Locals protest at Washington rally
1,252 Americans arrested during sit-in
The Daily Sentinel, Sunday, September 18, 2011
BY ROBBIE GOODRICH email@example.com
Over the course of the two week "Stop the Pipeline" sit-in outside the White House in late August and early September, 1,252 Americans were arrested.
Among them were top climate scientists, landowners from Texas and Nebraska, former Obama for America staffers and First Nations leaders from Canada, according to www.tarsandsaction. org.
Among the more notable individuals were former White House official Gus Speth, NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen, actress Daryl Hannah, filmmaker Josh Fox and author Naomi Klein.
Add to that list Kendal Martel and Kathy and Steve Da Silva of Nacogdoches, who went to Washington, D.C., to participate in what has been called the largest collective act of civil disobedience in the history of the climate movement. All three are actively involved in the Nacogdoches County STOP (Stop Tarsands Oil Pipeline) movement.
TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline is proposed to cross through the western portion of Nacogdoches County, through the Sacul and Douglass areas.
The Washington protests centered on an environmental impact statement released Aug. 26 by the U.S. State Department that concluded there will be "no significant impact" on natural resources affected by the pipeline route, www.csmonitor.com reported.
The 1,700-mile Keystone XL Pipeline, would carry diluted bitumen — an acidic crude oil — from Canada’s Alberta tar sands to refineries in Port Arthur and Houston. Because the pipeline would cross an international border, it requires approval from the White House, meaning its fate is in President Obama’s hands. Thus, the protests along Pennsylvania Avenue and others across the country are designed to get the attention of the nation’s top leader, and some protestors are more than willing to get arrested for the cause.
If Obama approves the pipeline, it will begin a series of additional permits, approvals and authorizations, with operation set to launch in 2013. The $7 billion, 36-inch pipeline, called the Keystone XL, is expected to deliver 830,000 barrels, or 34.9 million gallons of oil, per day across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma into Texas, www.csmonitor. com reported.
TransCanada, a leading North American pipeline operator, started operation of Keystone I, a 36-inch pipeline system, in June 2010, making it possible to deliver Canadian oil to markets across Midwest farmland in several states, from the Dakotas through Illinois. Keystone XL will incorporate a section of that existing pipeline in its delivery through the bottom half of the U.S, according to www.csmonitor.com.
"It was very organized," Steve said. "There was a group of individuals who provided training for us in terms of what to expect in preparation for the subsequent days’ action."
The protests included a broad spectrum of people, Steve said, ranging in age from those in their 20s to 80-plus year olds.
"It involved people of all ages and of all political backgrounds," he said. "There were Republicans there standing with Democrats, Libertarians, Tea Party members. There were priests, doctors, nurses, school teachers and students."
Many landowners who have property where the pipeline is slated to cross were there, he said. The Nacogdoches residents participated as a means of "calling attention to this pipeline," Kathy said, "especially in this area.
"What we’ve encountered is so many people believe this is a pipeline carrying the same kind of crude oil that we’ve always had in East Texas, but it’s not," she said. "It’s a product we haven’t seen in this area at all. It’s considered to be the dirtiest, most toxic form of oil that is going to be brought across our community, our county."
For Steve, the action was a way of "having our voices heard when a deaf ear had been turned our direction by politicians in Austin and in Congress, where they were so deadlocked in bickering, that we weren’t being heard.
"By traveling to Washington and standing in front of the White House, we felt like we could raise our voices in a quiet and peaceful way," he said.
A realization that government is immersed in many conflicts of interest was another reason Americans resorted to civil disobedience to make their voices heard in this issue, according to Martel. "In the conventional ways we’ve been going about any kind of change, whether it be social, environmental, human rights — anything like that — what we have realized in fighting for this is that a lot of our government is corrupted," she said, "and no one can really deny that.
"When I say ‘corrupted,’ I mean infiltrated by huge corporations, and I’m not saying all corporations are bad, but there’s a huge conflict of interest within our democratic system," she said. "We see that as being flawed.
"We believe there are so many conflicts of interest that the only other way get our voices heard is to engage in civil disobedience," Martel said. "There’s hardly any social movement in our history that’s been able to really inspire people to take action that has not involved civil disobedience, because it shows that people have something to sacrifice."
This movement is another that demonstrates a willingness of people to be arrested in order to stand up for their beliefs in an important cause, Martel said.
"Whether people agreed with that or not, they’re still talking about it," she said. "It got people to pay attention to the issue. Whether it be in a negative way or a positive way doesn’t really matter, the point is that now, people are talking about it."
While that much was achieved, the overall mission will not be accomplished "until we stop this pipeline," Martel said.
"I realize that it will be a hard endeavor, and we don’t have the best of chances at stopping it," she said, "but at least we are exposing some of those flaws within our democratic system," and in doing so, opening the eyes of many Americans.
"This would be the dirtiest energy project in the world," she said. "And if we can’t stop that now, at least we have established that membership base that we can go to plan B and keep doing what we want to do and believe is right, and that’s to protect this generation and future generations and to protect the environment."
Kathy called attention to TransCanada as a "foreign company" that has not received approval from the U.S. government to construct the pipeline, yet the company has already begun eminent domain proceedings against landowners who refuse to sell to the company.
According to Kendal, a major reason TransCanada is so anxious to reach the Houston- Port Arthur area with the pipeline is because "that area and those refineries fall within an international trade zone, which essentially means they do not have to pay state or local taxes."
"They want to get it down there because it opens it up to world markets," she said. "One company that has a huge stake in this is ARAMCO, which is the state-owned Saudi Arabian oil company."
The project is being fed to Americans as "we’re getting off this dirty, Middle Eastern oil, but that’s not necessarily what’s happening," she said. "It’s going to be the American people who get the negative externalities from this project but are not actually going to see the benefits we’ve been promised."
The aquifer is another reason East Texans should pay close attention to this project, all three agreed. The pipeline would cross the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer where Nacogdoches County, along with 59 other counties, draws its drinking water. It would also cross six major Texas Rivers, including the Angelina and Neches rivers. The pipeline’s path takes it about 20 miles upstream from Sam Rayburn Reservoir. Steve pointed to the 800,000-gallon tar sands spill in Michigan that flowed into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River more than a year ago, and the company is still trying to deal with the cleanup.
"It’s going to be a long-term nightmare for the people of that region," Steve said.
"It’s already contaminated 40 miles of river in that area and already cost more than half a billion dollars to clean it up," Kathy said. "Sixty percent of the residents living in the area have reported respiratory, gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms. And, the long-term effect of the chemicals that are added to the mixture are known to be carcinogenic."
TransCanada has had 14 spills and leaks since it started transporting tar sands through its first pipeline, the Keystone 1, a little more than a year ago, Steve said.
"The statement they make that this is going to be safe and not to worry about it, when it’s coming down through where we live, with the potential for leaks ... people in this county and Angelina County should be concerned," he said. "Sam Rayburn is right in its path, and that’s something that Trans-Canada is not going to want to talk about."
Kathy disputed the number of jobs TransCanada is stating the pipeline will provide for Texas, calling the numbers "exaggerated." She said the U.S. State Department projects the number of jobs that would result from the pipeline to be between 156 and 379 in Texas, whereas TransCanada’s projections are in excess of 50,000 in Texas.
While getting arrested was understood ahead of time as part of the civil disobedience process, Kendal, Steve and Kathy agreed that’s not what they wanted people to focus on. The focus should be the STOP message — bringing attention nationally to what STOP followers have been saying all along. But the protest and the arrests got people talking, and that was the point.
"I was happy to be standing there with people of so many different backgrounds there for the same purpose," Steve said. "The physical discomfort lasted a very short time in the scheme of things.
"The park police were very cordial, very understanding and very professional," he said. "I hold no grudges against them doing their jobs.
"Something else to note is the infraction we were charged with was the equivalent of jaywalking," he said. "We were told we couldn’t sit or stand on the sidewalk in front of the White House; we had to keep moving." Kathy said she and her husband went to Washington "with the full knowledge we were going to go through this process and be arrested, and it was to try and draw attention to this pipeline."
She said she spent a lot of time visiting with a 77-year-old woman from Winnsboro arrested in their group who had been pressured by TransCanada to sign her property over for the pipeline but refused.
"She will probably be taken to court and involved in eminent domain," Kathy said. "I think she was a very brave woman, and I was honored to stand with her and be arrested with her."
Martel said she was calm throughout most of the process regarding her own well-being, and she was more concerned about what people at home might think.
"I was thinking about my family and my fiancé," she said, referring to those moments she stood with others in front of the White House.
While her parents weren’t happy she was arrested, Martel said it was her father who "put this love of the outdoors in me."
"He was also the one who told me to stand up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves," she said. "I went from being afraid my family might be mad at me to standing up there very proudly realizing that I was doing this for them.
"Overall, it was a beautiful process," she said. "It was people standing up for what they believed in. I didn’t really have any fear, because I knew it was the right thing to do."