Photo Caption: Dozens of protesters opposed to the Keystone XL oil pipeline held a rally on Nov.5, 2012 at the Washington, D.C., office of a firm lobbying on behalf of TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline. Four protesters were arrested after staging a sit-in and refusing to leave.
One of the first decisions for the elected President in new term will be dealing with the Keystone XL pipeline project. Recently I listened to a conference call interview* with 3 activists from Alberta, Nebraska, and Texas about current strategies in the bigger picture of long-term opposition to tar sands pipeline proposals in different parts of the U.S. and Canada. Those interviewed are leaders on the front lines of resistance: Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network’s Canadian Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign (www.ienearth.org), Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska (www.boldnebraska.org), and Ethan Nuss of the Texas Tar Sands Blockade (@KXLBlockade).
All three activists echoed the sentiment that groups throughout North America can learn from each other’s experiences in resisting expansion of tar sands mining and transport. All urged that the groups keep communicating with each other and support each other’s work.
I’ve arranged my notes from the call in the form of questions.
What’s happening with the southern KXL blockade in Texas? Ethan Nuss said the human blockade continues. For over a month protesters have blockaded pipeline construction in E.Texas by sitting in trees. They have no intentions of coming down until the pipeline is stopped. The protesters are using a variety of direct actions to stop construction. Each action has the opportunity to tell a story and bring to light the abuses on local communities. He explained that Texas and Oklahoma landowners have united in civil disobedience (CD) to stop TransCanada’s KXL pipeline. They didn’t come to this lightly and would much rather use legal tactics, but people feel they have no options left, after 4 years of petitions, lobbies, and political organizing. Multi-national corporate bullies have not respected them. Land was taken by fraudulent means, with lies from company representatives. The CD participants were met with alarming responses, such as torture tactics which violated their right to assembly. Local public police were hired by TransCanada to refuse access of food and water. Fifty people went past the police line to deliver food and supplies. More than twenty were arrested; about 100 people attended a support rally. The press is giving coverage.
What is the Texas KXL Blockade Strategy? Ethan sees the blockade action in the proud American tradition of CD. All major movements have arrived at point where existing legal lines do not permit change. Extra-legal actions and CD are necessary. They want to open legal space for the landowners to question how the company in Texas is operating and behaving across the country as well. They see their work in Texas being pertinent to other areas where pipeline resistance is underway.
What’s happening with the Northern Gateway project in Canada? Clayton Thomas-Muller answered that the status of the Northern Gateway pipeline is all a shell game. The politics are grounded in the knowledge of infrastructure intervention. One approach is mass direct action (3000 signed on for direct action to Defend the Coast in British Columbia in October). The outcome looks good—businesses, unions and the government Council are all standing in opposition. TransCanada says it is more economic to use Gateway and bring down the price of gas (false!). Gateway faces many years of legal challenges (e.g., the lack of consultation with indigenous communities, treaty infringements). Another issue is a potential takeover of areas of tar sands by a Chinese firm’s free trade bilateral agreement between Canada and China, and the right of China to contest land-locking their mineral rights.
What is happening with Trailbreaker line 9, the pipeline proposed for reversal of flow to allow tar sands crude to be transported to Portland, Maine? A number of native groups in Ontario and Quebec have been fighting the erosion of requirements for a full environmental impact assessment.
How are First Nation tribes involved with resistance? Clayton explained that many tribes are affected by the various pipeline proposals and developments. The Indigenous Environmental Network organizes for grassroots intervention against the pipeline and works on baseline education for communities in front-line extraction areas. The campaign targets the Northern Gateway and Trailbreaker, as well as the McKenzie Valley Gas project (to supply gas for Tar Sands extraction). IEN sends an anti- KXL campaigner to tribal councils and gets resolutions opposing the pipeline across their lands. They have convened gatherings; one led to the Mother Earth Accord (MEA), a political declaration opposing the KXL with particular concerns by indigenous people (treaty rights violations, health and safety, publicly-owned infrastructure such as water utilities supplying Lakota nation and non-indigenous communities, the Ogallala aquifer). MEA is significant because it has over 60 pages of endorsements, including political parties, NGO’s, tribal groups. The MEA occasioned the only direct exchange with Obama. During the White House Tribal Summit, Rosebud Sioux successfully handed the MEA directly to President at private dinner. Their corporate campaign targets include banks, e.g., Royal Bank of Scotland, etc.
What about tribal actions in the U.S.? In the Dakotas, a lot of groups both indigenous and non-indigenous are meeting in upcoming months to identify next steps forward on the northern leg of KXL and approval points. Strategies involve evoking sovereignty over sacred sites, direct legal intervention, CD, and working with “cowboy-Indian alliances” that have developed over the years. In addition to pipeline concerns, the impact from refinery operations and how they impact people have not been that visible up to now. Racialized communities of color exist amidst the big industrial refining operations. A lot of environmental racism exists in the Gulf coast around the refineries. Those voices need to be heard too, from Houston to Port Arthur, Texas.
What can we do to support your work? Clayton urged using social media to follow campaigns on twitter and facebook. He suggested sending opinion pieces to conventional media to highlight IENearth work: http://www.IENearth.org.
What’s happening in Nebraska with KXL? Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska reported on lessons learned from organizing. The advocacy group started to have a voice to work on environmental issues with a progressive perspective in 2010. Soon thereafter the Keystone XL issue came up. They decided to first organize and establish a legal structure, with people farmers and ranchers in communities where the pipeline will cross. The lesson learned from the first Keystone battle was to build an organization to take on the company. This time around Bold Nebraska is organizing landowners to tell TransCanada to talk to their legal team. New Energy Voters.Org emerged to give people a way to elect representatives that would have new energy future policy as well as Keystone concerns.
What can individuals do? One of the conference call listeners said “Our town in Connecticut purchases TransCanada electricity through a hydro project in Quebec.” Jane Kleeb urged citizens to ask each town/city government which company supplies electricity, and how much it is paying for energy from TransCanada. Ask a national group to find alternative sources of energy. Speak directly to city council to ask if aware of TC’s practices and what are alternative sources of energy that people can do. TC is not a good neighbor.
–Submitted by Susan Redlich, Volunteer with 350MA