April 28, 2017, the FERC in Washington — Beyond Extreme Energy once again used food and friendliness to communicate a serious message at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a $5 billion high pressure fracked gas pipeline proposed for WV, VA, and NC. Among its many potential harms, it would negatively impact farmland and farm families along its 550 mile route. BXE’s sweet potato action gave voice to impacted communities in all three states while focusing on the particular concerns of sweet potato farmers in NC (NC is the nation’s leading producer of sweet potatoes).
Atlantic Coast Pipeline co-developers Dominion Resources and Duke Energy together are valued at one fifth of a trillion dollars—and friends, that’s trillion with a “t”. So the 550 mile, $5 billion fracked gas pipeline project they announced several years ago must be a done deal by now, right?
Wrong. As delays to the project mount, opposition to the energy companies’ plan continues to stiffen. In Natural Bridge, Virginia recently, nearly two hundred landowners, legal experts, property rights defenders, consumer advocates, and environmental activists assembled mid-November for a full day strategy session about how best to further their collaboration on their common goal of stopping the ACP. As an attendee from North Carolina, I was impressed by how advanced this organizing already is. From the beginning, Virginia has led the way in grassroots opposition to the pipeline.
But now my state is catching up. On Saturday, November 19, three impacted North Carolina counties staged coordinated, simultaneous marches to draw attention to the pipeline and to educate their communities about possibilities for resistance. As announced in a joint press conference held November 15, each march was planned and sponsored by a local community organization. In rural Nash County, the organizers were from a group called Nash Stop The Pipeline. In Cumberland County, home to Fayetteville and the Ft. Bragg military base, planners were a multi-racial group of landowners targeted by the pipeline calling themselves Cumberland County Caring Voices. And in Robeson County, itself an especially racially diverse community given its 38% indigenous peoples population, organizers were members of the group, Eco-Robeson.
Of course, marching is nice, but it’s fair to ask what normal people like these can do in the real world against the combined might of behemoths like Dominion and Duke. The answer, I think, lies in pipeline opponents’ sense of their own strength and resolve. They believe that despite a monetary disadvantage, they have a clear set of diverse issues around which they can build a broad based coalition and a winning campaign. The misuse of the power of eminent domain, for example, is opposed by people from across the political spectrum. Similarly, organizers believe that an inevitable dramatic increase in energy bills for ratepayers is a winning issue once the public becomes educated about the enduring costs not only of the pipeline, but of the nearly twenty gas-fired plants which Duke Energy intends to build in the place of new sun and wind power generation. Organizers also believe that the role fracked gas plays in producing catastrophic new levels of flooding and climate change will be persuasive in an area like eastern North Carolina which experienced devastation only recently from Hurricane Matthew.
This pragmatic optimism about the fight ahead was captured for me Saturday in an offhand comment by Marvin Winstead, a Nash County farmer and leader in Nash Stop The Pipeline whose burgeoning skills as a community organizer are impressive. A heckler had just driven by our line of walkers late in the day to taunt us with the astonishingly unoriginal shout of “Get a job!” before speeding away. One bemused marcher was heard to ask, “It’s Saturday and I have a job–what’s so surprising about me spending a weekend afternoon doing something that I want to do?” I laughed and agreed.
“If you’ll get out and give me a half an hour chance to talk with you right here, right now on the side of this road, I bet you’ll change your mind about what we’re doing.” –Marvin Winstead
Marvin’s own response a moment later, however, made me stop and think. He simply said, “I wish that I could have spoken with him. I would have said, If you’ll get out and give me a half an hour chance to talk with you right here, right now on the side of this road, I bet you’ll change your mind about what we’re doing.” And as I reflected on Marvin’s attitude, I saw in it a source of strength for this campaign. In the competition for minds and hearts across the region, state, and nation on this issue of building yet more expensive, dangerous, and unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure, corporations like Duke and Dominion are at a distinct disadvantage. By telling the truth about this pipeline in persistently courageous and creative ways, we will build the necessary power to deny Duke and Dominion what they need but do not yet have despite all of their money: the support of local communities and the land upon which to build. As Marvin and his friends understand, this story is far from over. In fact, in light of the unprecedented level of coordination of local and state opponents on this issue, it’s only now just begun.
To be sure, #NoACP promises to be a struggle every bit as epic as #NoDAPL. But the cooperation, vision, and the growing strength which these North Carolina communities of resistance are now demonstrating augurs well for their upcoming battles. The fight to wrest control of our clean energy future from abusive, domineering corporate power is on!
Not many people accidentally walk 30 miles in a day.
But that’s what Greg Yost has done on occasion as he heads south along the Appalachian Trail. More than halfway now, he should reach Springer Mountain in Georgia before year’s end. He walks with a sense of urgency, not only to get back to his family near Asheville, NC, but to talk to people about the climate crisis.
Most thru-hikers, those who walk the full 2,190 miles in one continuous journey, take on this arduous yet stunningly scenic trip as a personal challenge. Greg did that sort of walk in 1989. The inspiration for that hike occurred in the summer of 1987 when he was working at Habitat for Humanity in Americus, GA. That February, National Geographic had published a fascinating article on the Appalachian Trail.
“It was soooo hot,” he remembered during his recent stop in Harpers Ferry, WV. “I was sweating and dying down there in that south Georgia heat in July, but at night I would read that National Geographic article over and over and over. That article was so well-written and so well-photographed, it in and of itself led to this huge spike in thru-hiker numbers, and I was part of that in ‘89.”
This time, however, Greg talks with anyone who will listen about fracked gas, climate change, methane leakage, and the dangerous buildout of fracked-gas infrastructure.
As he puts it, he wants to “educate and to incite rebellion.”
The Greg this trip is a different person, he says.
“We just don’t have the time or the money to build out all this new infrastructure that’s going to be in place for 30 years and expect to slow or even put a dent in our global warming problem,” he tells other hikers. “This is a real emergency and requires real tough decisions to be made. Incremental steps are not going to be enough here. We need to absolutely say no to building out this fossil fuel infrastructure.”
Greg’s daughter, Anna Farlessyost, proposed the walk. The last-minute – less than three weeks to prepare – father-daughter adventure was to be part of Anna’s gap year. After numerous injuries in Maine and many “0-mile” days, Anna reluctantly decided to take a bus home Aug. 10, less than a month into the trip. She’ll resume her walk in the spring. Greg carried on alone.
Trail names are usually bestowed on hikers. Cinderella, for example, got her trail name when one of her camp shoes fell off of her backpack. Three Prince Charmings came to her rescue and hike-shuttled it back to her. Anna earned hers after forgetting to pack her glasses, retainer and sleeping pad. “That’s a lot of forgetting,” Greg wrote in his Facebook blog, Preservation, Not Pipelines. That’s how Anna earned the trail name Dory, the blue tang that suffers from memory loss in the Disney film “Finding Nemo.”
Greg, however, chose for his trail name BXE, the abbreviation for Beyond Extreme Energy, a nonviolent climate group that uses direct action to try to stop dirty energy projects – for oil, coal and fracked gas – and to promote clean energy from the sun and wind. BXE focuses on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which approves nearly every fracked-gas project that comes before it. The group also supports front-line struggles, such as in Lusby, Md., where a fracked-gas export facility is being built at Cove Point; in North Dakota, where Native Americans and their allies are trying to block the Dakota Access Pipeline; and a host of communities battling pipelines and compressors, particularly in the Northeast. He’s also seeking sponsors (21 so far), who will pledge to donate a cent a mile ($21.89, or more is welcome) to Beyond Extreme Energy at the conclusion of his walk.
When he introduces himself, the question invariably arises: What does BXE mean? And that’s how Greg starts these conversations. By Day 53, he posted on Facebook, he had already had at least a couple hundred face-to-face conversations.
Not many hikers are thinking about these issues, he says. “What I think’s valuable,” he says, “is that they meet somebody who has this passion. And beyond the particulars, a nice guy considers this important enough to talk about. The next time they have an opportunity to learn something, they will take it in.”
He approaches the Facebook blog posts the same way. He knows that many, perhaps most, of his followers – nearly 300 – want to hear about his hiking adventures. They also know him as a high school math teacher, a position that garners him some respect. “So what I want to do is not just to give the facts and figures about the climate stuff,” he said “I want to normalize the idea that paying attention to this is not being weird or nerdy or abnormal. It’s normal to pay attention when your home and your lives are threatened. In fact, it’s normal to resist.”
Many view protesters as “whiners,” he said, so they are not inclined to be sympathetic to the direct action he thinks is critical: “I want them to understand [that] when a system is broken, when all the civil institutions that you would normally trust to take care of you and make good decisions, when they are all broken, what do you have left? What you’ve got is citizen action. I want people to consider this as an option. Not even an option. A necessity.”
“I’ve done a lot over the last seven years including risking arrest many times and putting my own body in the way of fossil fuel polluters. As much as I swim in these waters now, I know that for some of you I am something entirely different. You may not know anyone else personally who speaks openly and knowledgeably about carbon pollution and the climate. Through this blog – its tone, its humor, and hopefully its humanity – I hope to catalyze a resistance reaction within you so that you decide, as I have, to protect what you love. It’s your trust I hope to earn.” – Day 53, Friday, September 2
Last week, he wrote about an encounter with about 15 students, ages 11 to 14, and their adult counselors. When the question came about BXE, he was ready. After describing FERC and noting that its office near Union Station was blocks from the youths’ school, he laid out the planetary dilemma:
“FERC won’t stop saying yes to dirty energy projects that hurt people and make the planet get hotter. So they have to be pushed to do what’s right. And that’s what we do. We get up in their face so that they have to listen to us people and not just the dirty energy companies. They don’t like it, but we don’t ever stop. We interrupt them, we sometimes block their doors, we talk to their employees, and we generally make a scene. Sometimes we even get arrested for what we do. But we definitely won’t stop until they change and do better.”
And then it happened. A 12 year old girl made my day. Maybe even made this whole trip worthwhile for me. Eyes alight, she threw her fist in the air in an act of spontaneous, irrepressible emotion. Eye contact was total. She got what we are doing. They all did, really, in that moment. What they saw: We have power. And it’s right when we use it.
This girl’s enthusiasm, though, however personally encouraging it was for me, nonetheless prompts some uncomfortable questions for her elders. To wit, what is wrong with us? Why aren’t we stopping people who want to dig the hole of global warming and environmental degradation ever deeper? Why can 12 year olds understand this stuff, but we seemingly cannot? Year after year after year, why have we allowed the folly of new billion dollar investments in fossil fuels to continue? Where is our courage, our intelligence, our conviction? Don’t children deserve action, not apathy, from us? – Day 99, Tuesday, October 18
On Sept. 11, Greg turned 50 on the trail. “I am appreciative of the best birthday present ever, the chance to hike long distance again,” he wrote on his Facebook blog. “I want to add that this is more than just a masochistic dream vacation for me. It’s also preparation. I’m reminding myself of places, feelings, plants, animals, communities, clean water, clean air, health, and sanity that I’ll fight like hell for. I’m banking this time away now, building up some spiritual resources that I’ll need to draw upon soon. For I mean to spend myself completely in my second half century.”
Sometimes he meets “courageous folks fighting pipelines, compressor stations.” Tom Denny, for example, is fighting a 650-megawatt gas plant being built near his home and is mere miles from the controversial Minisink, NY, compressor station that was completed a few years ago. Denny’s “point of entry,” Greg wrote, was not a public meeting. It was severe headaches that his doctor couldn’t explain.
Those of us who haven’t suffered the misfortune of having fossil fuel companies invade our homes and our lives will not easily understand the sense of desperation that comes from having no choices available other than fighting against long odds or just plain rolling over. Thanks, Tom, for not rolling over. You deserve real, tangible support from all of the rest of us. Your fight is our fight whether or not we yet understand that like we should. – Day 72, Wednesday, September 21
Greg has decided that hiking south is by far the better way to go. It’s harder at first: “You encounter the toughest parts right away, when you are not in shape. The trail is instantly hard,” he says. It took him about six weeks to acclimate, including “the matter of losing 30 pounds – any extra weight makes you more miserable than you need to be.” The benefits of going south, starting in late July, are that he avoided the northbound “mob” – there are about 15 or 20 northbounders for every southbounder – and, for the most part, the black flies that greet northbound hikers in New England over summer.
“Walking this trail is like getting to open lots of presents on Christmas morning. Each new hiker I meet is a gift and seeing old friends … is just that much better.” – Day 99, Tuesday, October 18
His hardest days came in early September in Connecticut, during days of drought and high humidity. Places he expected to be able to find water were sometimes dry. One day, he had to hike 6 or 7 miles without water. “My clothes were drenched from my own sweat, yet I had nothing to drink. This went on for hours, my strength gradually leaving me, literally dripping away,” he wrote on Facebook. Fortunately, at the summit, a water spigot was working. Other days, he relied on “trail angels” who leave water jugs at road crossings for hikers.
Most days, he wakes at 5 a.m., sometimes even 4 a.m., and walks until late afternoon, has dinner, and then resumes hiking. As the days shorten, he’s had to turn on his headlamp as darkness falls. When he’s had enough, he looks for a flat spot, rolls out the sleeping bag, writes his blog entry and sleeps in the open. He’ll pull out the tent only if it rains and he can’t reach a shelter. It was also useful for keeping out bugs in August. Nights are getting cold, but the mummy sleeping bag has kept him warm. He doesn’t sleep that well, mainly because his feet are so painful. Not from blisters but from metatarsalgia. His knees also hurt: “That’s not just me, that’s every hiker,” he says.
The mathematician in him loves creating spreadsheets on his smartphone. Every night, he logs his miles. He’s written crude formulas that anticipate what date he will arrive at certain places. His average is picking up – especially given that he logged many days of zero miles while Anna was trying to heal on the trail. So now he knows he’ll arrive in Georgia in 2016.
The journey offers Greg much time for reflection, particularly about how best to seize the crisis of our time, to create a new community and to move forward. He wrote this on his birthday:
“There’s a chant I’ve heard at many protests and demonstrations: ‘We are unstoppable. Another world is possible.’ It’s a chant that gives voice to hope that wells up in people, especially young people, when they lose their sense of isolation for a moment in the joy of taking the street with others who share their deep hope and longing.
I think of these words often in the mornings on my hike. I recommend them to you, too, to use like a mantra. But I feel it’s important to distance ourselves emotionally, at first anyway, from any image of a crowd chanting exultantly and triumphantly. Rather, say the chant slow and low. Growl it. Get to know the truth of it for yourself. Another world is possible. Do you believe that? I feel myself being changed and prepared by that insistent meditation. And then, ‘We are unstoppable.’ Who are ‘we’, these people who will fight instead of watch or look away? I’ll tell you what, I’ve noticed that when I look for them, I find them. In fact, it’s sadly comical how easy it has been for me to find them.
So on today’s day of rest, given more to reflection than mileage, those are just a few thoughts about what my walk means to me. As always, I appreciate having you along. – Day 62, Sunday, September 11
While our political leaders are pretending that being better than Trump is an adequate response to the climate crisis, the climate movement is boldly stepping up to the unprecedented challenge of climate change with courage and commitment. Just in the past few days since the presidential debate ignored climate change, there have been several bold acts of civil disobedience around the country. The sustained resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota had 29 people arrested on Monday for refusing to back down in the face of increasing repression and state violence. Four activists in New York spent all day Monday occupying the Spectra fracked gas pipeline that will run right next to the Indian Point Nuclear Power plant.
Then Tuesday, activists in four states shut down all five tar sands pipelines entering the U.S. from Canada. Ten people involved in that action remain in jail right now with bails that range from $5,000 to $75,000.
There is a stark divide between the politicians who seem incapable of thinking about the climate crisis outside of the boundaries of old assumptions about political feasibility and the activists who are making real sacrifices to treat climate change like the unprecedented crisis it is. Al Gore is campaigning for Hilary Clinton without questioning her extreme support for fracking and fossil fuel infrastructure expansion, while Al Gore’s own daughter, Karenna, is currently facing a potential two-and-half-year jail sentence for protesting fracked-gas pipeline construction in West Roxbury, Massachusetts.
Too many failed centrist attempts to address climate change without standing up to the fossil fuel industry have taught honest pragmatists that we simply can’t deal with climate change in a non-confrontational way. Those failures have brought us to this point of record-breaking climate impacts. As the climate crisis quickly intensifies, the climate movement is committing to intensifying our efforts to defend a livable future, as yesterday’s huge pipeline shutdown demonstrated. We hope that our political leaders will join us.
Guilty verdict for disorderly conduct for four protesters to be appealed
READING, NEW YORK — In a decision likely to have broad implications for hundreds of We Are Seneca Lake defenders, Judge David Brockway dismissed trespassing charges against six local business owners due to insufficient evidence. The 12-hour trial took place in the Town of Reading Court on September 30.
In addition, four of the business owners were found guilty of disorderly conduct for preventing a vehicle from passing through the gates of Crestwood’s gas storage complex on Route 14 in Reading, NY. Attorney Gibson will appeal that decision.
“We saw in the testimony that the officers arrested these people without any direct knowledge that they actually were on private property,” said Sujata Gibson, defense attorney. “We are considering a federal lawsuit to ensure that this type of apparently politically motivated mass arrest and prosecution cannot continue to take place. The kind of behavior we saw here between law enforcement, the company, now recused members of the local justice courts and the prosecution has no place in a free democracy.”
The group of business owners included Anna Redmond and Asa Redmond of Regional Access, Julia Abernathy-Uticone of Swamp Road Baskets and Bluebird Botanicals, Jessica Thorpe of Glen Mountain Bakery, and Peggy Aker of Macro Mamas, who had formed a human blockade on November 19, 2014, at Crestwood’s gates. Asa Redmond and Peggy Aker were charged with trespassing, while the other four were charged with both trespassing and disorderly conduct.
They were protesting Crestwood’s plans to store highly pressurized, explosive gas in abandoned salt caverns on the western shore of Seneca Lake. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) green-lighted the plan in 2014, but to date, construction has not begun. Opponents say the storage plan threatens drinking water for 100,000 people, and the regional economy based on farming, wineries and ecotourism. Thirty-two municipalities around Seneca Lake have passed resolutions denouncing Crestwood’s plans because of overwhelming public opposition citing grave geological and public health concerns. To date, there have been 657 arrests at peaceful protests. On Sept. 1, Senators Gillibrand and Schumer requested that FERC withdraw the permit.
Defendant Julia Abernathy-Uticone of Cayutaville pointed out that “people don’t plan vacations to look at a gas flare or swim in a polluted lake. We have been given this beautiful gift of where we live, the Finger Lakes. It is our job to protect it.”
Peggy Aker of Trumansburg added, “We should be focusing on clean, sustainable energy practices that will be supportive of the life-stream of this planet and all the recipients of its natural resources. Without an economy based on clean energy, the economic vitality of this area will greatly diminish.”
Asa Redmond of Trumansburg stated, “My sister Anna and I are owners of Regional Access, a local, organic and natural food distributor/ food hub. I know from first-hand experience how important the local food and wine economies are to this area. That is why I am standing up against the proposed expansion of gas storage.”
“What will happen when they have ruined our water?” asked Anna Redmond of Trumansburg. “What will the farmers do when there is no water to irrigate their crops? How will the wineries continue to attract tourism to our area when it becomes the next scene of a natural disaster?”
Activists called out TD Bank today for its financing of a gigantic, $3.8 billion fracked-oil pipeline that would cross Lakota Treaty territory in North Dakota.
While drumming, chanting and carrying posters and banners, the protesters first walked from Lafayette Park in front of the White House to the TD Bank branch on 17th Street NW. They drew the attention and cameras of many tourists with their call-and-response, “One: We are the people. Two: You can’t ignore us. Three: We will not let you build this pipeline.”
Several of the activists walked into the branch to deliver a letter calling on TD Bank to stop lending its investors’ money to Energy Transfer Partners to build the 1,134-mile Dakota Access Pipeline that would run from North Dakota to Illinois, crossing beneath the Missouri River near Standing Rock Reservation and threatening the tribe’s water supply and sacred and cultural lands. TD Securities, the bank’s parent, is contributing $365 million to the project.
As the letter-deliverers rejoined the group outside, bank officials locked the doors as the protest continued on the sidewalk.
“I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win,” the group chanted. And “Stop funding this pipeline. Stop funding genocide.” And “White, black, yellow, red; without water, we’re all dead.”
Protesters strung yellow crime-scene tape that said “FRESH GRAVES KEEP OUT” across the bank’s doors.
“This is not just an assault on Mother Earth. This is an assault on Native Americans,” said Caro Gonzales of the International Indigenous Youth Council. The pipeline originally was to cross under the Missouri River farther north, near Bismarck, North Dakota’s capital. “The white people there said, ‘We are afraid for our children,’ ” she said. So, they moved the pipeline route to “right above Native American territory – that has children. That is racism,” she said.
After a 23-hour drive from the North Dakota resistance camps, Gonzalez and Lauren Howland had arrived in Washington late the night before. Their first stop: the White House.
“It’s funny how I felt like a tourist in my own land,” Howland said. “My ancestors died here. … Everywhere there’s a building built, my ancestors are underneath. … Everywhere in America is built on my ancestors’ [burial ground]. That is desecration.”
She said about 5,000 people are at the Sacred Stone and Red Warrior camps near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. “Money doesn’t exist at Standing Rock, and we are making it work very well,” she said. “To TD businessmen and women: You have caused violence. … You cannot drink oil.”
Gonzalez and Howland plan to take their urgent message to President Obama and Congress. “They need to know that Native Americans are no longer expendable,” Howland said. She added that she is relearning her culture and Native ways: “I am decolonizing my people.”
“We are living proof that we are not giving up,” she said. “A hundred million Native Americans died to make the United States what it is today. … It was stolen; it was genocide.”
After writing #NoDAPL messages in chalk on the sidewalk, the group headed for a second TD branch on 14th St. NW, where the doors had already been locked.
Activists are sending a message to TD bank officials, customers and employees that they don’t approve of their investments, said Gabe Shapiro of BXE and Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “It is 2016. It is time for us to take a moral stand on these issues, whether or not it’s your job, whether or not it’s how you put food on the table for your kids,” he said. “This bank right now is funding the destruction of Indigenous sovereign land, land that was granted to be Native land. It was the concession to them – after we stole it from them and invaded this country violently.”
“Every person working for this bank is complicit,” he said. “This bank is profiting off of genocide of the Indigenous people in this country. Is it not enough, everything that has been done? Is it not enough? When do we draw the line?” He called on the president to stop the pipeline or be prepared for more actions and arrests. “This pipeline is already history,” Shapiro said.
“The federal government has paused the pipeline, and its future is uncertain,” said BXE member Drew Hudson. “It would be prudent for TD’s customers, and for the planet, if they pulled the funding now and invested in clean energy instead.”
Since April, Native Americans and their allies have flocked to the Sacred Stone and Red Warrior camps. The tribes are seeking supplies and preparing to stay until the pipeline is stopped permanently.
About 125 people came to New Haven, CT, on Sept. 7 for an action in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which is fighting to stop the Dakota Access oil pipeline from invading its historic territory. The pipeline would cross the Missouri River just outside the reservation in North Dakota, threatening the tribe’s water supply. (More from at BXE’s blog post here.) “Water is Life,” many of our signs said.
Our target was TD Bank, conveniently located across from the New Haven Green and Yale University. Dozens of students joined community members in picketing outside the bank, since it is a financial backer of the pipeline to the tune of $365 million. After awhile, most of us entered the bank to deliver a letter asking the branch manager to pass on our demand to TD Securities that it cut off its line of credit to the pipeline company. We made a lot of noise and eventually left.
We crossed back and forth on Chapel Street – a main thoroughfare in town – between the bank and the Green, where several speakers gave their perspectives on the need to support the indigenous leadership of the Sacred Stones camp and the Red Warrior camp at Standing Rock.
Many people asked me, “What’s the next action?” One said she’s ready to go to North Dakota and would like to organize others to go with her. We collected 85 names and emails. Once the federal judge issues his ruling on the tribe’s request for a restraining order to stop construction until a more thorough assessment can be done of the pipeline route, I will send an update with information from many local groups that participated in the action, including 350CT, Black Lives Matter, SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) and BXE.
(An article from the New Haven Register is here. )
Our Native American brothers, sisters, relations & settler supporters have assembled at the Sacred Stone Camp and are converging with hundreds of Indigenous Tribal Nations and thousands of Water Protectors at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. They are holding the line against construction of a pipeline that would carry highly flammable, fracked oil from the Bakken oil fields in that state to Illinois. The pipeline would go under the Missouri River, and protesters — referring to themselves as “protectors” and holding signs such as “Water is Life” — are carrying out radical non-violent resistance. Their numbers swell daily at the Camp of the Sacred Stones and the Red Warriors Camp. They have maintained their determined, nonviolent stand even when confronted with force, such as on Sept. 3, when security workers brought dogs and mace to the work site to terrorize the men, women and children who had rushed to an area where bulldozers had begun digging the pipeline trench. Shouting, “We’re not afraid of you!” and “Make your money some other way!” they pushed the security workers, dogs and bulldozers off their land.
The $3.8 billion, 1,134-mile Dakota Access pipeline crosses the Missouri River a half-mile outside the Standing Rock Reservation, but Cody Hall, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux and spokesperson for the protectors, says it’s still on Indian land.
“This proposed pipeline, it’s going to go right over the 1851 treaty land. That’s what we’re talking about being native domain land. And then of course the powers that be shortened the 1851 treaty down to the 1868 treaty and then said, ‘Here’s what the native people have on what is presently Standing Rock.’ But we’re going by the 1851 treaty land.”
The white-supremacy, genocide, land theft, and greedy-conquest culture that dominated Indigenous encounters in the mid-1800s was on display again in the planning for the pipeline. As reported in Inside Climate News, the Army Corps of Engineers approved the Dakota Access pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners, while ignoring not only tribal concerns but those of three federal agencies: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. “Citing risks to water supplies, inadequate emergency preparedness, potential impacts to the Standing Rock reservation and insufficient environmental justice analysis, the agencies urged the Army Corps to issue a revised draft of their environmental assessment,” Phil McKenna reported. But the Army Corps ignored these concerns and a few months later issued its final environmental assessment, which stated, “The anticipated environmental, economic, cultural, and social effects” of the project are “not injurious to the public interest.” That assessment gave the project the green light.
The assessment also said the route specifically avoided tribal land as a way of addressing environmental justice concerns, and included the statement: “The Project does not anticipate any impact to water supplies along its route, and to the extent a response action is required [emphasis added], federal regulation will be complied with.”
The pipeline would carry about 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day through four states, from North Dakota to Illinois, along a route parallel to and east of the rejected Keystone XL pipeline. That battle was won with a national mobilization, led by local people known as the Cowboy and Indian Alliance.
The judge hearing the case has indicated he will issue a ruling by mid-September on the tribe’s request for a temporary injunction that would halt construction on sections of the pipeline where it hasn’t already started (which could explain the appearance of the bulldozers working on new ground last week). The injunction would allow a lawsuit requiring the Army Corps to redo its permitting process to be heard.
Over Labor Day weekend, sacred burial sites were bulldozed, prompting the tribe to file for another temporary restraining order to halt construction of the Pipeline. (DC Media Group reports that U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg has ordered the parties involved in a standoff over the Dakota Access Pipeline to appear in court on Sept. 6 to hear a motion for an emergency injunction.)
Cody Hall says every minute of every day is critical for the company to lay its footprint. “They want to have a good majority of this construction done so by the time the judge hears the case, the judge will say, ‘How far have you progressed? Where are you at?’ And if they can say, ‘We are 95 percent near completion for North Dakota,’ the judge will say, ‘Well, there’s not much I can do about it, if you’re that close. I’ll let you complete it, just pay your fines, and move forward.’ We’re trying to prevent all that from happening, because it’s not right. You know, we’re not going to wait for the judge to make a call. If we can stop that momentum, then we have to. We need to take that action. And hopefully the judge will rule in our favor.”
Hall says that several protectors have already been arrested. He urges everyone to heed the call of The Red Warrior Camp, which is leading the non-violent resistance, to hold solidarity actions from Sept. 3 – 17 that target the pipeline owners’ offices, the consortium of financial institutions bankrolling the project, or the construction company doing the work. Information about solidarity actions is here.
“This is a movement, this is a people’s movement,” he says. “This isn’t one tribe or many tribal people saying it’s their movement. It’s everybody’s movement. It’s a humanitarian issue right now. Because this water will be poisoned, and it will affect the Standing Rock people first, and then it goes down the river and it will affect my people at Cheyenne River next, and it just keeps going down the line. It’ll affect all of South Dakota; it’ll affect all of Nebraska. So we just have to raise awareness on this. There are other alternative means for fossil fuels. There’s no alternative for water. There’s no Plan B if the water’s gone.”
He adds, “If you can make it, physically [to the camp], come support and we welcome you with open arms and open heart. But if you cannot make it in a physical presence here in North Dakota, please keep us in your prayers, and just hear our fight. Even if it’s a word of encouragement to give the camp, that means a lot to the people that are on the front lines.”
Three of the seven activists arrested for blocking the driveway at FERC headquarters during Beyond Extreme Energy’s #RubberStampRebellion in May are taking their cases to trial.
At the Superior Court of the District of Columbia yesterday, #Sidewalk7 members Claude Guillemard of Baltimore, Ellen Taylor of Washington D.C., and Donald Weightman of Philadelphia said that they would go to trial, set for Dec. 8, for their May 9 blockade at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. BXE and other groups have long criticized the agency for rubber-stamping fracked-gas pipelines, compressor stations and export facilities that it reviews.
“We have been charged with unlawful entry,” Weightman said, “but the real crime is the unlawful entry of methane and carbon dioxide into our air, the unlawful entry of toxic waste into our water, and the unlawful entry of global warming into the future of our world. The real weapon is fracked gas; FERC is the real defendant; we will charge FERC with the commission of a crime.”
The other Sidewalk7 activists – Melinda Tuhus of Connecticut, Clarke Herbert of Virginia and Linda Reik of NY – agreed to perform 32 hours of community service and to stay away from the 800 block of 1st Avenue NE, the area of the FERC offices, for four months. Peter Nightingale of Kingston, RI, says he intends to go to trial as well.
The court actions yesterday was part of the ongoing resistance to fracked-gas infrastructure, including demanding a halt to construction of Spectra’s Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline. #StopSpectra activists have declared a “state of emergency” in advance of a noon press conference Thursday outside the Manhattan offices of Sens. Charles Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. The senators wrote a letter to FERC on Aug. 3 calling for construction to stop. In February, Gov. Andrew Cuomo also asked FERC to postpone the pipeline construction.
After the court hearing, New York and BXE activists hand-delivered invitations to the press conference to the senators’ Washington offices.
The pipeline “would bring fracked gas from Pennsylvania to New England, despite a report from the Massachusetts Attorney General that shows no need for this gas,” the letter said. “In NY, if completed, the AIM Pipeline would carry gas through residential communities and within 105 feet of critical Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant safety facilities. Just last April, Spectra Energy’s Texas Eastern line erupted into a giant explosion due to pipeline corrosion, and New Yorkers fear what an explosion of this magnitude could mean in such close proximity to Indian Point. Over the last several years, communities along the pipeline route have risen up against the pipeline, and are counting on New York Senators to help stop this dangerous project.”
In June, DeSmog Blog reported that a FERC employee who was the agency’s project manager for reviewing the then-proposed AIM pipeline had been hired by an engineering company that is one of Spectra’s main contractors. DeSmog Blog reported in May and July that a contractor hired by FERC to conduct an environmental review of a Spectra project was already working on related Spectra pipeline projects. U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey have writtento FERC Chairman Norman Bay asking about the “potential conflicts of interest.”
A campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience is also ongoing in West Roxbury, MA, where 165 people have been arrested so far blocking construction of the West Roxbury Lateral pipeline. Resist the Pipeline is coordinating those actions. In addition, the City Council, mayor, the state representative, state senator and U.S. Congressman Stephen Lynch oppose the project.
Boston City Council President Michelle Wu said, “Climate change impacts us all and especially future generations. We need immediate, bold action to transition rapidly away from reliance on fossil fuels to renewable energy. Building new natural gas infrastructure, such as Spectra Energy’s West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline, is wrong for our communities and wrong for future generations. I applaud the thoughtful, purposeful, nonviolent civil disobedience West Roxbury residents and friends are practicing to accomplish what needs to get done.”
In addition, Massachusetts’ highest court ruled today that the state can’t force residential ratepayers to subsidize the construction of pipelines. “This is an incredibly important and timely decision,” said David Ismay, lead attorney on the case for Conservation Law Foundation. “Today our highest court affirmed Massachusetts’ commitment to an open energy future by rejecting the Baker Administration’s attempt to subsidize the dying fossil fuel industry. The course of our economy and our energy markets runs counter to the will of multi-billion dollar pipeline companies, and, thanks to today’s decision, the government will no longer be able to unfairly and unlawfully tip the scales.”
Michael Bagdes-Canning from fracked northwest Pennsylvania was one of six BXE activists to risk arrest last week by blockading for several hours the doors of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, DC. Read about that action at our blog and here. This blog post is an email he sent the day after the action.
BY MICHAEL BAGDES-CANNING
Thanks to the BXE family for welcoming me, once again, into one of your actions.
It was great to be “locked” together with you, so rewarding to be included in the planning and execution of the trio of actions. Most of all, it was a much needed recharging.
As I shared with many of you over the course of the two days I was with you, I have been frustrated with the pace of resistance at my home place. As I shared during the lock down, we still have 50 families in Butler County that are relying on donated water, 25 gallons a week supplied by Water For the Woodlands, as they have been for 5 and 1/2 years. We still have a governor that includes gas and coal in his “clean energy” plan. We still have communities that supply the raw data that backs up much recent research that links proximity to fracking sites and low birth weights, problem pregnancies, cardiac admits, asthma, decrease in property value, tainted water, and a host of other problems. Infrastructure build-up (pipelines, compressor stations and the like) have ramped up over the last year and, now, so has the drilling.
That’s why it was so important that I spend time with you. That’s why it was so important for me to “lock” myself to you for 3 hours. You were a tonic. I am not only talking to the people on the “porch” of the DNC. I’m talking about the folks who went into FERC and the folks who have been blue dotted by FERC. I’m talking about the people who went to visit [then DNC Chair Debbie] Wasserman-Shultz. I’m especially talking about the raucous crowd on the street at in front of the DNC and the people who confronted the sacrificial lambs sent out by cowardly puppet masters in the corner offices and at the Capitol and White House, the Governor mansions and state capitol buildings.
My buddy (I hope she feels the same way), Angela Vogel posted an interesting comment on Facebook recently – “Please stop thanking economically secure white people who make their careers around activism for getting arrested. Where is the sacrifice?” I know that some people took that as a rebuke, but I took it to heart, as a statement of the obvious.
I’m not someone who “makes my career around activism,” but I am economically secure. When I go into these things, I know that I’m standing in for folks who would like to be confronting the folks who have been harming them but cannot. Some have impaired health, some can’t afford to travel, some can’t get off work, some fear losing the work they have. For some, participation is too dangerous. I can do what I do because I am privileged.
I also do what I do because I have a debt — I could have done more earlier in my life but I was oblivious, too wrapped up in other things to notice what I should have noticed. And now, my children and grandchildren, Angela, and people I don’t know are stuck with the fruits of my inaction. I don’t need to be thanked. I want to be forgiven for my past sins. I want to be forgiven for the harmful things that I still do (and the ones I am not even aware that I am doing). At this point, it is far more important that I be forgiven than thanked.
It’s this last thought that I was contemplating after I dropped Maggie [Henry] off near her home last evening. I still had 90 minutes to decompress, I was on a caffeine high (I don’t usually stay up past 10 p.m.), it was well past the time when I turn into a pumpkin, and I was thinking about my frustrations.
I was frustrated because people were behaving in ways that mirror the ways that I behaved before I became aware. I blame people for acting like I did for most of the first 58 years of my life.
What was it that caused me to become more aware? I often point to people who mentored me (including many young people on this list). I point to the March on Blair Mountain. I point to Tour de FRACK and the 2013 Walk For Our Grandchildren. However, I think there are some things that actually predated all of this and other things that have helped my understanding that came concurrently with some of the others.
Becoming a grandparent (or, actually, contemplating the notion after our daughter, Jennifer informed us that it was imminent) caused me to look around more critically. Getting to know the people who have been harmed, like my friends in the Woodlands (the community without water) and Maggie also woke me up. Visiting the Navajo and Lacuna peoples, hearing about uranium extraction and fracking and exploitation for centuries — connecting the horror stories with people I now know. Seeing the people in coal mining communities in West Virginia as we marched through. Standing close by when [photographer] Tom Jefferson dealt with a racist idiot. So many other things.
The human connection.
It dawned on me that I am standing in, too, for the people not ready to resist; I’m standing in for the people like me.
I, as I said, certainly don’t want to be thanked for what I did. Some people were calling us climate heroes — which I also reject; I see myself as someone who contributes to the climate chaos (and once contributed even more). What I came to realize on the way home is that I am a penitent (my Catholic upbringing), atoning for my past sins (and my future sins). I also, now, feel privileged to be standing in for the people I was formerly frustrated with.
What I came away from the action with (after several hours of driving and talking to Maggie) was the realization that my frustrations are misdirected. I need to own the fact that I have done a lousy job of mentoring the people around me. The teacher in me should have recognized this basic fact. One of the principles I used as a teacher was scaffolding — “I do, we do, you do.” I never (shouldn’t have, but I sometimes did) expected my students to do things until they had been mentored in the process, supported as they tried the new skill (or behavior), and cheered on when they put it to use.
I’ve been really good at leading people in Butler County to try some really daring things but then I expect (and expected) them to pick up the ball and initiate the next daring thing. Instead of scaffolding, I show them (I do) and then expect them to pick it up, leaving out the other two steps (we do, you do). I’ve been a lousy teacher.
So back to yesterday’s actions. I’m so pleased that you, and I’m talking about the entire BXE community, provide the scaffolding. It was so empowering to be part of that amazing collaborative process. I thank you for your role modeling, your physical support (insisting I drink, writing the stories, intervening with the police, chanting, singing, testifying, transporting, and up lifting), and your potential support (Heather [Doyle] and Jail Support – what a comfort to know that someone so attuned was looking out for us). I also thank you for your loving embrace of me, your sometimes partner.
So, anyway, yesterday’s actions helped me in some powerful ways, ways I did not expect. I hug you for that!