Tuesday, January 29, 2013

KXL protestors get SLAPPed, plan counterpunch

On Friday, January 25th, a group of activists agreed to a settlement in TransCanada’s lawsuit against Tar Sands Blockade, Rising Tide North Texas, Rising Tide North America, and nineteen individuals. The SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) alleged that nonviolent direct action against Keystone XL has cost TransCanada $5 million dollars. This contradicts frequent public statements by TransCanada’s spokespeople that blockaders were not impeding construction in any meaningful way.

The eight Texans who came to court to defend themselves on Friday, some of whom had not been actively involved with Tar Sands Blockade since protests in August, were threatened with losing their homes and life’s savings if the lawsuit went forward.
In order to protect the livelihoods and dependents of brave activists like Tammie Carson, who locked herself to a truck carrying Keystone XL pipe, the activists agreed to settle the lawsuit. The corporation will not seek the $5 million in financial damages, and the named defendants and organizations agree to not trespass on Keystone XL property in Texas and Oklahoma or face additional charges.

There is lots going on here that has nothing to with KXL specifically, of course; the inherent unconstitutionality of SLAPPs, the weaponization of them by corporate attorneys despite the infringement of First Amendment exercise, and the broadening of the chilling effects of this sort of action.

Despite this legal setback, members of Tar Sands Blockade are as determined as ever to stop Keystone XL. The sustained direct action campaign will continue. 

Specifics won't be posted here, though, because that gives the authorities the heads-up on how to plan for them.

This is the world we live in now, where corporations do whatever they want without being held liable either in the court of public opinion or in the legal system. When the oil companies own the politicians, there's little chance the public's right to address a concern, have a seat at the table, or even continue breathing clean air is safe.

Civil disobedience is, in fact, the only recourse.

Ramsey Sprague, Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson, and defendant from Fort Worth, TX, said:

“TransCanada is dead wrong if they think a civil lawsuit against a handful of Texans is going to stop a grassroots civil disobedience movement. This is nothing more than another example of TransCanada repressing dissent and bullying Texans who are defending their homes and futures from toxic tar sands.”

So what could a concerned citizen do besides protest?

One small step in the right direction locally would be to get the two candidates in the runoff for SD-6 to talk about Keystone XL, since the pipeline will terminate in the middle of the senate district. TransCanada, the company building the pipeline -- which veered onto the wrong property in Angelina County, we learned this week -- thought enough of the campaign to sponsor a debate among the candidates. But the topic of the pipeline itself really hasn't been discussed in any meaningful way. "Underpass/overpass" seemed to have a higher profile.

Or maybe we could talk about the money instead.

Something in the neighborhood of $1.4 million dollars was spent by the two frontrunners during the open primary, resulting in less than 6% of the district's voters turning out to cast a ballot. That is its own embarrassment, but again, I wouldn't expect the fundamentals of that fact to see much daylight. Greg has an opinion about it that echoes the same "shrug-whaddaya-gonna-do" aspect that the topic of campaign finance reform generates at roundtables full of paid political consultants.

None of the powers that be -- all the way down to the blogosphere -- are apparently intent on making much difference in the way things are. You know, in the real world. That's why it is left to the people who are willing to risk arrest, and then SLAPP suits, to wake everybody else up.

Yesterday's World Action Day had protestors at the Canadian consulate in Houston, the state Capitol in Austin, and elsewhere across America and Canada. But you didn't see or hear much about that in the corporate media, did you?

There will another protest in DC in a few weeks.

Of course we could all continue ignoring the protests and just wait and see what happens.

Update: Related...

San Antonio Current: "Environmentalists and communities await a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, so does Valero"

But as efforts ramped up in the East Texas woods, blockaders also began organizing in the neighborhoods near the Houston Ship Channel, an area long clouded by petrochemical haze. With local environmental justice groups, they started giving tours of the nearby refineries. They particularly took to Manchester, a small Hispanic enclave that lies in the shadow of Valero's Houston refinery.

"We found a community that's been oppressed for decades," Seifert asserts. Blockaders decided they wouldn't just target the pipeline, but the refiners, too. They started filming, photographing, and interviewing families, hearing common fence-line community ailments: headaches, respiratory problems, asthma, rashes, and cancer. Yudith Nieto, 25, a lifelong resident of Manchester who started organizing with the blockaders, says, "Almost everyone I know here has trouble breathing."

On November 29, the blockaders escalated. Diane Wilson, a longtime environmental justice and jail reform activist, locked her neck to an oil tanker truck with a bicycle U-lock. Friend and fellow activist Bob Lindsey Jr. did the same. "Quite frankly, the Gulf Coast is a sacrifice zone," Wilson told the Current once released from the Harris County jail. "I have no time for holding hands, walking around in circles, and demonstrating. There has to be pressure."

Think Progress: Confirmation Of Climate Hawk Kerry As Secretary Of State May Doom Dirty Keystone XL Pipeline

Once again, I do not think that a man who had dedicated his Senate career to fighting catastrophic climate change would start his term as Secretary approving the expansion of one of the dirtiest sources of fossil fuels in the world.

Update (January 31):

Activist interrupts pipeline conference, releases photos of flawed welds on Keystone XL pipeline
Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel, The Woodlands, TX – 9 AM this morning, TransCanada executive Tom Hamilton’s presentation of a Keystone XL case study at the Pipe Tech Americas 2013 conference was interrupted when a blockader chained himself to the projector screen and delivered a speech to the nearly 300 attendees. Hamilton, the Manager of Quality and Compliance for the Keystone Pipeline, was supposed to give a forty-minute talk about safety and regulations related to the southern portion of the KXL pipeline. Instead, Tar Sands Blockade organizer Ramsey Sprague gave an impassioned rebuttal highlighting TransCanada’s poor safety record.

Sprague described shoddy welding practices and dangerous corner-cutting throughout TransCanada’s operations as exposed by whistleblowers like Evan Vokes, a metallurgic engineer who came forward in May 2012, leading to an investigation by Canada’s National Energy Board. Sprague reminded attendees that TransCanada’s first Keystone pipeline has already leaked over 30 times and that other industry leaders such as Enbridge are similarly negligent, with over 800 spills since 1999. He derided TransCanada for routing the KXL pipeline through ecologically sensitive areas and through communities like the one in Douglass, TX, where construction crews are actively laying pipe within sight of the Douglass public school.

“TransCanada’s safety record is beyond deplorable,” said Ramsey Sprague, “Their wanton disregard for the health of our communities is demonstrated by their countless toxic tar sands spills. I’m compelled to take action today and shed light on the dangerous material this multinational corporation is pumping through our homes.”

Sprague also described how activists who blockaded themselves inside the actual KXL pipe on December 3rd could see daylight through holes in welds connecting segments of pipe – and how Tar Sands Blockade has the pictures to prove it. That mile-long section of the pipe was laid in the ground on the same day; no additional welding or inspection occurred after the photos were taken.

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