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Tar Sands Protesters Are Texas Progressive Alliance 2012 Texans Of The Year

The Texas Progressive Alliance, a consortium of Lone Star-based liberal weblogs, has selected the protesters of the Tar Sands Blockade as Texans of the Year for 2012.

The award has been given annually to the person, or persons or organization, who had the most significance influence — for good or ill — on the advancement of progressive interests and causes over the past twelve months.

“As with previous winners (like Fort Worth city council member Joel Burns in 2010, the Harris County Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign in 2008, and Carolyn Boyle of Texas Parent PAC in 2006), the Tar Sands Blockaders represent what progressive Texans strive for: correcting injustices through direct action. Sometimes that takes place at the ballot box, sometimes in the courtroom, and once in a while it happens in the streets. In 2012, it happened in a handful of pine trees in East Texas,” said Vince Leibowitz, president of the TPA.

The Tar Sands Blockade began when TransCanada, the company constructing the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, began seizing property from East Texans via eminent domain to connect the pipeline, which will transport tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur. Despite the fact that the pipeline hasn’t yet been approved by the US Department of State, TransCanada and other operators have been busily cutting down swaths of forest, appropriating the land along the route as necessary, and when challenged by the small group of people protesting, responded with threatening measures and occasionally brute force.

When petitioning, lobbying, and public hearings failed to slow the construction of the pipeline, concerned citizens took to non-violent protests, risking arrest in order to demonstrate the will and demands of Texans concerned about the environment, about the nation’s continuing dependence on dirty fuels, and the collaboration of government officials with the corporate interests. A group of protestors climbed into a stand constructed in a grove of pine trees and halted construction for weeks.

The movement began in June of 2012 with the formation of the Tar Sands Blockade, and the first lawsuit was filed in July.

As construction began in August, protestors began putting themselves on the line. Seven protestors were arrested in Livingston, Texas just before the Labor Day holiday. Even as a judge allowed TransCanada to seize a swath of farmland in Paris, Texas, more protestors chained themselves to construction equipment in rural Hopkins County.

The New York Times and the Washington Post picked up the story in October.

Along with the property owner, actress and activist Daryl Hannah was arrested as the two women physically blocked a piece of heavy equipment and its operator from clearing land for the pipeline. Even as the number of arrests climbed past thirty, the protests grew. A few days before the November election, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein was arrested at the construction site in Winnsboro. In Cherokee County, sheriff’s deputies pepper-sprayed protesters. All of this occurred while the legal battle went back and forth — in December, a judge granted, then vacated, his temporary restraining order on pipeline construction.

And the efforts to stop the pipeline continue today, even as its construction proceeds apace. On November 29, Bob Lindsey and prominent environmental activist Diane Wilson were arrested by Harris County sheriff’s deputies outside Valero’s refinery in the Manchester neighborhood of Houston, where the pipeline will terminate. They chained themselves to tanker trucks outside the gates, were promptly taken into custody, and continue a hunger strike to this day.

With training and mobilization of additional protests and protestors scheduled for early January, 2013, there will be more to report on this action. This week’s Houston Press has a cover story on the protests so far.

The Texas Progressive Alliance salutes those who have sacrificed so much of themselves to underscore the seriousness of America’s fossil fuel addiction, and how the system of corporate and political corruption has come to manifest itself in the controversy surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline.

Runners-up for this year’s Texan of the Year included the following…

– The emerging scandal of the Texas cancer research organization, CPRIT;

– The spectacular failure of Governor Rick Perry’s presidential campaign;

– Attorney General Greg Abbott’s woeful losing record in court in his many lawsuits related to the federal government, including redistricting, voter ID, Obamacare, etc.;

– Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, who defied conventional wisdom and was re-elected to the Texas Senate despite the best efforts of Republicans to deny her;

– The expansion of the Texas Congressional delegation to 36 as a result of the 2010 census and apportionment of extra seats based on population growth in the Lone Star State. New Texans in Washington DC include former Democratic state representatives Pete Gallego and Marc Veasey, but also — and unfortunately — ultraconservatives Randy Weber and Steve Stockman.

Tar sands and Houston’s air quality

PDiddie attended the Houston Frontlines tour that I blogged about before, and wrote a really nice, detailed report about it.

Some background: Tar sands oil contains — among other heavy metals, neurotoxins, and carcinogens — an average of 11 times more sulfur and nickel, six times more nitrogen, and five times more lead than conventional crude oil (.pdf source here). Refining it emits three times as much global warming pollution as conventional oil (here), and the massive network of refineries along the Ship Channel is one of the only places in North America with the industrial capacity to create fuel from the tarry sludge of bitumen flowing from Alberta, Canada. Consequently, it is already one of the worst public health zones in the nation.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would bring upwards of 700,000 barrels of oil per day, and potentially 900,000 once the pipeline is completed, to be refined in Houston and Port Arthur. That represents about 35% of the capacity of the targeted refineries. Given that this oil is a lower quality crude with higher levels of toxic contaminants than usual, the risk of extremely grave consequences is unacceptably high — for Houston’s air quality, the health of its citizens and the repercussions from the federal government for continually failing to meet clean air standards.

Well worth your time to read.

Two environmental issues for your attention

Are you familiar with tar sands? The Sierra Club would like to acquaint you with them this Thursday, December 16, on its Houston Frontlines tour.

Elected officials and community members will gather at Hartmann Community Center on Thursday, December 16th for a tour of industrial facilities along the Houston Ship Channel and the communities they pollute. A press conference will follow the tour, but members of the press are welcome to join the tour as well.

Juan Parras, Director of t.e.j.a.s. (Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services) will be leading the East End tour that will focus on the health threats low-income Houstonians face from refining pollution and the dire consequences of increasing pollution from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would drive a significant increase in refining of Alberta’s tar sands in the Ship Channel area. Tar sands oil contains, among other toxic metals, an average of 11 times more sulfur and nickel, six times more nitrogen, and five times more lead than conventional crude oil. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in charge of permitting the pipeline.

After the tour, local Officials will publicly call on Secretary Clinton and the State Department to conduct a full examination of the pipeline’s impact on Houston’s air quality in the form of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement before granting approval for the project.

Lunch will be provided during the Tar Sands and Keystone XL educational seminar that begins at 12 Noon. Panelists include Clean Air Director Neil Carman, Director of t.e.j.a.s. Juan Parras, and Sierra Club Dirty Fuels Director Kate Colarulli.

Keystone XL Pipeline & Houston’s Air Quality Future
Thursday, December 16
Hartmann Community Center at Hartmann Park in Manchester
9311 E. Avenue P, 77012

The goal of this is to request a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which will guarantee that an analysis of the project’s impact on public health is completed, and that there is time for the public to respond to this new information. To learn more, go to Toxic Tar Sands: Profiles From The Front Lines. To join the tour, respond to the Facebook event.

Also of local interest this week is a TCEQ draft rule that could have a bad effect on Galveston Bay. From Texas Water Matters:

In 2007, the Texas Legislature created a process to determine how much water is needed to protect rivers and bays across the state while allowing for increased water use due to population growth. The law was hailed by environmental groups and many in the water development community as a step forward on a long-contentious issue.

Unfortunately, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality appears poised to waste this opportunity to protect our rivers and bays. TCEQ recently released a rule proposal that would allow the rivers to be reduced to a trickle and leave Galveston Bay without meaningful protection.

At risk: Galveston Bay and the Trinity and San Jacinto Rivers

In most places, TCEQ’s recommended levels would allow Trinity River flows to be reduced to levels seen only about 5% of the time in the last 50+ years. This could harm water quality and could affect the ongoing plans for restoring the Trinity in the DFW area. Low water levels could impact fish and wildlife up and down the river basins.

The shallow waters covering Galveston Bay’s 600 square miles have historically produced as much as 80% of the oysters harvested in the state. The area’s blue crab and shrimp harvests are also some of the largest in Texas. Galveston Bay is loved by recreational anglers and its shallow waters are home to Atlantic croaker, flounder, spotted seatrout, and many other species of fish. Nearly three hundred different kinds of birds have been seen in the area around Galveston Bay.

Galveston Bay’s 600 square miles is one of the most biologically diverse places in the state. Nearly three hundred different kinds of birds have been seen in the area around Galveston Bay. This natural diversity is due in large part to the freshwater flowing into Galveston Bay from the Trinity and San Jacinto rivers. If the rivers are allowed to dwindle to a trickle, Galveston Bay would be deprived of freshwater and would become increasinly salty and less hospitable to wildlife.

What You Can Do

The standards need to be strengthened in accordance with an alternate proposal submitted by the National Wildlife Federation and the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. This alternate approach is based on the work of the majority of the regional Expert Science Team, but simplified to minimize potential water supply impacts and make it easier to implement.

This alternate rule protects the rivers and bay by proposing reasonable flows of water for people and the environment.

YOU CAN HELP MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Help protect the Trinity and San Jacinto Rivers and Galveston Bay by telling TCEQ to strengthen the proposed rule by the December 20th deadline.

Comments may be submitted online here or faxed to (512) 239-4808. All comments should reference Rule Project Number 2007-049-298-OW.

There will also be a public hearing on this in Austin on the 16th at 10 AM at TCEQ headquarters, Building E, Room 201S. This is on I-35 between Braker and Yager Lanes – see here for a map and directions. For more information on this issue, see this Chron story, this Galveston Daily News editorial, and this National Wildlife Federation fact sheet. You can also easily leave your public comment online. Please do so by the 20th if you want to be heard by the TCEQ.

Public hearing on tar sands pipeline

The Sierra Club has an announcement.

The impact of toxic tar sands oil on Houston’s air quality will be the subject of a press teleconference on Friday morning in the hours before a public hearing hosted by the State Department on the same issue that night. The Obama Administration is considering a proposal by TransCanada for the Keystone XL pipeline which would carry toxic tar sands oil from Canada through the American heartland to Texas. Last week the public comment period was extended through July 2 and the Houston hearing was added at the urging of Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Sierra Club and other groups. More than 60 Houston residents turned out to an Air Quality Forum hosted by the Sierra Club last Thursday that focused on the tar sands threat.

The public hearing will be this Friday evening at 7 PM at Channelview High School – Auditorium on New Campus, 1100 Sheldon Road, Channelview, Texas. As noted, the meeting was added late, and it’s the only one, so attend if you can, or dial in to the conference call to make your voice heard:

WHO: Evelyn Merz, Sierra Club; Matthew Tejada, Air Alliance Houston; Dr. Stuart Abramson, Health Professionals for Clean Air

WHAT: Press Teleconference Call on U.S. Department of State Hearing on Tar Sands Impacts to Houston Air Quality and Public Health

WHEN: Friday, June 18, 10:00 AM Central Standard Time (Houston)

PHONE: 1-866-501-6174, Enter code: 31790031892#

More information about this pipeline is at the link above, and more information about tar sands is here and here. Hope you can make it.