Lockdown on the Pipeline: How a Houston Businessman Helped Shut Down Keystone for a Day
Tar Sands Blockade activists halted Keystone XL construction for a full day on August 28 after locking themselves to a truck carrying pipes in Livingston, Texas.
As Hurricane Isaac made landfall in New Orleans on the eve of Hurricane Katrina's seventh anniversary, climate justice organizers in Texas were locking themselves to the axle of a massive TransCanada truck carrying 36-inch pipes intended for Keystone XL construction, in hopes that they might turn the climate crisis around.
Four activists were locked to the truck Tuesday, with two providing direct support—that is, up until the point of their arrest. Fortunately enough, TransCanada workers stepped in to fill their shoes by bringing water to the blockaders throughout the afternoon.
With help from TransCanada workers themselves, these six people were able to shut down operations at the Livingston pipe yard and cut off the transportation of pipes to construction sites across the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, after police were forced to dismantle the truck to make arrests.
"Growing up, I saw the social movements of the sixties as very inspirational. The climate justice movement is our generation's movement of that magnitude. It affects us all," said Chris Voss, a farmer from Fannin County who locked down Tuesday.
The action comes in response to a recent court ruling giving TransCanada the green light to seize a piece of Texas landowner Julia Trigg Crawford's home. Lamar County Judge Bill Harris informed her of this decision by sending a 15-word summary judgment to her from his iPhone in Washington, D.C., on August 15.
It was this mistreatment of landowners, among other reasons, that motivated Houston businessman Ray Torgerson to lock down. "The fact that this corporation can check a box on a form and steal someone's land is insulting," Ray said. "We are here to defend our homes and stand with landowners like Julia."
Julia Crawford is one of the few Texas landowners that never signed one of TransCanada's contractual agreements - holding out against blatant intimidation tactics that so many landowners have said coerced them to sign on to TransCanada's shady dealings. She sought to challenge TransCanada's claim as a "common carrier" in court.
Common carrier status is granted by the Texas Railroad Commission and allows corporations the power to seize private property through eminent domain. But, in Texas, all TransCanada had to do to apply as a common carrier was simply fill out a government form for a permit, known as the T-4 form, and check a box labeled "common carrier."
Crawford's case was backed up by the Texas Rice Land vs. Denbury Green decision in which the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the T-4 permit granted by the Railroad Commission does not conclusively establish the power of eminent domain.
The ruling is another example of a legal system that works against the interests of the many, and one more reason why Tar Sands Blockade organizers believe direct action is necessary. The lockdown at the pipe yard is only the first of many actions to unfold as we turn up the heat on one of the hottest summers ever recorded.
Denny Hook, a retired minister in Gainesville, Texas, describes himself as "an environmentalist that happens to be a minister." Hook hopes to inspire more people to join the movement. "Things are so dire that if all of us don't rise up, we won't make it. This pipeline means the difference between Earth on the edge and Earth over the edge."
The four blockaders were threatened with pain compliance and pepper spray, causing one person to unlock themselves. In addition to the six blockaders arrested Tuesday, Garrett Graham—the videographer for Tar Sands Blockade as well as my partner and friend—was arrested while filming the lock down.
With Mitt Romney talking dirty energy this week at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, and President Obama walking back from his claim that he had rejected the pipeline altogether, both major political parties and the court system are backing a toxic tar sands pipeline that could spell "game over" for the climate.
But people like Tammie Carson, a lifelong Texan from Arlington, are willing to outlast them. Carson was the last blockader arrested Tuesday, earning herself a new nickname—Lone Star Tammie.
"I'm doing this for my grandchildren," Carson said. "I'm outraged that multinational corporations like TransCanada are wrecking our climate. The planet isn't theirs to destroy, and I'm willing to take a risk to protect my grandchildren's future."