henhouse<p>Before he assumed power, Trump attacked regulations as unnecessary barriers to freedom and economic prosperity. Since taking office, he has targeted anything enacted by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and taken steps to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, the international effort to combat climate change. He has also staffed heads of key agencies with climate deniers of various stripes, forced out career public servants and created a hostile work environment for those who don't profess loyalty to his deregulatory agenda.</p><p>Like Trump himself, some of his cabinet choices displayed an audacious penchant for <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/27/us/donald-trump-taxes.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage" target="_blank">self-dealing</a> and abusing their positions of authority. 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Like Pruitt, Trump's first Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke aggressively attacked environmental regulations, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/05/07/epa-dismisses-half-of-its-scientific-advisers-on-key-board-citing-clean-break-with-obama-administration/" target="_blank">ditched more than 200 advisory panels</a>, and pushed to open up vast swaths of public land to oil and gas drilling. 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By Jan Ellen Spiegel
It wasn't so long ago that the issue of climate change was poised to play a huge – possibly even a decisive – role in the 2020 election, especially in the race for control of the U.S. Senate. Many people supporting Democratic candidates saw a possible Democratic majority as a hedge against a potential Trump re-election … a way to plug the firehose spray of more than 100 environmental regulation rollbacks and new anti-climate initiatives by the administration over its first term.
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Climate a Top Concern for Youths, Latinx<p>So who's still thinking climate? Mostly young voters – 18 to 25 or 29 and Latinx voters.</p><p>Climate and the environment are the top concern among young voters, just above racism and healthcare according to <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CIRCLE</a>, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, which focuses on the political life of young people in the U.S. For Latinx youth, it drops a bit but remains in the top three.</p><p>The issues young people care about have an impact on how they volunteer their time, says Kristian Lundberg, an associate researcher at CIRCLE. He says that's played out most notably through the Sunrise Movement, which focuses on climate change and the environment along with other key activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives.</p><p>He points to polling this summer that showed that 83% of 18-to-29-year-olds felt they had the power to change things. "Young people feel much more empowerment than in 2016 and 2018," Lundberg says. "It's intentional these movements are carving out space for young people. It's an important strategy."</p><p>In positions of power in these organizations, young people have developed peer-to-peer outreach on activism. And Lundberg says young people have made the leap that connects activism to voting as a lever for change. "In the past in very close races, young people breaking heavily have provided the margin of victory," he says.</p><p>CIRCLE is highlighting 10 U.S. Senate races as ones in which young voters can be decisive. Several of them have notable climate or environmental components – most prominently the Colorado and Montana races.</p><p>The Republican incumbents in each state – Cory Gardner in Colorado and Steve Daines in Montana – are running against a popular Democratic governor – John Hickenlooper in Colorado, now out of office — and Steve Bullock, still the governor of Montana. Both governors have had to balance their state's fossil fuel economic interests with supporting climate change solutions.</p>
Tying Climate Change to the Economy<p>In August, Data for Progress, a progressive research think tank, released polling on climate change – including in the battleground Senate elections in Arizona, Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina – showing voters back a Senate candidate supporting strong climate action.</p><blockquote>Climate change as 'mobilizing issue … key persuasion issue.'<br></blockquote><p>It also showed that linking climate change to the economy may be key. That means talking about clean energy and jobs together, says Danielle Deiseroth, climate data analyst for <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank">Data for Progress</a>. She says that in addition to jobs, climate change issues include climate justice and economic equality – both of heightened interest because of fallout from western wildfires.</p><p>"Climate change, we've observed over the last year or so, is a key mobilizing issue and a key persuasion issue," she says. "Climate issues can only grow support for Democratic candidates.</p><p>"I think it's pretty naive to say climate is the key issue for voters. For a lot of voters it really exemplifies so many things that are wrong with the Trump presidency," Deiseroth says.</p><p>So a factor among others. Helpful, but pivotal only in narrow circumstances.</p><p>At the League of Conservations Voters, a progressive environmentalist organization putting a lot of money and effort into the 2020 races, Senior Director of Political Affairs Craig Auster says: "I'll push back that climate change doesn't matter or isn't registering."</p><p>"It's still showing up in several Senate races. It's been playing a role in almost all of them."</p><p>Candidates are still talking about it, he says, pointing to Colorado, Montana, Iowa, and other states where ads are addressing climate and environmental issues. That shows the candidates believe their opponent is vulnerable on the issue or they're strong on it, he says.</p><p>Like others, Auster calls climate a motivator.</p><p>"Climate change matters," he says. "We have proof point after proof point about what's happening, whether it's a hurricane, a superstorm, derechos in Iowa, or wildfires out west.</p><p>"Pre-COVID it was top tier for Democratic voters along with healthcare. If COVID didn't happen I think climate would be a big deal."</p>
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