Winning with People Power, KXL and Beyond

by Dave Saldana, Keystone PipeLIES Exposed

It was heartening to see people from across America join community leaders, union members, and grassroots activists in Detroit recently as they rallied in support of people facing water shutoffs for unpaid bills. The injustice of low-income residents of Detroit losing water service at the height of summer while corporate customers owing tens of thousands went unmolested was evident. The refusal to put up with the situation was infectious.

As John Nichols of The Nation pointed out, the people of Detroit overwhelmingly voted against Gov. Rick Snyder (R), and nobody voted for the unelected “emergency manager” Snyder appointed to oversee the piecemeal auction of the city’s resources to private corporations.

But the people’s voice was heard on that mid-July day, as shortly thereafter the water department called a moratorium on shutoffs, and then placed control of the department back in the hands of elected officials responsible to the citizenry.

It was an important lesson in how public outcry against injustice, amplified by collective action to draw attention to it, can change the course of public policy, and sometimes even history.

We’re seeing that play out now in the Keystone XL fight, as issues raised in opposition to TransCanada’s proposed toxic spillway through the heart of the United States have resonated far beyond the present debate. Commonsense resistance to the threat of environmental degradation, water insecurity, corporate hegemony, and fossil-fuel addiction is gaining traction.

It starts with the grassroots group Bold Nebraska, whose fight to overturn the hastily passed law that granted the governor of their state authority to condemn land for pipeline use has effectively stopped KXL in its tracks. An appeal of a court’s ruling that the law violates the state constitution won’t be heard before September, so until it’s resolved there is no legal route for the pipeline through Nebraska, and for now the Ogallala Aquifer is safe.

The question of seizing private land for corporate profit has become such a hot-button issue that even Texas– as close as you’ll see a state come to being a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Oil– is reconsidering whether pipelines should remain “common carriers,” and thus eligible to exercise eminent domain.

Bold Nebraska is also taking on oil-by-rail, the false-dichotomy alternative plan (read: threat) offered by Big Oil to persuade Americans that a pipeline is a better, safer option than moving millions of barrels of oil by train.

Big Oil is fighting to keep information about how much and what type of oil and chemicals they are shipping from the public. They claim it’s because of “national security” threats or concerns over trade secrets, but we know the reality is they fear a backlash if the public knew the actual volume of potentially exploding oil trains traveling through our communities, and all the deadly chemicals they are piping through our land and water.

Bold Nebraska is petitioning the state to disclose what chemicals are included in the oil shipments that run through their state, so citizens might knowledgeably measure the risks. This is not a esoteric question; ThinkProgress reports that at least 25 million Americans live within the “blast zone” of an oil-car explosion. If that doesn’t give you a chill, I’d urge you to consider the 47 people vaporized in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, just over one year ago.

Faced with such a clear and present danger, Americans are now acting to defend themselves against voracious corporate appetites. In Utah, 21 activists were arrested after taking direct action to stop the first tar sands development project in the U.S. In Portland, Maine, the city voted to ban loading of oil onto ships on its waterfront, foiling a plan by Canadian tar sands producers to reverse the flow of an existing pipeline that has delivered oil from foreign producers to Canada since World War II.

That’s not even mentioning the increasing reliance on alternative, green energy sources like solar and wind, which have grown so much that ALEC is now trying to cripple those industries by forcing homeowners and other solar users to pay for the privilege of selling excess energy back to the utility companies, as reported by Nick Surgey at The jobs created by and environmental benefits of moving toward renewable energy? If an entrenched corporation can’t make a buck off it, ALEC will try its best to kill it.

Even ALEC and right-wing talker Rush Limbaugh (who credits himself for making Americans the worst climate deniers in the world) are not able to silence the growing number of people seeing the light on the damage done by fossil fuel dependency. From Pope Francis,

“Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.”

to the National Hockey League,

“[B]efore many of our players ever took their first stride on NHL ice, they honed their skills on the frozen lakes and ponds of North America and Europe.

“Climate change could cause Canada’s traditional ice hockey to go extinct”, March 5, 2012

Our sport can trace its roots to frozen freshwater ponds, to cold climates.Major environmental challenges, such as climate change and freshwater scarcity, affect opportunities for hockey players of all ages to learn and play the game outdoors.”

to American consumers willing to pay a little more to reduce their carbon footprint and fight the effects of global warming, the popular movement to resist environmental catastrophe for corporate profit is growing.

Mind you, this people power is rising despite the fact that environmental groups are being outspent 4-to-1 by Big Oil in the KXL debate, not to mention the manufacturing groups, chambers of commerce, and other organizations that stand to make money off the pipeline. The Washington, DC, political newspaper Roll Call points out that timing of much of the lobbying curiously coincides with campaign contributions to Senators whose support is being curried by Keystone XL supporters.

But as Natural Resource Defense Council analyst Anthony Swift told us in “Keystone PipeLIES Exposed,” they may have more money, but we have more people, and we have more votes. So until the final votes are counted and Keystone XL is finally laid to rest, the fight continues.