PART IV: America Becomes Sacrifice Zone for Export Pipeline
[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 fourth of a four-part series. Read Part I, Part II and Part III.]
Dogs are territorial and bark at the wind blowing, leaves moving, sounds miles away, strange vehicles and people coming onto your property. I don't care where you live in the world. That is their nature. My dogs are scared to death of these giant machines and bark every time the workers crank up. It is a constant "parade" of TransCanada’s vehicles up and down the line. The construction of Keystone XL is only 120 feet from my house and aside from the rumbling and noise from the engines, the dogs barking for almost 10 hours per day is irritating, to say the least.
Recently, two of my grandchildren, who are used to playing anywhere in the front they want, wandered into the work area, which caused my heart to drop. I’m telling you, these people don't care about anyone or anything now, but by God, they will.
I came to East Texas nearly 30 years ago after spending all of my teen years and most of my adult life along the Houston Ship Channel, working in the oil refineries and chemical plants. I see beauty everywhere but I really like East Texas in the springtime. I bought this property to leave to my children and grandchildren—a legacy, if you will. With my sons, and now my daughter, I have done my best to instill in them the responsibility of stewardship and how to properly take care of Earth and its creatures. I went outside to check the fruit trees in my orchard last week and, as I have for 30 years, marveled at the beauty of the blossoms on the pear, cherry, apple and peach trees. I also had tears in my eyes, because only a few feet away is the pipeline that is going to carry some of the most toxic material found on Earth.
I take great pride, as a biologist and self-proclaimed naturalist, in the native plants I have protected and nurtured for more than 20 years. My wild irises, which are phenomenal, have been buried by TransCanada’s excavator and although they will live, it will be another year before they bloom again. It is all so sad and shameful that I am at a loss for words, to be quite honest. It’s profits over everything else, especially Constitutional rights.
This pipeline is being built despite massive protests and lawsuits by honest, hardworking landowners and concerned U.S. citizens. In retrospect, I should have ignored my lawyer and the lawyer for the Texas Veterans Land Board, stood my ground and never settled. I was in a situation where my back was up against the wall, with a wife who has Alzheimer's and a teen-aged daughter, and the attorneys involved led me to believe I had no choice but to settle. Hindsight is always 20/20, but looking forward, the facts in my lawsuits are irrefutable.
I claim, in my suit against TransCanada, that they have defrauded the American public, misled Texas landowners and have no right to eminent domain based on the material they are transporting. What I find extremely sad and unbelievable is that once members of the public became aware of this company's deceit and contacted the appropriate legislators and regulatory authorities, no corrective action was performed. The Texas legislature did not call for an investigation into this matter and the Texas Railroad Commission (the pipeline operator permitting agency) turned a deaf ear to this problem. I use the word "problem" because it is a "problem," not an "issue." Where are all the people who took sacred oaths to protect the public?
TransCanada, in my hearings, repeatedly referred to "bitumen" (tar sands oil) as heavy crude oil that has been "diluted." This is in the court transcript. I presented overwhelming evidence, using both federal and Texas statutory definitions, that dispel that claim, including irrefutable evidence from the U.S. Geological Survey and even the Canadian government itself. Remarkably, I have TransCanada's own website admission. Public relations pamphlets sent to residents along the pipeline path also admit to it being "bitumen." But the judge in my case was not interested in hearing the truth.
If the permit issued to TransCanada by the Texas Railroad Commission states that the "material to be transported" is crude oil, but it doesn't meet the federal or state legal definitions for crude oil, then what is it exactly? In the Final Environmental Impact Statement to the U.S. Department of State, it says the material is: diluted bitumen, synthetic crude, synthetic bitumen, raw bitumen and diluted synthetic bitumen. Beware a "bait and switch" to further confuse and mislead the public in this matter. I am not buying it and neither should you. TransCanada's lawyers can distort the facts all they want, but we see through their lies and smoke and mirrors. What I want to know is why President Obama, my elected officials, our regulatory agencies and the courts have all sided with this foreign energy company over the American people?
I have filed suit in Nacogdoches County Court At Law, which was dismissed by the judge for "lack of jurisdiction," but is now on appeal in the Texas 12th Court of Appeals in Tyler, Texas. I have also filed suit against the Texas Railroad Commission, which was also dismissed by the judge for "improper service," in spite of the fact that I followed the law to the letter. I am re-serving that suit on the elected officials in that agency and they will answer to the people before this is over.
I am also preparing a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Federal Court, Eastern District of Texas in Lufkin, where I feel good about my chances. Again, the facts are irrefutable and I think federal judges are isolated from the lobbying efforts, bully tactics and possibly even bribery being employed by TransCanada. As I wrap up my story, I want to leave you with a few final points to consider.
We must decide now, as a people, if private property rights and sovereignty of U.S. citizens are to be sacrificed for the bottom line economic interests of foreign private corporations that want to send their toxic materials to Gulf Coast refineries for export. The export fact is indisputable and even the President of the U.S. has admitted this in public statements. My land and my life's dreams have been destroyed, and for what? To line the pockets of a private company and provide fuel to China and India? This is not justice and our elected officials in the state of Texas have turned a deaf ear to our cries.
What is one to think other than that they have been paid off, are inherently ignorant or just don’t care and have their eyes on higher office? My focus will be shifting to the Texas legislature next, as this madness has to stop. There was a time in Texas, and in other states, when eminent domain and the "taking of property" was done for "public use or public need and necessity." In the global economy, it seems those days are over.
I also want to clear up the myth that the Keystone XL will help America secure our "energy independence" so we can stop "importing foreign oil" from Saudi Arabia. This is pure fantasy. First of all, Keystone XL is being built as an export pipeline, not to make America more energy independent. Second, one of the Gulf Coast refineries that is slated to process TransCanada's tar sands bitumen is Saudi Arabian. Motiva is a joint venture between Saudi Arabian Refining and Royal Dutch Shell. Do you see the irony here? Follow the corporate trail with others, like ExxonMobil and Chevron. It will boggle your mind where and why these companies get their oil. Keystone XL isn't about reducing our dependence on foreign oil, it's about using America as a sacrifice zone to get Canadian oil to foreign markets.
In this global context, there is no "public interest," there is only private corporate gain. In spite of lawsuits and overwhelming evidence to support this fact, politicians and bureaucrats, from the President on down, ignore the law and side with these corporate monsters.
I think what pisses me off more than anything is that we have a Congress that will spend trillions of dollars bailing out Wall Street, but turns a deaf ear to people like us who are fighting for basic property rights and for the future safety and health of our children and grandchildren.
I have hit many brick walls during this journey, and I am sick of hearing lawyers tell me it "can't be done." There is a Chinese Proverb, which I hung on my laboratory wall for inspiration when I was doing R&D on renewable fuels:
THE PERSON WHO SAYS IT CANNOT BE DONE SHOULD NOT INTERRUPT THE PERSON DOING IT.
The legal war is on and I am enlisting peaceful warriors to join me in this fight. My friends and family have started a website and formed a non-profit corporation to help all landowners in the U.S. legally fight this powerful oil and gas company.
I especially want to thank Stefanie Spear of EcoWatch, Tom Weis of Climate Crisis Solutions, Chris Wynnyk Wilson from Austin, Julie Dermansky from New Orleans and the wonderful young men and women of the Tar Sands Blockade for their support and for maintaining faith in my legal battles against this tyranny. Losing is not an option.
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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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Hertsgaard
What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.
Will the White House Turn Green?<p>Whether the White House changes hands is the most important climate question of the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump rejects climate science, is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, and has accelerated fossil fuel development. His climate policy seems to be, as he tweeted in January when rejecting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect New York City from storm surges, "Get your mops and buckets ready."</p><p>Joe Biden, who started the 2020 campaign with a climate position so weak that activists gave it an "F," called Trump a "climate arsonist" during California's recent wildfires. Biden backs a $2 trillion plan to create millions of jobs while slashing emissions—a Green New Deal in all but name. Equally striking, his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, has endorsed phasing out fossil fuel production—a politically explosive scientific imperative.</p><p>The race will be decided in a handful of battleground states, five of which already face grave climate dangers: Florida (hurricanes and sea-level rise), North Carolina (ditto), Texas (storms and drought), Michigan (floods), and Arizona (heat waves and drought). <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/" target="_blank">Public concern is rising</a> in these states, but will that concern translate into votes?</p>
Will Democrats Flip the Senate, and by Enough to Pass a Green New Deal?<p>With Democrats all but certain to maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate will determine whether a potential Biden administration can actually deliver climate progress. Democrats need to pick up three seats to flip the Senate if Biden wins, four if he doesn't. But since aggressive climate policy is shunned by some Democrats, notably Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia, Democrats probably need to gain five or six Senate seats to pass a Green New Deal.</p><p>Environmentalists, including the League of Conservation Voters, are targeting six Republicans who polls suggest are vulnerable.</p><ul><li>Steve Daines of Montana, who denies climate science</li><li>Martha McSally of Arizona</li><li>Thom Tillis of North Carolina</li><li>Susan Collins of Maine</li><li>Joni Ernst of Iowa (bankrolled by Charles Koch)</li><li>John James of Michigan (also a Koch beneficiary)</li></ul><p>Republican Senators are even at risk in conservative Kansas and Alaska. In both states, the Democratic candidates are physicians—not a bad credential amid a pandemic—who support climate action. In Kansas, Barbara Bollier faces an incumbent funded by Charles Koch. In Alaska, Al Gross urges a transition away from oil, though his openness to limited drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve dims his appeal to green groups. He faces incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan, who receives an 8 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters.</p>
Will Local and State Races Advance Climate Progress?<h4>THE CLIMATE HAWKS</h4><p>Under Democratic and Republican leadership alike, Washington has long been a graveyard for strong climate action. But governors can boost or block renewable energy; the Vermont and New Hampshire races are worth watching. Attorneys general can sue fossil fuel companies for lying about climate change; climate hawks are running for the top law enforcement seats in Montana and North Carolina. State legislatures can accelerate or delay climate progress, as the new Democratic majorities in Virginia have shown. Here, races to watch include Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Colorado.</p><h4>THE CLIMATE POLICY MAKERS</h4><p>Perhaps the most powerful, and most overlooked, climate policy makers are public utility commissions. They control whether pipelines and other energy infrastructure gets built; they regulate whether electric utilities expand solar and energy efficiency or stick with the carbon-heavy status quo. Regulatory capture and outright corruption are not uncommon.</p><p>A prime example is Arizona, where a former two-term commissioner known as the godfather of solar in the state is seeking a comeback. Bill Mundell argues that since Arizona law permits utilities to contribute to commissioners' electoral campaigns, the companies can buy their own regulators. Which may explain why super-sunny Arizona has so little installed solar capacity.</p><p>In South Dakota, Remi Bald Eagle, a Native American U.S. Army veteran, seeks a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which rules on the Standing Rock oil pipeline. And in what <em>HuffPost</em> called "the most important environmental race in the country," Democrat Chrysta Castaneda, who favors phasing out oil production, is running for the Texas Railroad Commission, which despite its name decides what oil, gas, and electric companies in America's leading petro-state can build.</p>
Will the Influencers Usher in a Green New Era?<h4>THE UNCOUNTED</h4><p>The story that goes largely under-reported in every U.S. election is how few Americans vote. In 2016, some 90 million, <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly four out of every 10 eligible voters</a>, did not cast a ballot. Attorney Nathaniel Stinnett claims that 10 million of these nonvoters nevertheless identify as environmentalists: They support green policies, even donate to activist groups; they just don't vote. Stinnett's <a href="https://www.environmentalvoter.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Voter Project</a> works to awaken this sleeping giant.</p><h4>THE SUNRISE MOVEMENT</h4><p>Meanwhile, the young climate activists of the <a href="http://www.sunrisemovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunrise Movement</a> are already winning elections with an unabashedly Green New Deal message. More than any other group, Sunrise pushed the Green New Deal into the national political conversation, helping Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey draft the eponymous congressional resolution. In 2020, Sunrise has helped Green New Deal champions defeat centrists in Democratic primaries, with Markey dealing Representative Joe Kennedy Jr. the first defeat a Kennedy has ever suffered in a Massachusetts election. But can Sunrise also be successful against Republicans in the general elections this fall?</p><h4>THE STARPOWER</h4><p>And an intriguing wild card: celebrity firepower, grassroots activism, and big-bucks marketing have converged behind a campaign to get Latina mothers to vote climate in 2020. Latinos have long been the U.S. demographic most concerned about climate change. Now, <a href="https://votelikeamadre.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Vote Like A Madre</a> aims to get 5 million Latina mothers in Florida, Texas, and Arizona to the polls. Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are urging mothers to make a "pinky promise" to vote for their kids' climate future in November. Turning out even a quarter of those 5 million voters, though no easy task, could swing the results in three states Trump must win to remain president, which brings us back to the first category, "Will the White House Turn Green?"</p>
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By Tony Carnie
South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world's roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It's also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.
Vincent van der Merwe at a cheetah translocation. Endangered Wildlife Trust
Under Pressure<p>Cheetah populations elsewhere in Southern Africa have not prospered over the past 50 years. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana's cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.</p><p>In contrast, South Africa's cheetah numbers have grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today. Van der Merwe, who is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Cape Town's Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), says he's confident that South Africa will soon overtake Namibia and Botswana, largely because the majority of South African cheetahs are protected and managed behind fences, whereas most of the animals in the neighboring countries remain more vulnerable on mainly unfenced lands.</p><p>Wildlife researchers Florian Weise and colleagues have reported that private stock owners in Namibia still trap cheetahs mainly for translocation, but there are few public or private reserves large enough to contain them. Weise says that conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance toward cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas to reduce indiscriminate trapping.</p><p>Van der Merwe says fences can be both a blessing and a curse. While these barriers prevent cheetahs and other wild animals from migrating naturally to breed and feed, they also protect cheetahs from the growing tide of threats from humanity and agriculture.</p><p>To simulate natural dispersion patterns that guard against inbreeding, the trust helps landowners swap their animals with other cheetah reserves elsewhere in the country. The South African metapopulation project has been so successful in boosting numbers that the trust is having to look beyond national boundaries to secure new translocation areas in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.</p><p>Cheetah translocations have been going on in South Africa since the mid-1960s, when the first unsuccessful attempts were made to move scores of these animals from Namibia. These relocations were mostly unsuccessful.</p>
Charli de Vos uses a VHF antenna to locate cheetahs in Phinda Game Reserve. Tony Carnie for Mongabay
Swinging for the Fences<p>But other wildlife conservation leaders have a different perspective on cheetah conservation strategy.</p><p>Gus Mills, a senior carnivore researcher retired in 2006 from SANParks, the agency that manages South Africa's national parks, after a career of more than 30 years in Kalahari and Kruger national parks. He says the focus should be on quality of living spaces rather than the quantity of cheetahs.</p><p>Mills, who was the founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group in 1995, and who also spent six years after retirement studying cheetahs in the Kalahari, says it's more important to properly protect and, where possible, expand the size of existing protected areas.</p><p>He also advocates a triage approach to cheetah conservation, in which scarce funds and resources are focused on protecting cheetahs in formally protected areas, rather than diluting scarce resources in an attempt to try and save every single remaining cheetah population.</p><p>"People have an obsession with numbers. But I believe that it is more important to protect large landscape and habitats properly," Mills said.</p><p>He suggests that cheetahs enclosed within small reserves live in artificial conditions: "It's almost like glorified farming."</p><p>"In the long run we have to focus on consolidating formally protected areas," he added. "Africa's human population will double by 2050, so cheetah populations in unfenced areas will become unsustainable if they are eating people's livestock."</p>
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