Texas Activists Use Their Bodies To Stop Construction Of Keystone XL

An East Texas landowner shows his opposition to Keystone XL. (Photo c/o Tar Sands Blockade.)

by Bill McKibben, via Grist

Almost exactly a year after we launched civil-disobedience actions in Washington to protest the Keystone XL pipeline, folks across Texas are doing the same thing this week.

Or rather, they’re doing something bolder and more courageous — instead of trying to make a political point, they’re actually announcing plans to put their bodies on the line to stop the construction of a portion of the pipe.

I know what you’re thinking: We won at least a temporary victory, blocking approval of Keystone. That’s why Mitt Romney keeps talking about how his first task in office will be getting it going. Indeed, we did carry the day — but only on the portion of the pipeline that crossed the border with Canada and connected to Alberta’s tar sands. The largest civil-disobedience action in the last 30 years — 1,253 arrests over two weeks — was enough to persuade the Obama administration to postpone approval of the border-crossing permit.

But unrelenting pressure from the oil industry was enough to persuade Obama to give the pipeline companies a few slices off the loaf. In fact, the president promised to “expedite” approvals for the southern portion of the pipeline, stretching from Cushing, Okla., to Port Arthur, Texas. It was a real low point for the Obama administration, a perfect emblem of its bankrupt “all of the above” energy “strategy.”

And now TransCanada is ready to begin construction — and a brave crew of local residents is ready to try and stop them.

All along, the pipeline has drawn many different kinds of foes. In this case, environmentalists worried about oil spills and global warming are joined by Tea Party conservatives outraged that a private company is allowed to grab land from people who don’t want to sell it.

It’s hard to predict how it will all turn out. From the beginning of this fight, the oil and pipeline companies have seemed to hold all the cards. A survey of energy “insiders” conducted last fall found 91 percent thought Transcanada would win a permit for the whole route. Instead, just this one portion has been approved. But building even this portion is going to take a fight. Texans aren’t known for submitting quietly to outside authority — if a foreign corporation is going to take their land, it won’t be without a real struggle.

And this one takes place against a special backdrop — the unrelenting heat and drought that have marked one of the toughest summers in American history. If there were ever a moment to take a stand, this is it. Everyone who cares about the future owes these Texans a debt — and in fact, you can help pay their legal costs with a donation.

This comes on the heels of protests in West Virginia blocking mountaintop-removal coal mining, in Montana protesting plans for new coal-export facilities, and on the railroad tracks of the Pacific Northwest stopping trains with coal headed for Asia.

A lot of people are waking up — and the noise that will come from Texas in the next few weeks will add to that loud and lovely din.

Bill McKibben is founder of and Schumann Distinguished Professor at Middlebury College in Vermont. He also serves on Grist’s Board of Directors.

9 Responses to Texas Activists Use Their Bodies To Stop Construction Of Keystone XL

  1. catman306 says:

    “environmentalists worried about oil spills and global warming are joined by Tea Party conservatives outraged that a private company is allowed to grab land from people who don’t want to sell it.”

    Can someone please explain to me how a foreign corporation, TransCanada, can claim the ‘right’ of eminent domain and confiscate right of ways in several of the sovereign states that the pipeline crosses?

    Somehow that doesn’t seem legal to me.

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Thanks, Bill, well done.

    Catman, it’s legal because eminent domain is granted to the oil companies as a product of their having purchased our government.

    As a native Texan (though I left when I was six), this brought tears to my eyes. We all need this key Texas quality these days: a set of balls.

  3. Leif says:

    Only tempered by wisdom.

  4. Carol says:


    As always, excellent point.

    It is going to come down to civil disobedience as the outlook for effective political leadership is beyond bleak.
    Three cheers (and deep, deep appreciation) to all those such as the group in the article above who put their words into action and risk jail (and bodily harm) for this cause.

    My only hope is that enough people will coalesce to form a massive movement specifically devoted to human induced climate change.
    A movement with a foundation rooted in justice, wisdom and compassion. A movement that can channel justifiable outrage into action that is effective and powerful.

    It’s so much more than: “don’t mess with Texas”.
    Obviously this is a global issue.

    I can’t even begin to respond to “we need a set of balls” comment (Mike . . what is going on?) I would defer that notion to the likes of Bob Jensen—–and simply say that there has been more than enough testosterone over the course of humanity’s presence on earth that if all the energy expended on wars could have been harnessed it could solve the energy crisis!
    Kidding aside . .
    It seems to me the foundation for such a movement is out there . . . it’s a matter of somehow bringing it all together so that there is not the fragmentation that is occurring.
    Joe started the necessary dialogue in his article regarding Obama and climate change on July 15.
    Hopefully Joe (so many people admire/respect you Joe—including MSM big wigs like Thomas Friedman!) and others who have bully pulpits can help move the discussion from persuasive dialogue to action.
    I think it’s time to let go of blame as well. As long as we are stuck in blame we are just that —–stuck.
    For many, that will be really hard to let go of . . .
    It’s time to channel the anger, grief, depression, frustration—– into a movement.

  5. Sandra says:

    Solidarity from BC Canada. We’re fighting the same war with our corporate owned Steven Harper and his marry-men of CONS who have sold out to BIG OIL. I like the sound of “a movement.” One that becomes worldwide.

  6. Kevin says:

    Eminent Domain…it ise to be just for government projects like the Interstate System. The Supreme Court changed that about 10 years ago which allow private companies to do the same with the arguement of it “serving the greater good.” I don’t think it is right either but big companies have all the money which means they have all the cards unless the people take a stand.

  7. Connie Kuramoto says:

    More Solidarity from BC Canada. Many here do not want a pipeline either. Stephen Harper’s father is an oil company accountant. I say just shut the Tar Sands Down completely before carbon emissions destroy the planet!

  8. Kelly Masterson says:

    Even More Solidarity from BC Canada. By the way… “Stephen Harper”, for those who don’t know it, is Canada’s Treasonous Prime Minister… He is Canada’s PRIME snake OIL Salesman… TransCanada is NOT a Canadian Company… It’s just the tip of a MultiNational OIL CARTEL, and it in no way represents 99% of Canadians… We also are in the same fight here in CANADA, and are poised to throw are own bodies in front of the Canadian Equivalent of the US Keystone Pipeline… (Gateway Pipeline) Love & support to YOU… <3

  9. Daniel Freysinger says:

    Keep up the good work folks. These comments reaffirm that our brothers and sisters aren’t just in this country. We are one people worldwide. We must stand together against the monied interests that would steal our land and poison our enviornment to feed their greed.

    An injury to one is an injury to all.