Environment

As new pipelines get built, more people are standing in the way

Originally printed on November 27, 2017 on occupy.com

Reprinted on Nation of Change

Energy companies are notorious for their insistence and tenacity in creating new pipeline projects. Just look at TransCanada’s reviled Keystone XL, which took nine years to win approval earlier this month by Nebraska regulators, although the project’s future still hangs in the air.

The fact is, despite the damage they continue to cause to human health and the environment, investment in oil and gas industry infrastructure remains stable. The United States has the largest network of energy pipelines in the world, with more than 2.5 million miles of pipe on or underground. The American Petroleum Institute, one of the most powerful lobbying arms of the fossil fuel industry, estimates that investment in oil and gas will remain more than $80 billion annually until after 2020, at which point it will decrease to $60 billion by 2025.

Readers may find this continued support for fossil fuels surprising, not least given that global oil prices have fallen sharply over the past couple of years. Pipelines remain extremely dangerous and unreliable. Nonetheless, projects are continuing apace, as demonstrated by the industry’s relentless efforts to battle against and wear out protesters from the Keystone XL to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

For example, Enbridge Energy, from Canada, is proposing a replacement of its old Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota, which was installed in the 1960s and is now considered too costly to remove. Instead, the company is seeking to build a new $7.5 billion pipeline to replace it. To make matters worse, all of the crude oil that doesn’t leak from Line 3 will be burned, releasing a vast stream of carbon into the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, Energy Transfer Partners, the Fortune 500 company that is building the Dakota Access Pipeline across the Standing Rock Sioux’s tribal land, is also busy constructing Mariner East 2, a pipeline in the West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania regions to carry crude oil to refineries in Philadelphia. ETP is also behind contentious projects like Bayou Bridge in Louisiana and Trans-Pecos in Texas.

But make no mistake: the implementation of these pipelines isn’t easy. Across the nation, energy companies are increasingly being accused of malicious, often illegal tactics to subdue resistance and keep protestors at bay. The violent events that took place during the DAPL occupation in North Dakota provide enough evidence of this.

RESISTANCE IS RISING

Yet even amid the companies’ growing use of scare tactics and secret maneuvers, citizens are ramping up direct action. People have braved the elements and matched the energy giants with their own brand of force, as residents nationwide turn to a mix of creative and traditional tactics to halt as many projects as they can.

For example, in late September, people participated in a “Hold the Line” rally in the Minnesota State Capitol to protest the Line 3 project. Among them was 70-year-old Minnesotan David Johnson, who said he would stand firm against large energy companies despoiling their state.

“I didn’t want to [be a speaker], but I love this land,” he said. “It’s a pretty isolated part of the county right on the edge of the vast wetlands. There’s lots of wildlife and very few people. I don’t want it threatened by the pipeline and their access roads and the potential leaks.”

Also in September, angry residents in Superior, WI, took more drastic and visible measures through direct action. Unicorn Riot reported that citizens overturned cars to block the way to the pipeline construction site, and chained themselves to the cars.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, four residents filed a federal lawsuit against Energy Transfer Partners claiming that the company had violated their constitutional rights, harassed landowners and caused emotional distress to pipeline protestors.

“Since May of 2015, every day of my life has been affected by the plans to build this pipeline, and the lengths that Energy Transfer Partners will go to in the pursuit of profit,” said plaintiff Elise Gerhart, who lives on property that the pipeline will cross. “We’ve been needlessly harassed by agencies and violently threatened by individuals who’ve been intentionally incited and mobilized.”

Citizens are increasingly challenging the process by which energy companies seize private property for the use of pipelines, known as eminent domain, generating more controversy over the issue. And people-powered organizations like 350.org are leading campaigns to remove the source of funding for these projects by getting big banks to divest from fossil fuels.

In some cases, environmental agencies are also doing their part to block unsafe aspects of these pipeline projects, like in North Carolina, where the Department of Environment Quality rejected the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s erosion control plan.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that pipelines remain unreliable, prone to damage, disrepair and devastating leaks, energy companies continue to treat their bottom line as the only factor when making decisions. As a result, more and more citizens are stepping up to hold companies accountable for their actions, and for their lies, using all the legislative, judicial, financial, political, physical and other creative tactics at their disposal.

How the Monsanto Protection Act Became Law

Originally printed on occupy.com on March 29, 2013

Reprinted on Truthout

Reprinted on Nation of Change

Once again, the largest corporations and their governmental cohorts succeeded in sealing their dominance over our lives without any oversight, transparency or leniency. This time it concerns food safety, as Monsanto and lobbyists have shoved through dangerous legislation that effectively makes any oversight of GMO food void.

The Monsanto Protection Act, which President Obama signed into law this week, will strip judges of their constitutional mandate to protect consumer rights and the environment, while opening up the floodgates for the planting of new untested genetically engineered crops, endangering farmers, consumers and the environment. The result is that GMO crops will be able to evade any serious scientific or regulatory review.

The insistence of our government, and of corporations, is stunning. Like the civil liberties-violating CISPA law that is now being re-introduced in Congress after a year of languishing, Monsanto and its lobbyists are re-introducing the same provisions in the 2013 Farm Bill as they did in 2012. Lobbyists and politicians are relying on Americans’ amnesia to push through their secretive, sweeping agendas.

Modest amendments to the Farm Bill proposal in 2012 were shot down. The Sanders Amendment, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, was struck down by a 73-26 vote, 28 of which were Democratic. Sanders sponsored earlier legislation popularly known as the Vermont Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, but Vermont lawmakers allowed the bill to stall after a representative threatened to sue the state if it passed, based on claims that food oversight should not be delegated to the states but handled by the FDA.

Monsanto is no stranger to our political and judicial system – especially when it comes to influencing it. Currently eight lawmakers own stock in Monsanto: Sen. Kay Hagan (D-North Carolina) and Reps. Dave Camp (R-Michigan), Joe Kennedy III (D-Massachusetts), Alan Lowenthal (D-California), Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) and Fred Upton (R-Michigan).

Additionally, according to Open Secrets, Monsanto spent nearly $6 million on lobbying in 2012 and contributed about $500,000 to federal candidates in the last election.

As a couple of other examples of the breadth of Monsanto’s political influence, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a purportedly philanthropic organization fund established by Bill Gates, purchased 500,000 shares in Monsanto back in 2010, valued at more than $23 million.

And then there’s the election last fall in California where Proposition 37, which would have mandated the labeling of genetically modified organisms in the state, was debated at great cost – and violations of the truth – before its eventual defeat. Monsanto poured about $8,112,000 into advertising and political campaigns against the legislation. The same organization claimed that the No to 37 campaign, largely funded by Monsanto, fabricated a quote that bore the FDA official logo. The quote read:

“The [FDA] says a labeling policy like Prop 37 would be ‘inherently misleading.’”

The campaign supporting Proposition 37 sent a letter to the Justice Department demanding action against the No to 37 campaign for its flagrant violation of law, specifically section 506 of the U.S. Criminal Code. But we should expect no comment or action from the department.

Regarding its influence on the judicial system, Monsanto recently wrapped up a Supreme Court case in which it pressed charges against an Indiana soybean and wheat farmer, Vernon Hugh Bowman, whom it accused of breaking a patent agreement on second-generation Roundup Ready soybean seeds.

Bowman bought the seeds from a grain elevator after a farmer, who had purchased Monsanto’s seeds legally, sold them to the grain elevator. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, whose line of justices includes a former lawyer for Monsanto: Clarence Thomas. Thomas did not recuse himself from the case. The verdict has yet to be decided, but food advocacy groups are apprehensive about the ruling.

Monsanto devotes about $10 million a year and 75 staffers to investigating farmers for possible patent violations. 93 percent of soybeans, 88 percent of cotton and 86 percent of corn in the U.S. are grown with Monsanto’s patented seeds.

Just as central and major commercial banks are attempting to control the economy, just as corporations and other large entities are attempting to control our politics and elected officials, just as large oil companies are attempting to control the debate on climate change and the environment in general, biotech and agriculture giants are attempting to control food production through patented, genetic manipulation, using dirty political clout to support it and a lack of judicial or legislative oversight to continue it.

Why Transcanada’s $15 billion lawsuit against the U.S. is a bad omen for the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Originally printed on January 11, 2016 on www.occupy.com

Reprinted on Popular Resistance

The latest expression of our corporate-controlled economic structure revealed itself last week when TransCanada, the Canadian-based energy giant that hoped to build the Keystone XL pipeline, filed a $15 billion lawsuit against the United States government for rejecting the pipeline’s construction, under guidelines set forth in NAFTA. The lawsuit presents the most recent evidence of the prioritization of corporate profits and interests over the rights of citizens in a sovereign, domestic nation. Yet instances like this will only increase with the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In a statement accompanying the news, TransCanada announced that it had “undertaken a careful evaluation of the Administration’s action and believe there has been a clear violation of NAFTA and the U.S. Constitution in these circumstances.” The company also called the government’s decision to reject the pipeline “arbitrary and unjustified.”

Arbitrary and unjustified indeed. The pipeline, about 1,200 miles long, would have carried over 830,000 daily barrels of crude oil, or tar sands, from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast. It would have been built over precious aquifers throughout the midwestern U.S., namely the Ogallala Aquifer. It would also violate tribal sovereignty and potentially pose problems with eminent domain – where landowners would be forced to give up their land to a foreign corporation under the argument that it was somehow serving the “public interest.”

How dare we, as a free nation, come to the conclusion that this pipeline is bad for our country?

But here’s the real kicker: not only can TransCanada sue the U.S. government over the costs of the project, but the company is also allowed to seek an array of damages taking the form of “expected future profits.” What we have here is a foreign corporation suing the American taxpayers because their government made a democratic, sovereign, autonomous decision to reject a commercial project, on both ecological and economic grounds. The process is occurring in an extrajudicial forum completely outside the realm of U.S. domestic law, cites the non-profit Public Citizen, “in which three private attorneys are authorized to order unlimited sums of taxpayer compensation.”

“The amount is based on the ‘expected future profits’ the tribunal surmises that the corporation would have earned in the absence of the public policy it is attacking,” the group writes. “There is no outside appeal. Many of these attorneys rotate between acting as tribunal ‘judges’ and as the lawyers launching cases against the government on behalf of the corporations.” The private attorneys aren’t bound by conflict of interest or impartiality rules, and “if a government doesn’t pay, [the plaintiff] has the right to seize government assets in order to extract our tax dollars.”

In fact, the American taxpayers have already shelled out over $440 million as a result of these extreme investor-state systems included in many U.S. trade deals. Most of the lawsuits were filed under the domestic state tribunal guidelines outlined in NAFTA, which we can thank former President Bill Clinton for signing into law.

Prelude to the TPP?

The TransCanada lawsuit, in short, is a forerunner of what we can to happen should the TPP come into effect. When speaking in front of Nike, in Beaverton, Ore., Obama mocked individuals that claimed that the TPP and similar trade agreements were circumventing national governmental decisions.

“Critics warn that parts of this deal would undermine American regulation, food safety, worker safety, even financial regulation. This is…(chuckles)…they’re making this stuff up. This is just not true. No trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws,” said the president. He went on, “[The TPP] reflects our values in ways that frankly, some previous trade agreements did not. It’s the highest standard, most progressive trade deal in history. It’s got strong enforceable provisions on…child labor [and] on the environment…NAFTA was passed 20 years ago. That was a different agreement.”

One can argue about the meaning of the word “progressive,” but in the traditional American rhetoric, it’s probably not supposed to be used to describe a policy granting supranational judicial powers to corporate entities. To use it with a superlative is particularly unsettling. And “our values?” Please speak for yourself, Mr. President.

Obama’s statements contradict Public Citizen’s findings. Lori Wallach, head of the group’s Global Trade Watch, has indicated that “the actual language that TransCanada is using in this case…is the same language that, word-for-word, is replicated in TPP.” But more important to discuss are the implications of the corporate tribunal system that allows foreign multinational corporations to sue sovereign nations for making decisions that could, potentially, impact their profits. Businesses that didn’t get what they wanted with the passage of NAFTA have contributed to the secret crafting of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its Atlantic twin, the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement, or TAFTA.

It is the right of any free nation to dictate its own laws and guidelines – especially if those laws and guidelines help strengthen food and water safety, financial regulation, and environmental regulation. Supranational lawsuits like TransCanada’s directly contradict and infringe upon that right. As corporate leaders secretly tighten their grip on the economy, governments, and particularly the citizens of those governments, fear they will slowly become subservient to those corporate entities. More frighteningly, with the airtight, secretive trade agreements being crafted behind closed doors, there will be no legal or political recourse to reverse the decisions.

Government’s Newest Trade Deal is PPP: Poison the Population for Profit

Originally published on February 4, 2016 on www.occupy.com

By now most of us know about the story that has unfolded in Flint, Michigan, where Gov. Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager, Darnell Earley, who, in April of 2014, redirected the city’s water source from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department to the Flint River in an effort to save money. As a result, the corrosion from the water wore out the lead solder on the water pipes, leading thousands of children and families to be permanently poisoned.

What began in Flint, however, didn’t stay in Flint. Recently, news came out about water poisoning in Sebring, Ohio. And just last week, The Detroit News revealed that, in fact, many Michigan cities have a similar if not worse water contamination crisis on their hands. Now, incidences of poisoned water are snowballing into a colossal emblem of state governments’ prioritization of corporate interests and profit over the basic health needs of the population.

But while the issue has only recently taken the spotlight, in truth it’s a very huge snowball that is already far advanced.

What is the common thread tying together these neglectful and unforgivable actions on the part of our political leaders? Corporate usurpation of our government and, with it, a rewiring of the legislative, executive and judicial neurons of the body politic in an effort to serve none other than the 1%.

The pathological elites, those who seem enshrined in political immunity for their actions, couldn’t care less about the state of the water when it isn’t their children who are drinking it. They receive the facts well before anyone else and, true to form, they take care of themselves. Newly discovered e-mails show that Michigan officials trucked in clean water to the state building in Flint as far back as January of 2015.

Sadly, the individuals who have been working most diligently to reprogram our societal nervous system have already deflected most resistance to that reprograming. They have accomplished this by shifting the accountability for their actions on to others – otherwise known as “emergency managers” – so that despite the severity of the crime it appears that no one in the room is to blame. Not so, by a long shot.

Removal of accountability

The poisoning of our precious resources, like what happened in Flint, offers a stark illustration of not only political malfeasance – but the associated criminal immunity that comes with it.

Laws that allow for the appointment of emergency managers are a way of circumventing democracy and accountability for the benefit, and profit, of the 1%. Appointed individuals are not answerable to the public, and instead represent a concentration of power in the hands of unelected individuals instead of elected city councilors and mayors. Gov. Rick Snyder is an elected official. Darnell Earley – who moved on from water to education, and abruptly stepped down Tuesday as the emergency manager of Detroit’s public schools – is not.

According to The New York Times, “Under the administration of Mr. Snyder, who has held office since 2011, seven cities or school districts have been declared financial emergencies and placed under appointed management, state officials said. During the eight-year tenure of his predecessor, Jennifer M. Grenholm, a Democrat, five cities or school districts were given emergency managers.”

The irony, of course, is that if funding had not been removed from city budgets in the first place, the appointment of emergency managers would not be necessary. Some heads have already rolled: Susan Hedman, an administrator that oversaw the EPA’s regulations in Midwestern states, has resigned. Additionally, the director of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, Snyder’s chief of staff and chief spokeswoman, and the Flint director of Public Works have all been forced out. But these are merely pawns shielding the true criminal orchestrators behind the scenes.

Gov. Snyder, save some massive public uprising, will not pay a significant price for the crimes in Flint because he is enshrined in the political elite and, therefore, is granted immunity. Case in point: the Board of State Canvassers recently rejected a petition to recall Governor Snyder.

He is not alone. In the same vein, President Obama will not face repercussions for backtracking on his promise to pull out of Afghanistan. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld will not be charged as war criminals for stoking lies that brought about the invasion of Iraq. BP will not face criminal charges for spilling oil in the Gulf of Mexico. The six banks convicted on felony charges of rigging the LIBOR rate will never face criminal charges. The list goes on and on.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald beautifully laid out the two-tiered justice system in his book “Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. The Flint water crisis is just the latest extension of this already well-developed, dichotomous brand of justice.

Water is a human right and a basic necessity. The flagrant neglect to protect Flint residents’ health by elected officials, and those they appointed, illustrates the immoral if not unthinkable degree of crimes carried out in the name of profit and a corporate-controlled politics. If the people don’t demand justice from those who injured us, no one in a courtroom will.