A coal train entering Bellingham, Washington has been blockaded by a fossil fuel resistance group, including members of Deep Green Resistance. This blockade, part of an ongoing regional campaign against fossil fuels, has been standing strong for six hours – with no end in sight.
Beginning at four PM this afternoon, protestors erected a portable tripod structure in the middle of a rail bridge crossing Mud Bay south of Bellingham. One protester has climbed to the top and will stay until removed by police.
The organizers of the blockade say that fossil fuels must be stopped to save the planet from global warming.
When asked about her motivation for joining the resistance movement, one Deep Green Resistance member responded, “We won’t be complicit in a global catastrophe. The government and the capitalists are working together to kill the planet. We’re going to work together to stop them.”
With two refineries sitting north of town and a tar sands pipeline running underneath, Bellingham has been in the sights of the fossil fuel industry for decades. The struggle to keep fossil fuel transportation out of the small city has been ongoing. The Lummi Nation and other local resisters recently defeated plans for a major coal export terminal. However, coal merchants continue to push for the project.
The protest also delayed passenger trains, but organizers aren’t overly concerned. When asked about possible inconveniences to travelers, a protestor responded, “What’s inconvenient is losing your island to rising sea levels, or having your home flooded in Baton Rouge, or digging mass graves in Pakistan in anticipation of heat waves.” She also noted that Amtrak was notified to minimize delays in passenger transportation.
On Friday, July 29th, a coalition of 21 plaintiffs including local groups Riverkeeper, Sierra Club Lower Hudson, Food & Water Watch NY, Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion (SAPE), and Reynolds Hill, Inc. filed a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia seeking to overturn the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) March 2015 approval of Spectra Energy’s Algonquin Incremental Markets (AIM) pipeline project.Although many state and local officials, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, both New York Senators and Representatives Nita Lowey and Eliot Engle have come out against the pipeline, so far construction is still moving forward.
Thecoalition’s brief addresses some of the points they had raised in their Rehearing Request that FERC rejected in January 2016. First it argues that the Commission improperly segmented the Algonquinpipeline expansion by dividing it into three different projects to avoid having to address its full environmental impact. As one Spectra official told an industry journal “you end up with a lot less potential opposition if you do that.”The AIM project is the first of three expansion Spectra plans for the Algonquin pipeline. The other two, Atlantic Bridge and Access Northeast, continue precisely where Aim leaves off to create a greatly enlarged path for fracked gas from Pennsylvania to Canadian export terminals.
Approximately 2,159 feet of the AIM pipeline will run through property that is part of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. The brief challenges the approval of installing the pipeline a little over 100 feet from critical safety structures at the Indian Point.It notes that the Commission relied on findings by Entergy Nuclear Operations, the company that operates Indian Point, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), neither of which have expertise in pipeline safety. Entergy and the NRC had concluded that the AIM Project would not impact safety at Indian Point, a conclusion challenged by both elected officials and independent nuclear and pipeline safetyexperts.
Lastly the brief argues FERC violated its own regulations by relying on a third-party contractor that had a financial interest in the construction of the AIM Project.FERC relies on third-party contractors to prepare the Environmental Impact Statementsrequired for approving projects. Those contractors are identified by and paid for by the project applicant – in this case Spectra. To avoid conflicts of interest, potential third-party contractors must complete and submit an Organizational Conflict of Interest statement.No such statement has been found in the AIM record however. An investigation has also revealed that NRG, the third-party contractor that prepared the Environmental Impact Statement for AIM, was working for Spectra on another related project at the same time in an apparent violation of FERC regulations.
Nancy Vann, whose property is being taken by eminent domain for the AIM project, said “FERC has only rejected one pipeline project in its entire 40 year history. It’s shameful that the public must take a government agency to court in order to make it do its job. I’m so grateful for the determination of Riverkeeper, SAPE, Food & Water Watch and all of the other coalition members who have persisted in asserting these important issues and I’m looking forward to getting our day in court.”
When more than 300 protesters assembled in May at the Holiday Inn in Lakewood, Colorado — the venue chosen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for an auction of oil and gas leases on public lands — several of the demonstrators were in fact undercover agents sent by law enforcement to keep tabs on the demonstration, according to emails obtained by The Intercept.
The “Keep it in the Ground” movement, a broad effort to block the development of drilling projects, has rapidly gained traction over the last year, raising pressure on the Obama administration to curtail hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, and coal mining on federal public lands. In response, government agencies and industry groups have sharply criticized the activists in public, while quietly moving to track their activities.
The emails, which were obtained through an open records act request, show that the Lakewood Police Department collected details about the protest from undercover officers as the event was being planned. During the auction, both local law enforcement and federal agents went undercover among the protesters.
The emails further show that police monitored Keep it in the Ground participating groups such as 350.org, Break Free Movement, Rainforest Action Network, and WildEarth Guardians, while relying upon intelligence gathered by Anadarko, one of the largest oil and gas producers in the region.
“Gentlemen, Here is some additional intelligence on the group you may be dealing with today,” wrote Kevin Paletta, Lakewood’s then-chief of police, on May 12, the day of the protest. The Anadarko report, forwarded to Paletta by Joni Inman, a public relations consultant, warned of activist trainings conducted by “the very active off-shoot of 350.org” that had “the goal of encouraging ‘direct action’ such as blocking, vandalism, and trespass.”
The protesters waved signs and marched outside of the Holiday Inn. The auction went on as planned and there were no arrests.
“I believe the BLM reached out to us,” Steve Davis, the public information officer for the Lakewood police, told The Intercept about preparations for the protest. He added that the protest was “very peaceful.”
“Our goal is to provide for public safety and the safety of our employees,” says Steven Hall, the BLM Colorado Communications Director, when asked about the agency’s undercover work. “Any actions that we take are designed to achieved those goals. We do not discuss the details of our law enforcement activities.”
Despite a relatively uncontroversial protest, the tactics revealed by the emails, recent public statements, and other maneuvers suggest that the federal government is beginning to take a more aggressive stance toward the Keep it in the Ground movement.
“I’m really wondering what more the BLM is up to,” said Jeremy Nichols, a climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “Some of the emails indicate more extensive intel gathering on their end.”
“Why are climate activists, who are only calling on the BLM to follow President Obama’s lead and heed universally accepted science, facing this kind of uphill response?” Nichols asked rhetorically. “It’s a shame that the BLM has turned climate concerns into a law enforcement issue instead of a genuine policy discussion.”
During a congressional hearing in March, Neil Kornze — the agency’s Director and former senior policy advisor for U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid — appeared to compare the anti-fracking activists to the armed anti-government militia members who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
“We have had a situation where we have had militia; we’ve had people raising arms at different times. We are on heightened alert and we are concerned about safety. And so a situation that we are not used to, separating out who is a bidder and who is not, gives us pause,” Kornze said, explaining to GOP congressman that his agency faced “abnormal security” concerns.
The bureau maintains its own force of special agents to investigate crimes committed on public lands. The website for the agency notes that “investigations may require the use of undercover officers, informants, surveillance and travel to various locations throughout the United States.”
In recent years federal and private sector groups have poured resources into surveilling environmental organizations.
In 2013, The Guardianrevealed that the FBI had spied on activists organizing opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. The agency “collated inside knowledge about forthcoming protests, documented the identities of individuals photographing oil-related infrastructure, scrutinized police intelligence and cultivated at least one informant.” The FBI later confirmed that the investigation violated its own guidelines.
In 2011, an executive with Anadarko boasted that his company was deploying military-like psychological warfare techniques to deal with the “controversy that we as an industry are dealing with,” calling the opposition to the industry “an insurgency.”
Online Auctions to “End the Circus”
The focus on preventing the leasing of public lands for fracking gained national headlines in 2008 when activist Tim DeChristopher successfully bid on 22,000 acres of oil and gas land in Utah. DeChristopher, who served two years in prison, did not intend to pay but won the bid in order to disrupt the auction and call attention to the leasing program. That pricing regime allows private corporations to pay deeply discounted rates — as little as $1.50 per acre — for drilling rights.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Inspector General released a report calling on the bureau to do a study on “which auction process is best suited for oil and gas leases” in order to prevent the next Tim DeChristopher, whose action landed an explicit mention in the report’s introduction. An email exchange from the day before the Lakewood Holiday Inn action shows both a Lakewood police officer and BLM officer on high alert about the possibility of another DeChristopher-type action taking place. Among the choices laid out in the report as a possible new bidding method was online bidding.
Just days after the Lakewood protest, Kathleen Sgamma — a lobbyist for industry-funded group Western Energy Alliance — advocated for online bidding as a means to “end the circus.” In a May 18 email, BLM Office of Law Enforcement Special Agent-in-Charge Gary Mannino thanked Lakewood Police Chief Kevin Paletta for his department’s help and conveyed that public auctions could soon become a thing of the past.
Congress has followed suit. On June 24, Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., and Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., introduced Innovation in Offshore Leasing Act (H.R. 5577), which calls for online bidding for oil and gas contained in waters controlled by the federal government. On July 6, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing on the bill and it has since passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee.
While the oil and gas industry has come out in support of online bidding, and one contractor in particular named EnergyNet stands to profit from such an arrangement, several environmental groups issued a statement decrying the shift toward online bidding. EnergyNet, whose CEO testified at the June 24 congressional hearing, will oversee a September 20 BLM auction originally scheduled to unfold in Washington, D.C.
Two recently-released studies concluded that phasing out fossil fuel leases on public lands is crucial for meeting the 2° C climate change temperature-rise goal, with one concluding that even burning the existing fossil fuels already leased on public lands would surpass the 2° C goal. After the release of those two studies, environmental groups filed a legal petition with the Interior Department calling for a moratorium on federal fossil fuels leases.
Direct Action Spokane is pursuing a CELDF-style initiative to ban transport of oil and coal through the city, while recognizing the rights of residents to health and safety, and legalizing direct action to enforce these rights. This is a strategic legal attack on the ability of corporations to trample the public good.
Britain’s vote to exit the European Union has been big in the global news, but DGR UK argues in a pre-vote essay, that the vote is mostly tangential to the real issues of environmental destruction, and afterwards that Brexit is a Momentous Non-Event.
Lake Turkana Wind Power is the largest private investment in Kenya’s history. Danish and international companies and investors have already sunk millions of euros into the project. But they now await a court decision that will determine whether the land on which the turbines will be built was illegally acquired.
Most communities in Lake Turkana approve of the wind power project, but there are claims from the Turkana, Samburu, Rendile and El Molo that the consortium behind the project failed to carry out consultations prior to acquiring land in 2007. The consortium, meanwhile, claims that 3 out of 4 tribes in the project are not Indigenous Peoples. The consortium also denies any wrongdoing, claiming that the plaintiffs in the ongoing court case do not represent the Turkana, Samburu, Rendile and El Molo.
The independent media and research center Danwatch recently visited Northern Kenya to get a closer look at the impacts of Kenya’s largest-ever private investment.
Nine community members arrested for blocking construction on Spectra Energy’s AIM pipeline expansion – known as the “Montrose 9″ – join the national debate over harms caused by fossil fuel infrastructure
Cortlandt, NY — The “Montrose 9” are nine community members arrested for disorderly conduct for allegedly blocking traffic near the access to a Spectra Energy construction yard used for the expansion of a high-pressure fracked-gas pipeline known as the AIM pipeline. Their trial has the potential to become a landmark case with national implications involving the “necessity defense.” Defense counsel Martin R. Stolar is a prominent social justice attorney who argues that the defendants’ actions were justified since they were undertaken to stop a greater harm and were carried out only after all other legal and regulatory options had been exhausted. Court adjourned until July 15th at 1pm, when the other seven defendants are expected to testify regarding their reasons for taking direct action against the project.
While the necessity defense has been used in other types of cases, it is unusual in environmental litigation. One case occurred in May 2013 in Massachusetts when a small lobster boat managed to blockade a barge containing 40,000 tons of coal near the Brayton Point Power Plant. The charges of obstruction were dismissed and the presiding judge stated that the actions were morally justified. In a recent Seattle case, the “Delta 5” were found guilty of trespass for blocking an oil train but not guilty of obstruction. Jurors in that case cited sympathy for the activists and feeling of gratitude for their personal sacrifice for the good of all.
In questioning the prosecution’s police witnesses, Mr. Stolar also suggested a more traditional reason to dismiss the charges. He established that the defendants were not, in fact, causing the traffic jam on Route 9A as was charged. Rather, the Spectra workers caused the tie up when they obstructed the roadway with their cars. Police testified that once they began directing the workers to move, the congestion began to clear up even before the arrests took place. When asked how he determined that the cars belonged to pipeline workers, one officer replied that “there were a lot of out of state license plates.”
The greater harm to be prevented:
Defense witnesses, Cortlandt Councilman Seth Freach and two nuclear experts, testified to the dangers posed by the AIM pipeline. Councilman Freach discussed his own, and the Town Board’s, concerns about public health and safety and described letters that were sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and other regulatory agencies expressing those concerns. Among the materials Cortlandt submitted to FERC was a report from an independent study that the Town had commissioned. Councilman Freach noted that, based on the Board’s thorough evaluation of the project, members had voted unanimously in opposition to the pipeline.
Paul Blanch, an engineer with over 50 years of nuclear experience, stated that there were “very significant unaccounted for risks” with the AIM pipeline and “an unacceptable probability” of a serious or catastrophic accident due to the pipeline’s close proximity to the Indian Point nuclear power plant. He also provided details of his efforts opposing the pipeline at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Physicist Paul Moskowitz described the radioactive materials, including lead 210 and polonium 210, that result from decay of the radon in fracked gas. He went on to discuss regulatory filings he’d submitted detailing his concerns about radioactive emissions from the AIM pipeline and their impacts on human health. He testified that FERC’s response to his concerns were “a total fabrication” that “ignored over 50 years of established science.” When asked about what process would be used to deal with these dangerous substances, he responded that since FERC denies the existence of those known radioactive materials in pipelines there is no process in place for dealing with them.
Two defendants explain their actions:
Only two of the Montrose 9 defendants were able to testify before court concluded for the day. Both told their own individual stories of why they had stepped up to protest in such a compelling way. Although members of the community have been working through regulatory channels, their efforts have been met with delays and legal maneuvers, leaving them no recourse but to pursue more direct actions.
Linda Snider testified that since all of the regulatory agencies had ignored the issues, she felt she needed to stop AIM construction herself. She stated, “I wanted to stop the Spectra trucks and stop them from putting in this pipeline. We’ve just got to stop this.”
Defendant Susan Rutman, a landscape photographer who lives next to the Hudson River, was the final witness for the day. She explained she had sought to stop the work through writing to officials. “My intention was to stop the pipeline, because I knew it would prevent a far greater harm.” she said.
Find out more information about the AIM Pipeline and ongoing resistance here:
TransCanada, owner of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline currently being contested in federal court and in front of a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) legal panel, has won a $2.1 billion joint venture bid with Sempra Energy for a pipeline to shuttle gas obtained from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale basin across the Gulf of Mexico and into Mexico.
The 500-mile long Sur de Texas-Tuxpan pipeline, as reported on previously by DeSmog, is part of an extensive pipeline empire TransCanada is building from the U.S. to Mexico. The pipeline network is longer than the currently operating southern leg of the Keystone pipeline (now dubbed the Gulf Coast Pipeline). Unlike Keystone XL, though, these piecemeal pipeline section bid wins have garnered little media attention or scrutiny beyond the business and financial press.
The Sur de Texas-Tuxpan proposed pipeline route avoids the drug cartel violence-laden border city of Matamoros by halting at Brownsville and then going underwater across the U.S.-Mexico border to Tuxpan.
After it navigates the 500-mile long journey, Sur de Texas-Tuxpan will flood Mexico’s energy grid with gas under a 25-year service contract. That energy grid, thanks to the efforts of the U.S. State Department under then-Secretary of State and current Democratic Party presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, has been privatized under constitutional amendments passed in 2013.
TransCanada and Sempra were the only bidders. TransCanada owns the joint venture with Sempra — coined the Infraestructura Marina del Golfo, Spanish for “marine infrastructure of the Gulf” — on a 60-percent basis.
“We are extremely pleased to further our growth plans in Mexico with one of the most important natural gas infrastructure projects for that country’s future,” Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and CEO, said in a press release announcing the bid win. “This new project brings our footprint of existing assets and projects in development in Mexico to more than US$5 billion, all underpinned by 25-year agreements with Mexico’s state power company.”
State Department Role, FERC and Presidential Permits for Sur de Texas-Tuxpan
David Leiter, a campaign finance bundler for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and former chief-of-staff for then-U.S.Senator and current Secretary of State John Kerry, lobbied the White House and the U.S. State Department in 2013 and 2014 on behalf of Sempra Energy on gas exports-related issues.
Because the pipeline is set to carry natural gas, as opposed to oil, it does not need a U.S. State Department permit (though tacit and non-permitted unofficial approval could still prove important). Instead, it seemingly technically requiresU.S.Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval, as well as a presidential permit.
It is unclear if Sur de Texas-Tuxpan will require a presidential permit, though, given the precedent set in the Wild Earth Nation, Et Al v. U.S. Department of State and Enbridge Energy case.
In that case, the Judge allowed Enbridge to break up its tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”)-carrying Alberta Clipper (Line 67) pipeline into multiple pieces — helped along with off-the-books and therefore unofficial State Department authorization — avoiding the more onerous presidential and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) permit review process altogether.
Due to the legal precedent set in another related case, Delaware Riverkeeper v. FERC, oil and gas industry law firm Baker Botts explicitly recommended against utilizing the “segmentation” approach in a January 2015 memo that came out before the Enbridge case ruling.
“Project proponents should be careful to avoid potential ‘segmentation’ of a project into smaller parts simply to try to avoid a more thorough NEPA review,” wrote Baker Botts attorney Carlos Romo. “Segmentation occurs when closely related and interdependent projects are not adequately considered together in the NEPA process.”
The presidential candidates Clinton and Donald Trump have yet to comment on this pipeline or the topic of U.S.-Mexico cross-border pipelines on the campaign trail. But Financial Times, in an April article, pointed out that even Trump — who has pledged he will build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico — has little to say and will likely do little to halt cross-border lines like Sur de Texas-Tuxpan.
“As long as the wall doesn’t go below ground,” Mark Florian, head of the infrastructure fund at First Reserve and a former Goldman Sachs executive, told FT. “I think we’ll be OK.”
Though still fairly early on in the process, Florian’s words have proven true so far.
Sacred Water Sacred Land is sponsoring a tar sands awareness walk through Wisconsin along Enbridge’s proposed Twin Line #66 starting with a kick-off event in Delevan or Walworth on June 8th.
33 Days on Twin #66, a Sacred Water Sacred Land sponsored walk, begins at the entry point of the Enbridge pipeline system, just south of Walworth, WI and follows the route northwest to Superior, raising awareness about the existence of, and proposed expansion to, the Enbridge crude and dilbit pipeline corridor along the way.
33 Days on Twin#66 will consist of consecutive daily 10-15 mile segments with community engagement talks in a revival type setting at overnight encampments at many points along the way. The 420-mile pipeline route is broken into four major sections: northern, upper central, lower central and lower.
Winona La Duke, who has fought tirelessly against the Sandpiper expansion in Minnesota, and her sister Lorna, will be riding with us on horseback along several sections of the walk.
Affected communities and landowners will be engaged by representatives of SWSL – Sacred Water Sacred Land, CELDF – Community Environmental Defense Fund, and WiSE – Wisconsin Safe Energy Alliance, through an ecological forum where the impact of the expansion and a broader conversation about the adverse effects of Canadian tar sands extraction and transport will be explained. Guest speakers will also address climate change and traditional ties to the land while local residents will be encouraged to share their stories and efforts towards healing it.
Through this effort, SWSL endeavors to not only draw attention to the tremendous hazards of tar sands/Bakken oil transport but also help communities imagine and co-create a more sustainable, health conscious society with an emphasis on renewables and non-toxic food systems.
We are looking for additional sponsors to lend credence and build support for the Walk. Sponsorship is welcome in many forms. We encourage you to share the Walk with your membership and follow us on Facebook where specific details will be posted as they solidify. If you wish to participate in greater measure, please contact SWSL directly.
It is past time to unify our efforts and promulgate ecological systems literacy. We hope you will join us as we work together towards a paradigm shift of social and environmental justice for the natural world and the next seven generations. Cosponsored by WiSE, CELDF, and SWSL
1 ~ June 8th – Walworth*, Kick-off!
2 ~ June 9th – Delavan*
3 ~ June 10th – Richmond
4 ~ June 11th – Whitewater*
5 ~ June 12th – Fort Atkinson*
6 ~ June 13th – Lake Mills*
7 ~ June 14th – Sun Prairie*
8 ~ June 15th – Columbus*
9 ~ June 16th – Wyocena
10 ~ June 17th -Portage*
11 ~ June 18th – Oxford*
12 ~ June 19th -Westfield
13 ~ June 2oth – Adams/Friendship*
14 ~ June 21st – Cottonville
15~ June 22nd – Lake Arrowhead
16 ~ June 23rd – Nekoosa*
17 ~ June 24th – Vesper
18 ~ June 25th – Marshfield*
19 ~ June 26th – Spencer
20 ~ June 27th – Riplinger
21 ~ June 28th – Owen/Withee*
22 ~ June 29th – Lublin
23 ~ July 30th – Gilman
24 ~ July 1st – Sheldon
25 ~ July 2nd – Ladysmith*
26 ~ July 3rd – Imalone
27 ~ July 4th – Meteor
28 ~ July 5th – Hauer-Stone Lake
29 ~ July 6th – Hayward
30 ~ July 7th – Gordon*
31 ~ July 8th – Salon Springs
32 ~ July 9th – Hillcrest
33 ~ July 10th – Superior*, Renewable Energy Independence Day!