Open post
AP Photo/James MacPherson

On Direct Action With Trump Around

The day before police evicted the Frontline Encampment directly in the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline, Jesse Jackson appeared at the blockade on horseback. Celebrity appearances at the DAPL resistance always gave the sleepless days and nights of Native American ceremony, construction equipment lockdowns, and riot police deployments a surreal tinge. But as police violence escalated and the conflict land defenders had anticipated for months loomed, the appearance of the civil rights icon and 1980s presidential candidate riding toward the burning barricades on North Dakota State Highway 1806 pushed the confrontation into the territory of a dream.

Now Governor Jack Dalrymple has ordered the eviction of the main encampment where thousands are resisting the pipeline—which is being constructed behind a fortress of razor wire fencing, floodlights, and armored vehicles—and is refusing to plow roads into the camp, refusing emergency services, and preventing delivery of supplies to water protectors. Police violence has already cost one woman her arm and potentially another vision in an eye and sent an elder into cardiac arrest, but now the state is simply trying to kill people.

This waking nightmare trajectory—events which simultaneously suspend one’s sense of reality and fill one with overwhelming dread—is of course paralleled in the ascendancy of a delusional fascist reality television star to the office of President and his subsequent appointment of a cadre of comic book villains to cabinet positions. In these moments of almost unbelievable human crisis and global change, in addition to political theory and movement history, one might look for guidance on how to respond in fictional narratives. As a friend recently said, “We are living in dystopian science fiction, and we better start acting like it.”

The following are a few thoughts on how to live up to that mandate. They begin with those narrowest in scope, pertaining directly to addressing the climate crisis and systemic ecological collapse, then move to inherent connections between movements attempting to do this and others addressing incarceration and repression, and finally into thoughts on general strategies against Trump’s assault on human dignity. What they have in common—the motivation for citing science fiction as a useful road map forward—is that they assume a situation that is so terrible it does not seem real engenders possibilities for liberatory action which otherwise would not be possible.

la-1477535879-snap-photo

Trump and Climate

It is worth noting that Trump’s presidency is forcing mainstream media to acknowledge that current and prospective policies are ending life as we know it. What is so remarkable about this is that it was also true under Obama and would assuredly have remained so under Clinton, but because Clinton presented a facade of climate progress while acquiescing to the fossil fuel industry, her administration would have been characterized by NGOs, media, and other institutions placing a greater emphasis on federal policies and international climate accords which would have been weak or altogether immaterial. Because Trump flatly denies the reality of our burning world, these same entities must now join the rest of us in soberly contemplating how to address the crisis when mechanisms within traditional venues of institutional power clearly and unequivocally do not exist.

For instance, The Atlantic recently featured an article titled “The Electoral College Was Meant to Stop Men Like Trump from Becoming President,” arguing that he represented an unprecedented danger, and citing the climate crisis as the first justification. Had Clinton or another Republican become president, an equally convincing article could have been written arguing that this same crisis required some other action as remarkable and radical as electoral college intervention in the election, but it would have been more likely to appear in the Earth First! Journal.

During the era of Tar Sands Blockade, the Washington Post editorial board decried the fight against the Keystone pipeline and argued that protesters should, instead of fighting infrastructure projects, direct their energies toward pushing for a federal carbon tax (a legislative impossibility then just like it is now). Now that the Post is appropriately terrified of the power structure, it creates the possibility they’ll stop arguing for imaginary solutions within it and be forced to listen more closely to those who have already taken matters into their own hands. This should be seen as an opportunity to normalize heretofore radical approaches to climate change.

Direct action which exerts influence on sub-national entities was already a central strategy for addressing the climate crisis. Federal intransigence on climate is such that most plausible scenarios for significant near-term emissions reductions involve states, counties, and municipalities—who have managed to convince themselves that meaningful climate action is the job of someone with more power, like the federal government and the United Nations—to find diverse and creative ways to dismantle their fair share of the fossil fuel economy. There are many with non-federal institutional power who do truly understand the gravity of the climate crisis and do understand that no one is coming to save them, but the political steps necessary are so extraordinary and difficult that strategic direct action will be necessary to compel action.

The fact that those with the most power in the United States—those who share Trump’s poor grasp on reality and those who understand climate alike—are allowing the planet to die is a scathing indictment of the political system, but it ultimately might not be bad for global ecology. A significant federal or international climate strategy would have diminished prospects for alternate approaches at lesser scales of power. Such a strategy would have almost inevitably been market and technology driven and would have failed to achieve necessary emissions reductions. A heterogeneous patchwork of approaches at multiple scales of power is actually a far more plausible scenario for addressing climate, as it allows real world observation of the effects of multiple strategies. It also creates more opportunities to realistically advocate for conceptually distinct approaches from those utterable in the halls of federal power, like addressing fossil fuel extraction as well as consumption.

Now that we’ve descended into overt dystopian nightmare, cities, counties and states that have had trouble grasping it is their job to deny a permit for a coal export terminal or a natural gas facility on the basis of climate have no more hypothetical future federal strategies to defer to. This is an opportunity.

Infrastructure battles will remain critical. It is not altogether clear to what extent Trump will actually find ways to massively increase fossil fuel extraction through the elimination of federal regulation without the construction of considerable new infrastructure. Lack of infrastructure is already the primary constraint on extraction for many fossil fuel reserves. For instance, federal auctions of Powder River Basin coal were already receiving no bids before Obama’s moratorium on new federal lands coal leases, because the domestic market is at capacity, as are marine export terminals. More terminals need to be constructed for federal coal extraction to substantially increase. Infrastructure capacity also was the primary constraint on Bakken oil production in the Midwest before the price of oil declined.

The vast reserves of fossil fuels Trump wants to open up to corporations were in many cases already open to corporations, and the infrastructure necessary to expand extraction wasn’t constrained by federal regulation so much as local campaigns which have been killing infrastructure projects through state, county, and municipal mechanisms (with a few federal interventions thrown in). Obama made numerous policies that diminished federal barriers to the rapid construction of new pipelines and fossil fuel rail and marine terminals. In this area, Trump may have to look harder than he thinks for cumbersome regulations to undo.

The importance of campaigns against infrastructure will continue, but it will be different under Trump in that direct action has always been central to these campaigns, and the consequences for doing direct action are likely to increase.

rtssksf-1

Climate Direct Action, Mass Incarceration, and Mass Deportation

In order to intervene in the climate crisis, we must do direct action which guarantees we will experience state repression. This is true with or without a xenophobic bag of tanning lotion in the White House. Arguably the moment of most decisive confrontation with fossil fuel hegemony in the US from climate-specific direct action to date came when the #ShutItDown activists turned the valves of all five tar sands pipelines entering the United States from Canada, stopping the flow of oil. The action shut down 15% of America’s domestic oil supply, affected the market, and spread fear among investors. It also resulted in activists facing potential prison sentences of many decades.

In order to shift our current climate trajectory, we must engage in direct action which is deeply disruptive and which makes the climate crisis not just understood by those in power but felt. #ShutItDown illustrates that in order to do this, we must take action which pits us directly against the massive apparatus of surveillance, incarceration, and militarized policing that the United States has developed. We must attempt to cope with alarming tendencies to criminalize dissent in general and label activism terrorism.

The struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline of course also illustrates that the fight against the fossil fuel industry is inherently a fight against the apparatus of repression. Strategies against this industry are impossible to contemplate without simultaneously contemplating strategies for resisting, and maximizing the political benefit of, the state’s response. This should be seen as simply another dimension of the work—like having a media contact list and meetings—without which it cannot proceed.

The #ShutItDown activists facing criminal charges are attempting to argue the necessity defense in court—that their illegal actions were necessary to prevent the greater harm of climate catastrophe. In other words, these activists both took the kind of disruptive action that creates real crisis for the system and also anticipated the response of the legal system as an intrinsic part of their political approach. The necessity defense is only one such framework, but it seems imperative that something of this nature be integrated into many of our actions.

The fact that we must face repression and the fact that people are subject to mass incarceration and deportation creates a logical nexus for connecting climate action with other struggles. This is not to say that the conflicts with the legal system are identical in each case, but let us look to Standing Rock to see that there is a valid cohesion. Direct action drove Dakota Access Pipeline construction from the Missouri River for months and from a larger area west of the river for weeks. But ultimately, police and federal law enforcement deployed in enormous numbers, with heavy weaponry, armored vehicles, sound cannons, surveillance teams, and a penchant for brutality, and construction resumed in the area as a military endeavor.

The fact that a government needs the capacity to wage domestic warfare on its citizens (and the capacity to imprison them in mass) is a scathing indictment of that government, and in the United States it wasn’t always the case. The current state of the criminal justice system is the result of a series of policies that began under Nixon as a response both to the political unrest and the increase in urban violence of the 1960s, policies which had noteworthy escalations under Reagan, Clinton, and Bush. Policies motivated by social unrest tend to result in police forces with heavier weaponry and more of a large-scale tactical emphasis, whereas policies motivated by fear of crime tend to result in not only more heavily armed cops but also the construction of lots and lots of prisons. Ultimately, though, however much these conceptually distinct motivations may exist for the current police state, many of the mechanisms that actually create it—such as federal funding for police tactical units and transfers of military equipment to local police forces—make no clear distinctions.

Obama’s recent words and gestures concerning mass incarceration, and a handful of other moments of mainstream political discomfort with the extent of America’s prisons and police forces, indicate there are plausible near-term scenarios in which legitimate gains could be made. Of course, with the Trump ascendancy, in the very near-term prospects for diminishing the scope of the police state look horribly dire. But again (this being an ubiquitous theme of organizing in this new world we find ourselves in), we should use the fact that a good deal of the power structure is deeply alienated from Trump as an opportunity to normalize heretofore radical positions.

Time and again, fear of crime and social chaos has proven adequately politically potent that mainstream opposition to ever-increasing police and prisons has been both sparse and tepid. We should be making claims and taking action against the criminal justice system which centers the elementally simple truth that using as much force against people as the United States does, and locking as many people up, is fundamentally immoral.

Of course, Black Lives Matter is a nationwide mass movement already engaged in a powerful confrontation with state violence. Explicitly and meaningfully connecting climate work to the movement for black lives should somewhat increase that movement’s political impact (if for no other reason than an increase in numbers, as many mobilized on climate aren’t on black lives). Something on the order of the very publicly visible and consciously articulated alliance of labor and environmentalism that occurred around the era of the WTO seems necessary for climate defense, indigenous rights, and movements against police violence. In the case of climate defense and indigenous rights, a significant proportion of the battles are in fact the very same battles, and these movements share a need to dismantle the police state with the movement for black lives.

15027928_1790009104581963_3479272411462494905_n

Direct Action and Institutional Power

Direct action can influence the behavior of political entities which are capable of significantly impeding Trump’s agenda. This is true in many respects. The fact that so much of the political establishment, even on the right, is adverse to Trump likely creates unique opportunities. A number of his pronouncements of policy—like rescinding NAFTA and opening up vast new reserves of federal fossil fuels—clearly were made without a good deal of thought about the actual mechanisms or logistical realities in question. Often, establishment aversion to Trump seems less based on morality than on an abhorrence for his disinterest in time honored protocols. This underscores the fact that institutional collaboration at all levels is necessary for any of this madman’s visions to become reality, and in a way that has perhaps never been true of a US president, it isn’t at all clear where he will and will not receive that collaboration.

The city of San Francisco issued a resolution in response to Trump’s election that is so beautiful it honestly might make you cry. Crucially, the resolution does not simply denounce Trump’s agenda, but makes clear the city will not participate in it. The whole thing truly is worth reading in its entirety, but a characteristic passage reads: “…no matter the threats made by President-elect Trump, San Francisco will remain a Sanctuary City. We will not turn our back on the men and women from other countries who help make this city great, and who represent over one third of our population.”

Institutional countermeasures such as this are absolutely necessary, on a very wide scale, to neutralize the threats that Trump poses. These are important both as actual impediments to evil acts and as a means of diminishing the political empowerment of the administration to pursue further evil. We should take very seriously the notion that moments of crisis are moments of opportunity and be willing to consider the possibility that some institutions of power may be willing to act with far more principle and courage than before. This doesn’t necessarily mean we should begin appealing to city councils and state legislatures at every conceivable turn—we can also influence institutional behavior without directly engaging it on its terms, or even acknowledging the institutions in question as valid. But it is worth thinking very seriously about how our actions interact with the motivations, values, and likely behaviors of those who, however crazy, aren’t quite as crazy as Trump.

screen-shot-2016-07-09-at-11-40-31-am

Open post

Mapping the Portlandia Fossil Fuel Corridor

It seems like just about every week Portland is receiving some sort of new award or recognition for sustainability. We certainly built up a legacy of ecological awareness early-on. Tom McCall, our republican governor in the 60’s and 70’s, advocated for protecting the Commons and cleaning up our watersheds and airsheds. Portland was also ahead of other cities in the West in its commitment to smart urban planning and transportation justice. It only makes sense that Portland is ground zero for the climate fight, but maybe not for the reasons one would think.

While we’ve been told by City Hall and the media that we’ve already won the struggle for a greener future here in Portland, the reality is even more twisted and dangerous than the fossil fuel metropolises of Calgary or Houston. While the dream of Little Beirut fades to the parody of Portlandia and the people trade their banners and blockades for hybrid cars and LEED-certified condos, the fossil fuel industry has found a way to entrench itself in our own communities without the public’s knowledge, consent, or resistance.

_MG_1647_Katieleadsreturn_1
Outside Arc Logistics on 2nd anniversary of Lac-Mégantic.

 The list is exhausting and in progress, but we must understand how deep the fossil fuel industry has embedded itself to our city so we can deconstruct the system that empowers them to profit off violence against us all.

Companies like ESCO and Precision Castparts make their profits off creating the drill bits and wearable parts for physically destroying the Earth through tar sands, fracking, and mountaintop removal. Precision Castparts also profits off wars by building parts designed kill for access to fossil fuel control around the world.

Climate Riders blockading the entrance to the Precision Castparts headquarters.
Climate Riders blockading the entrance to the Precision Castparts headquarters.

Heavy shipping companies like Omega-Morgan and Emmert illegally transport Megaloads to processing facilities in the Alberta Tar Sands.

Megaloads
Stop Megaloads in Eastern Oregon.

 Evraz North America constructs the steel pipe for oil and gas pipelines like the Keystone XL while Greenbrier Cos./Gunderson Marine and Vigor Industrial build the oil and coal railcars and barges that turn our railroads and rivers into pipelines with zero public knowledge of how much is moving through our communities. In Seattle and Portland, Vigor Industrial and Foss Maritime are contracting with Shell to maintain and house the Arctic Drilling Fleet.

 David Evans and Associates, as well as HDR and CH2M Hill, designs infrastructure projects and promote freeway expansions like the Columbia River Crossing that increase the market for a perpetual growth in fossil fuel consumption.

 HDR and CH2M Hill build the terminals, refineries, and other infrastructure projects that move fossil fuels from the ground to market. After the land and water is inevitably contaminated by their own projects, they win massive no-bid government contracts to clean up their own mess with taxpayer dollars.

Timber companies like Koch-owned Georgia-Pacific release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, having been sequestered into the soil for millions of years while permanently harming our ability to store carbon and replenish our watersheds.

Tim Norgren lock to barrel, supporters nearby with banners
Union Member Risks Arrest at Arc Logistics

And many companies directly move fossil fuels through Portland, often to be burned in Asia. Arc Logistics operates a 1.5 million-barrel capacity crude oil terminal, accepting oil trains from fracked and tar sands sources and ships it down the Willamette. Canadian company Pembina is planning on building a $500 million propane-by-rail export terminal from fracked oil and gas. The proposed site sits in an environmental protection area across from West Hayden Island, which will be hearing testimony on June 4th for a code change to allow for more fossil fuel facilities along our already-polluted rivers. And Kinder-Morgan, currently waging a war against the city of Burnaby over a massive and illegal tar sands pipeline on unceded First Nations land, is operating two petroleum terminals on the banks of the Willamette.

Solidarity with Burnaby Mountain Defenders
Solidarity with Burnaby Mountain Defenders

Despite greenwashing efforts, our non-municipal and undemocratic utility companies continue to cause climate change by acquiring a majority of our electricity from fossil fuels. NW Natural burns fracked gas, Pacific Power is the largest miner and burner of coal in the West, and PGE burns both coal and gas while releasing massive amounts of methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere from the dead reservoirs created by its dams.

And of course, all of these businesses continue to directly pollute our air and watersheds right here in Portland on top of doing the same to frontline communities at all points of extraction and transportation. And their contributions to climate change threatens the existence of the vast majority of species on Earth, including our own.

To make matters worse, these industries receive subsidies, tax breaks, and loopholes that steal millions from the public while forcing us taxpayers to foot the bill for their environmental destruction. Accounting firms like Moss-Adams LLP specialize in helping these businesses figure out how to receive the most corporate welfare possible while also hiding their profits in tax havens overseas.

Most people don’t realize how entrenched the fossil fuel industry is in Portland. In fact, without Portland’s contributions, the fossil fuel industry and extraction would likely cease to function in its current capacity. But if we are such a sustainable city, and our government is truly passionate about fighting climate change, why aren’t they doing everything they can to shut these businesses down and strengthening our Climate Action Plan to recognize global impact on emissions?

Our local government and business institutions are supporting the fossil fuel industry from extraction to combustion, but they have greenwashed their image to make it consistent with the ideals of “Green” Capitalism. Portland has actually become a leader in creative branding and marketing, which includes the greenwashing of corporate polluters. Local public relations firms spin and obfuscate the facts on polluters while promising nothing more than “Jobs” that will apparently end our need for safe air, water, and food. PR firms like Gard Communications, Gallatin Public Affairs, Edelman, and CFM Communications are representing coal, oil, and gas terminals while simultaneously getting contracts from local institutions like Portland State, OPB, the Timbers, OnPoint Credit Union, and Travel Oregon.

ClimateRide1
Climate Riders shutting down CFM Communications right across from City of Portland.

Even institutions that are supposed to represent the interests of the environment and the community are playing a role in greenwashing the fossil fuel industry. SOLVE, one of Oregon’s largest environmental non-profits that was started by Tom McCall himself, gets volunteers to clean up litter and remove invasive species. However, the Board of Directors is almost entirely made up of members of the fossil fuel industry and Wall Street. Their Board of Directors then hands out sustainability leadership awards to themselves so their corporations can advertise their green credentials. The work of committed community members who volunteer to plant native species is then turned around to promote the same companies that pollute our air, water, and climate far beyond their role in putting a bandaid on the problem. With their brands on full display at all of SOLVE’s events, environmental stewardship is nothing more than a minor marketing investment to these companies that would destroy the entire planet for wealth.

And public institutions have not escaped the fossil fuel industry’s influence, with Portland State’s Board of Trustees including representatives from the fossil fuel industry. The PSU Foundation, who manages the endowment, also stacks its board with fossil fuel and Wall Street executives.

 IMG_3132

This branding of a Green® Portland allows the fossil fuel industry to continue unobstructed and invigorated while innovating new marketing strategies as more communities around the world resist the fossil fuel industry. In Portland, we have dozens of companies that profit off extraction, transport, and consumption of fossil fuels while our elected officials do nothing to address the environmental, social, and economic costs to Portlanders as part of their operations.

Industry groups lobby our elected officials for tax breaks, subsidies, and permits to pollute our air and water. One group, the Association of Oregon Industries consists of a broad range of fossil fuel interests, Wall Street banks, timber companies that tear down our carbon-storing forests, and even the Koch Brothers.

Our city council is bought by the fossil fuel industry they claim to oppose, while they simultaneously praise their role in our community. Charlie Hales went through the revolving door to HDR and Dan Saltzman worked for CH2M Hill. Mayor Hales and Commissioner Dan Saltzman have accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the local fossil fuel industry and subsequently support their operations, including Fossil Fuel Charlie Hales investing $20 million of our city money in Exxon. Even Steve Novick’s largest donor is Greenbrier Cos. This is all in spite of City Council’s strong history of repeating rhetoric about climate justice.

And of course, Oregon’s statewide elected officials have a long history of comprehensive campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry while they back oil-by-rail, LNG, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

ClimateRide6
Oregon Fair Trade Council across from Rep. Blumenauer’s office.

Portland is a city with a legacy of ecological consciousness and its residents have been lied to. Right now we are the choke point for fossil fuel movements in Cascadia. Coal, oil, and gas are coming down the Columbia and right through our communities while an entire industry profits from extraction to combustion. With all current and proposed fossil fuel terminals South of the US border, Cascadia could transport five times as much carbon into the atmosphere as the Keystone XL, sealing our fate to climate catastrophe. If the fossil fuel industry can thrive in Portland through greenwashing and deceit, then they can continue elsewhere to extract and send profits to the wealthiest 1%. This new “Green” Capitalism is just as destructive as the old and with just as many marginalized communities as before.

True democratic movements are the only way to move beyond fossil fuels and towards a city that puts people, planet, and peace over profit. Grassroots organizations around Portland and around the world are working to elect new leaders who won’t accept money from corporate interests as well as pass laws through direct democracy that fundamentally change the role of government to become trustees of the Commons, protecting our Community Rights and the Rights of Nature while effectively shutting down the fossil fuel industry’s chokehold on our democracy.

But we need action now to physically stop the extraction, transport, and consumption of fossil fuels. We need to build solidarity across all communities within our city, our bioregion, and around the planet. A growing resistance is building against the fossil fuel industry in Portland with the Climate Action Coalition: environmental and social justice groups unified to participate in civil disobedience and direct action to stop the climate catastrophe. Climate change and the systems of oppression that cause it are the biggest threat to humanity that has ever existed, a threat that has been created by a wealthy elite in the name of profit and it’s our time to rise up at resist.

#FloodTheSystem

Police Risk Protester’s Life to End 9-Hour Oil Train Blockade
Police Risk Protester’s Life to End 9-Hour Oil Train Blockade
Open post
A flooded grove of trees. Their trunks are underwater.

The Logic of Failed Climate Policies vs. the Logic of Direct Action: Oregon As a Case Study

by Scott Schroder

A flooded grove of trees. Their trunks are underwater.
Where climate policy has brought us thus far.

Portland Rising Tide has focused much of its fight against climate change on fossil fuel transport and infrastructure. Protests and direct actions have targeted gas pipelines, coal terminals, oil trains, and tar sands trucks. We are not unique in this regard. From Texas to British Columbia, Vermont to California, combating individual fossil fuel projects has emerged as a dominant theme in combating the overarching social and ecological crisis we face.

One might ask: do these individual fights form any part of a larger strategy for combating climate chaos? Does their logic in any way extend beyond their immediate targets? Or, if they succeed, are they limited to a “victory” of shutting down a few refineries or pipelines while the overall trend of fossil fuel use continues unabated? And if they do possess a greater purpose, does it solely relate to greenhouse gases and fossil fuels, or to the underlying political and economic conditions that imperil life on earth?

In order to evaluate the logic of the direct action movement with respect to climate change, it is necessary to assess the contrasting logic of mainstream climate policy. First, however, it is necessary to establish that grassroots campaigns are, in fact, producing results.

Transportation and Infrastructure are the Primary Constraints on New Fossil Fuel Developments in North America

Throughout Canada and the United States, the hydrocarbon industry is reconfiguring and, in many cases, expanding. As recently as 2008, it was common sense amongst energy analysts that US oil and gas production would remain fairly stable and then begin a gradual decline. (1) Since that time, fracking has made accessible vast new reserves of oil and gas. US oil production went from five million barrels per day in 2008 to seven million bpd in 2013. (2) Gas production has likewise increased by trillions of cubic feet. (3) The bitumen underlying Canada’s boreal forests, long considered economically unfeasible to access, has in the recent years been extracted at a frenzied pace, leaving a wake of devastation almost inconceivable in scale. (4)

Neither Canada nor the United States has anything remotely resembling an overarching climate policy that places statutory or regulatory limits on the amount of fossil fuels that can be extracted, transmitted, refined, or burned. Such a breathtakingly simple approach is well outside the scope of the mainstream political dialogue, which favors instead elaborate and speculative technological and market-based approaches. Thus, a lack of storage, transport, and refining infrastructure remains the primary constraint on the fossil fuel boom currently underway.

Grassroots pressure has had a tremendous effect on the extent of new infrastructure that the coal, oil, and gas industries have been able to build, and thus on the scale of extraction they’ve been able to achieve.

In Canada, every single pipeline proposed to run to BC’s West Coast—the Pacific Trails gas pipeline, the Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain tar sands pipelines, to name a few—are subject to indefinite delays. A Kinder Morgan crew surveying the Trans Mountain pipeline’s route on BC’s Burnaby Mountain was unable to finish its work owing to massive protests in which more than 100 people were arrested, (5) and the city of Burnaby, which is opposed to the project, is now trying to recover the $100,000 per day it spent arresting people from the company. (6) After a prolonged regulatory processes, Enbridge and Chevron still face a First Nations blockade of the routes of the Northern Gateway and Pacific Trails pipelines—blockaders have evicted pipeline surveyors who have entered traditional Unist’ot’en territory. (7)

Nor have pipelines south or east fared any better. Owing to unprecedented public opposition, Keystone XL has been subject to a more than five year long regulatory process; should it receive approval, Lakota land defenders have vowed to be “dead or in prison” before allowing it to be built. (8)

Indeed, a 2014 report by Oil Change International estimates that the cumulative effect of transportation constraints created by grassroots pressure on Alberta’s tar sands has been the cancellation of at least three mining projects, preventing the emission of 2.8 billion metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, as well as reducing the price of bitumen from existing operations at a cost to the industry of $17.1 billion. (9)

Grassroots efforts are having similar effects in the US. The glut of natural gas on the market, increasing regulatory constraints, and activist pressure have conspired to diminish the market for coal in the United States. Coal companies as a result have undertaken numerous efforts to build marine terminals for the export of coal to foreign markets. All but four of 15 projects proposed throughout the US in the last two years have been defeated by grassroots pressure and legal challenges at some stage of the pre-construction regulatory process. (10) These victories are beginning to translate into tangible results at the sites of extraction: in 2013, for the first time ever, the BLM held an auction for 148.6 million tons of Powder River Basin coal, and no one bid. Coal companies stated that the market simply didn’t justify investments in new mining operations. (11)

The expansion of fracking in the Bakken shale—a region not historically associated with intensive oil production and thus lacking crucial infrastructure—is also limited by transportation capacity. Because of these transportation constraints, Bakken crude has sold at a discount relative to oil from other regions (12), diminishing the profit motive and thus keeping oil in the ground.

To alleviate these constraints, rail terminals have been proposed throughout the Pacific Northwest to transfer Bakken crude from trains to refinery bound ships, (13) but many of these projects are languishing in regulatory processes, subject to tremendous public opposition. For instance, the largest proposed crude oil project in the region, the 380,000 barrel per day Tesoro Savage terminal in Vancouver, WA, has been in some phase of a state review process since mid-2013. (14) In June of 2014, the Vancouver City Council passed a resolution opposing the Tesoro terminal and any other project that would facilitate more fracking of the Bakken shale. (15)

Where Bakken crude has made it into the Pacific Northwest, it has faced direct opposition, in both Oregon and Washington, in the form of train blockades. (16)

A Comprehensive Climate Policy Almost Certainly Will Not Save Us

Policymakers, editorial boards, and other professional opinion holders have typically made a point of deriding these campaigns against individual fossil fuel projects, arguing that activists should instead focus their efforts on broad policies to address greenhouse gas emissions nationally or globally.

It is worth at least briefly noting that such policies at the moment appear to have little hope of being implemented. In the United States an astonishing number of federal lawmakers continue to doubt the very existence of the climate crisis, a doubt which every tsunami, drought, and massive wildfire has the curious effect of reinforcing. At the international level, it is perhaps even more appalling that consensus exists that the crisis is dire and still nothing is done. As the world descends into ever-greater catastrophe, the UN talks likewise deteriorate into ever-more appalling displays of childish small-mindedness—one commentator described them as “absurdist theater” (17)—appearing to have virtually no hope of generating a meaningful strategy. (18)

But even if an overarching climate policy did appear to be a political reality, such a policy would almost certainly fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One only need look at the woeful legacy of other climate policies which take for granted the logic of industrial capitalism—logic neither the federal government nor the UN appears capable of questioning.

One could look, for instance, at the European Union’s emissions trading scheme, which not only failed to reduce emissions, but may have ultimately increased them, putting more money into the pockets of major polluters in the process. (19) Such emissions trading is a central feature of the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy signed by California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia in 2013. (20)

The flaw is not simply with carbon trading per se. Oregon’s climate plan involves no such mechanism and appears truly and utterly helpless to achieve its statutory goal of reducing emissions 75% below 1990 levels by 2050. (21) This is certainly not for a lack of documentation, elaborate terminology, and lengthy planning processes. Oregon’s climate policy is not a singular and cohesive one, but rather a labyrinthine configuration of documents, sub-documents, supporting documents, and appendices produced by a multitude of agencies.

Transportation emissions, the largest source of emissions in the state, provide a case in point. The Oregon Department of Transportation’s Statewide Transportation Strategy is the central policy for reducing transportation-related greenhouse gases. A cursory glance reveals that ODOT simply could not come up with a strategy for meeting the mandated emissions reduction targets. It is important to take a step back here and acknowledge that it is not simply the case that they conceived of a policy which ultimately failed. They were incapable even on paper, totally unconstrained by corporeal reality, of imagining a plausible-sounding lie that achieved their legislative mandate.

But if one takes a more than cursory glance at the STS—if one, for instance, is so masochistic as to read all 130 pages of it—it becomes clear that a great deal of the emissions reductions that ODOT is capable of imagining are predicated either on technologies that don’t yet exist or on cars being plugged into a grid which is virtually carbon-free. (22) Forgiving momentarily the optimistic sci-fi futurism and instead focusing on the cars plugged into the carbon-free electrical grid, yet another document becomes relevant: Governor Kitzhaber’s 10-Year Energy Action Plan, which contains no clear mechanism for decarbonizing the electrical grid. (23)

Somewhere around this point, it becomes clear the process of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon has deteriorated into utter and unremitting chaos.

The problem is not that lawmakers and agencies aren’t aware of the magnitude of the climate crisis. The problem isn’t even necessarily that they’re not trying to do anything about it. The problem is that they are trapped in the very logic which has brought us into this era of global catastrophe.

Targeting Fossil Fuel Infrastructure Expresses a Fundamentally Different Logic than that of Failed Climate Policies

When those in power at any scale—from the city of Portland to the state of Oregon to the European Union—craft strategies for addressing the climate crisis, they do so in a framework which reveals its fatal flaws at the very outset. They do not ask: what must we do to prevent social chaos and mass extinction? They ask: how can we maintain the status quo while preventing the social chaos and mass extinction that status quo is causing? They ask: how can the economy keep growing, corporate profits continue to expand, new technologies continue to proliferate indiscriminately, while somehow averting the consequent horrors?

As a result, the ostensible solutions to climate change presented to us by those in power are inevitably scenarios in which our existing economic, political, and social structures are fundamentally unchanged. And when there is a conflict in their calculations between preserving the existing socioeconomic order and preserving life on earth, they inevitably choose the socioeconomic order. Strategies in which we simply stop burning fossil fuels, acknowledging that whatever logistical or economic duress this causes us is nothing compared to the suffering caused by continuing to burn them, are simply never considered.

Oregon’s climate plan is as good a case in point as any of this overt acquiescence to imagined social and political necessities over real, physical ones. The various documents that comprise it manage somehow to be simultaneously hyper-technical and hopelessly vague, with no clear path away from catastrophic emissions levels but with many new market manipulations and technologies, not to mention their cumbersome acronyms—AARA smart meters, MOSAIC lest-cost transportation planing tools, MACC supply curve analyses—described in excruciating detail. But there are moments when the rosy and hyper-technical facade crumbles, and the authors of these documents starkly confess that they simply can not conceive of a future in which we do not further undermine the planet’s life support systems with carbon pollution.

This occurs when the fanfare around meeting the legislative goal of arresting the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 is disposed of in the Oregon Global Warming Commission’s 2013 Report to the Legislature, and the commission finally acknowledges the halt was a result of the 2008 economic crisis. Since few in power seem eager to recreate the global economic downturn, the report admits that emissions are likely to begin trending back upward. (24) And with respect to electricity, all the talk of ARRA meters and MACC curves ultimately culminates in this frank admission of defeat:

“One option the Legislature and Governor have to acknowledge the difficulties coal combustion presents for meeting the State’s GHG reduction goals is choosing to modify those goals. This has the virtue of candor, and the downside of disregarding the general findings of climate science.” (25)

In other words, tasked with reducing greenhouse gases, those we have entrusted with our survival tell us: “We can’t, because we can’t imagine a world in which the status quo does not prevail. But we could stop telling you were going to try, in which case we’d be complicit in global catastrophe, but honest about our complicity.”

When direct action groups intervene in the fossil fuel economy, they acknowledge a truth which those in power are incapable of perceiving: we don’t need to establish every detail of a post-carbon world in order to stop the suicidal course we are on. They acknowledge the moral imperative to immediately and decisively stop destroying the world, a moral imperative that supersedes any concerns we may have for how difficult it might be or how much it might upset the existing social order.

It is hard to imagine two value systems more at odds. The power holder’s value system says: we must have Facebook and immersion blenders, and not just have them but, crucially, have more and more Facebook users and immersion blenders every year. How can we meet these essential needs and achieve the optional, but desirable, outcome of not unleashing an epoch of mass extinction and human suffering? The direct actionist’s value system says: we can imagine any number of worlds in which we stop undermining the foundations of our existence, maybe some of them have Facebook and immersion blenders and maybe some of them don’t. Maybe we don’t know every detail of which world would be best. But what’s important is that we do what is necessary to survive.

To be certain, some of the post-fossil fuel worlds we could create would be more or less similar to the one we live in now. Some of them could even resemble the worlds policymakers imagine in their troves of elaborate documentation. Completely decarbonizing the electrical grid, for instance, appears technically feasible. (26) On the other hand, even if climate change did not exist, our current levels of technologically-intensive consumption are destroying the planet’s life-support systems in a number of other ways. The point is simply that we must begin to find the right path to a post-carbon world now, in the context of a rapid and radical decline in fossil fuel use, rather than requiring that the perfect path be clear before we begin that decline.

Radical movements targeting fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure projects are subject to the critique that they aren’t focusing on a big picture approach to fighting climate change, when in reality shutting down the fossil fuel economy is the big picture. The rest is just the details. If policymakers could emerge from their self-created labyrinths of technical obscurities and market speculations for a moment to grasp this simple truth, they could lead us away from a path of unprecedented destruction and misery. Since they cannot, we must lead ourselves.

A Blockade Is Not Just a Blockade

What does it mean to say that our leaders are helpless and we must lead ourselves? Apart from being simply, manifestly true, on some level it acknowledges that the climate crisis is merely a particularly urgent permutation of an ongoing crisis inherent within the dominant political and economic order. It is telling that climate change ascended as an imminent and all-encompassing threat in the late 1980s, just as the decades-long prospect of nuclear annihilation declined in immediacy with the end of the Cold War. The clear implication is that reducing greenhouse gas emissions on its own will not suffice to preserve life: the system that created climate change is incapable of doing anything other than chronically threatening the planet and the people who live on it with destruction.

Blockading an oil train or locking down to a tar sands truck is not simply an act of protest aimed at convincing policymakers to take the novel approach of behaving in a morally defensible fashion. Successful or unsuccessful at achieving its immediate goal, it has an inherent, broader meaning. Direct action is a discipline by which we, and hopefully those who are exposed to us, can step outside the prevailing model of relations. It is a step toward dismantling the underlying value system which facilitates the climate crisis—a value system which loves money more than life—rather than simply advocating for change within that system. Even when an act of resistance does not achieve the desired material change, it is always useful to disobey.

Of course, as much as replacing the CO2-emitting apparatus of death and slavery with a solar-powered apparatus of death and slavery, and thus waiting for the next crisis, is useless, a resistance that achieves no material victories while imagining a better world is equally useless. It must be acknowledged that, while clearly bent on destruction, government is also the entity possessing the capacity to significantly diminish emissions in a rapid manner. It must be acknowledged that, if mobilizing the public and generating social tumult is to have any effect on the material world, influencing policymakers is a likely mechanism by which it will do so.

Thus, our fight—the fight of any grassroots movement—is a dual one, always possessing a complex tension. We must seek immediate gains on behalf of a liveable world, while also seeking fundamental change. We must seek to influence the dominant political machine while striving to do away with it. It is no easy task, but to do anything less would be, to use a phrase popular when dismissing our relevance, missing the big picture.

  1. Gal Luft and Anne Korin, eds. Energy Security Challenges for the 21st Century: A Reference Handbook. 2009. Praeger Security International.

  2. US Energy Information Administration. Energy Outlook 2013. http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/pdf/0383%282013%29.pdf

  3. US EIA. 2013. ibid.

  4. Environmental Defence. Canada’s Toxic Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project on Earth. February 2008.

    http://desmogblog.com/sites/beta.desmogblog.com/files/TarSands_TheReport%20final.pdf

  5. CBC News. “Kinder Morgan loses bid to extend injunction.” CBC News. November 27 2014. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/kinder-morgan-loses-bid-to-extend-injunction-1.2852222

  6. Paula Baker. “Kinder Morgan hoping to change Trans Mountain pipeline conversation.” Global News. December 3 2014. http://globalnews.ca/news/1707354/kinder-morgan-hoping-to-change-trans-mountain-pipeline-conversation/

  7. Erin Flegg. “In light of Northern Gateway decision, Unist’ot’en blockade camp ups the ante.” Vancouver Observer. January 6 2014. http://www.vancouverobserver.com/environment/light-northern-gateway-pipeline-recommendation-unistoten-blockade-camp-ups-ante

  8. Camila Ibanez. “Lakota vow: ‘dead or in prison before we allow KXL pipeline.’” Waging Nonviolence. March 13 2014. http://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/lakota-vow-dead-prison-allow-kxl-pipeline/

  9. Oil Change International and Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Material Risks: How Public Accountability Is Slowing Tar Sands Development. October 2014. http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2014/10/IEEFA.OCI_.Material-Risks-FINweb2-1.pdf

  10. Katherine Bagley. “Losing Streak Continues for U.S. Coal Export Terminals.” Inside Climate News. January 12 2015. http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20150112/losing-streak-continues-us-coal-export-terminals

  11. Laura Hancock. “A Wyoming first: No bids for coal mining tract in Powder River Basin.” Casper Star Tribune August 21 2013. http://trib.com/news/state-and-regional/a-wyoming-first-no-bids-for-coal-mining-tract-in/article_97973023-564c-585e-81ee-a7283bbe5ffa.html

  12. Platts. Special Report: New Crudes, New Markets. March 2013. http://www.platts.com/IM.Platts.Content/InsightAnalysis/IndustrySolutionPapers/NewCrudesNewMarkets.pdf

  13. Eric de Place. The Northwest’s Pipeline on Rails: Crude oil shipments planned for Puget Sound, Grays Harbor, and Columbia River. Sightline Institute. Updated May 2014.

    http://www.sightline.org/research/the-northwests-pipeline-on-rails/

  14. Washington Energy Facility Siting Evaluation Council. Tesoro Savage. http://www.efsec.wa.gov/Tesoro-Savage.shtml

  15. Eric Florip and Stephanie Rice. “Council approves resolutions opposing Tesoro Savage project.” The Columbian. June 3 2014.

    http://www.columbian.com/news/2014/jun/02/hundreds-speak-up-on-vancouver-oil-terminal/

  16. David Osborn. “Oil Train Blockades in the Pacific Northwest and the Transformative Power of Direct Action.” Earth Island Journal. December 1 2014. http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/oil_train_blockades_in_the_pacific_northwest_and_the_transformative_power_o/

  17. Javier Sethness-Castro. Imperiled Life: Revolution Against Climate Catastrophe. AK Press. 2012.

  18. Geoffrey Lean. “How the Lima climate change talks failed.” The Telegraph. December 15 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/11293478/How-the-Lima-climate-change-talks-failed.html

  19. Sergio Oceransky. “European Energy Policy on the Brink of Disaster.” In: Kolya Abramsky, ed. Sparking a Worldwide Energy Revolution: Social Struggles in the Transition to a Post-Petrol World. AK Press. 2010.

  20. Pacific Coast Collaborative. Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy. October 28 2013. http://www.pacificcoastcollaborative.org/Documents/Pacific%20Coast%20Climate%20Action%20Plan.pdf

  21. Oregon Global Warming Commission. Report to the Legislature. August 2013. http://www.keeporegoncool.org/sites/default/files/ogwc-standard-documents/OGWC_2013_Rpt_Leg.pdf

  22. Oregon Department of Transportation. Oregon Statewide Transportation Strategy: A 2050 Vision for Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction. March 20 2013. http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/TD/OSTI/docs/STS/Oregon_Statewide_Transportation_Strategy.pdf

  23. Governor John Kitzhaber. 10-Year Energy Action Plan. December 14 2014. http://www.oregon.gov/energy/Ten_Year/Ten_Year_Energy_Action_Plan_Final.pdf

  24. OGWC. 2013. ibid.

  25. OGWC. 2013. ibid.

  26. Cory Budischak et al. “Cost-minimized combinations of wind power, solar power and electrochemical storage, powering the grid up to 99.9% of the time.” Journal of Power Sources 225:60-74. October 11 2012.

Cascadia Coal and Oil Export Update

Thanks to well-organized and vehement resistance to planned coal export terminals throughout the Northwest, significant victories continue in the fight for healthy communities and clean air and rivers.  Resistance to oil trafficking is beginning to coalesce but activists opposing oil by rail have a longer and much more difficult road ahead.

COAL ON THE DEFENSE

Of the six coal terminals that were proposed for Oregon & Washington, three have been withdrawn. Proponents face unprecedented opposition from tribes, business owners, public health professionals, farmers, conservationists, elected officials, and families along the rail lines.1   Falling coal prices in Asia haven’t hurt the campaigns against coal exports either.2

On April 19, after years of hedging, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber proclaimed emphatically that “It is time to once and for all to say NO to coal exports from the Pacific Northwest. It is time to say YES to national and state energy policies that will transform our economy and our communities into a future that can sustain the next generation”.

At the same time, however, the Governor claims to lack the authority to do much about the darn coal terminals right now:

“Unfortunately, Oregon law is more limited (than Washington State) in terms of what we can consider in reviewing large-scale projects such as the proposed Ambre coal export facility. I assure you, however, that we are carefully reviewing all of the issues under our authority, and that I will do all that I can within the context of existing Oregon law to ensure that we do not commit ourselves to a coal-dependent future.

“Furthermore, I have asked my staff to develop proposals for the 2015 Oregon Legislature that, going forward, will assure that there is a comprehensive public review of the costs and benefits of significant development proposals like the coal export facilities now on the drawing boards…”

So Governor Kitzhaber has proposed to propose a new and comprehensive statewide environmental law.

“Oregon law is only limited if you interpret it narrowly”, quips Nicholas Caleb, an attorney, professor at Concordia University, and presently a candidate for Portland City Council.

The question remains whether new and comprehensive statewide environmental laws are necessary in Oregon or whether the Governor could exercise significantly more authority to halt coal within Oregon’s existing legal framework.

The full text of the Governor’s address can be viewed here.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Three coal terminals are still under consideration in the Northwest:

Ambre Energy of Australia is pushing this two-port plan to transport 8.8 million tons of coal per year by rail from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming by rail to Boardman.  From there, coal would be barged down the Columbia River to a port near Clatskanie, Oregon, where it would then be placed on ships bound for Asia.3 Both ports would encroach on sensitive salmon habitat.  Ambre has refuted tribal claims to fishing rights near the site.  It’s the smallest of the three plans left standing but the closest to being fully permitted.  Air quality, water quality, and construction stormwater permits were approved in February, 2014 by Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality.

What’s Next:  The project still must receive permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a wetland fill removal permit from the Department of State Lands (DSL).  Governor Kitzhaber was pushing the DSL to reach its final decision by  May 31 after months of delays by Ambre.  On May 29, however, DSL spokeswoman Julie Curtis “reported that this time her agency asked the company for a deadline extension on its permitting decision to August 18“, according to OPB.

Ambre Energy and Arch Coal, the second-largest coal producer in the U.S., seek to export 44 million tons of coal per year to Asia from a private brownfield site.  A record-busting 195,000 comments were received by Washington State’s Department of Ecology and the Army Corps of Engineers during the site scoping period which ended in November, 2013.4

What’s Next:  It’s clear that Washington State has been taking coal proposals far more seriously than Oregon has so far. In February, ECY and Cowlitz County announced that will conduct a sweeping environmental study of this project.  The study will include the effects of train traffic from inland mines and greenhouse gas emissions from coal-burning power plants in Asia.5 

Seattle-based SSA Marine and Peabody Energy want to build a terminal within the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve. Gateway would export 48 million tons of coal per year.  The Army Corps of Engineers and ECY received public input September 24 through January 21, 2013.  Hearings throughout Washington and online interaction drew more than 124,000 public comments which are available here.  The Cherry Point Terminal was proposed in February, 2012.

What’s Next:  As of Spring, 2014, environmental consultants CH2M Hill under the direction of the co-lead agencies, have begun to prepare the draft NEPA and SEPA Environmental Impact Statements (EIS).  According to ECY, “The purpose of an EIS is to provide the public and agency decision makers with information on likely adverse effects of a proposed project, as well as reasonable alternatives and measures to reduce those effects”.6 

Draft EISs will be made available in 2015 at which point, there will be another open public comment period and public hearings will be held.

The question central to any of these regulatory reviews, is whether the option not to build a project is actually on the table.

 

OIL ON A ROLL

While activists have been organizing pretty effectively to oppose coal exports, oil by rail has proliferated wildly, driven in large part by an 150-fold increase in the fracking and extraction of North Dakota’s notoriously explosive Bakken crude.7 More than that, enormous oil terminals to export the stuff are being proposed for Clatskanie, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington. The Lac-Mégantic that derailed, killed 47 people and destroyed half a downtown, was carrying Bakken crude.8

The Oregonian’s Rob Davis reported in April that the volume of oil hauled on Oregon’s rails increased 250 percent in 20139 .  Mr Davis writes that a sharp increase in crude shipments along a rail line through Portland, Scappoose, Rainier, and St. Helens/Port Westward are driving the jump.  The history goes like this:

“In 2013, 19,065 tank cars moved more than 11 million barrels of oil through Oregon, That’s up from the 5,491 cars that moved 2.9 million barrels in 2012.

“Just a few years ago, almost no oil moved on the state’s railroads. In 2007, railroads moved just 659 tank carloads of oil.

“(The most recent annual) reports from BNSF Railway Co. and Union Pacific provide the best estimate to date of how much oil is moving around Oregon. Most is brought into the state by BNSF in Portland, bound for an oil train terminal near Clatskanie that loads the oil on barges bound for West Coast refineries. But millions of barrels move elsewhere, passing through the Columbia River Gorge, Salem, Eugene, Bend and Klamath Falls”.

  • The Vancouver Oil Terminal

In summer 2013, the Port of Vancouver approved a lease agreement with Tesoro Savage to ship up to 360,000 barrels of crude oil each day along the Columbia River which would make it the largest oil terminal in the Northwest, and would require at least four, mile-and-a-half long unit trains per day according to Columbia Riverkeeper10.  Riverkeeper emphasizes that the impacts to the communities along the rail lines would be “staggering”.

 

Public meetings to vet the proposed Vancouver Oil Terminal were held in October, 2013 by the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSC).  Opposition was fierce. EFSC received 31,000 public comments during the scoping process for the study11.

 

Based on recommendations of the EFSC, the decision whether or not to build the terminal rests in the hands of Washington State Governor Jay Inslee and, ultimately, the public.

 

The terminal is being pursued by the Savage and Tesoro corporations. Tesoro is responsible for the October 10th pipeline failure which spewed more than 20,000 barrels of crude oil into a wheat field in North Dakota.  Also Bakken crude.

 

  • The Port Westward Oil Terminal

 

“With little public involvement, a company called Global Partners has now started exporting oil from Port Westward near Clatskanie, Oregon,” reports Columbia Riverkeeper12.  Bakken oil trains travel through the Columbia River Gorge, Portland, and St. Helens among many other cities on the way to the export terminal.  Now, Global Partners seeks a permit to rebuild a large dock to export more oil.

 

THE ELEPHANT IN THE OIL FIELD

Given the 250 percent increase in oil train traffic and considering the apparent recent spike in oil train explosions — eight in the past year– sure, the implications for public safety are huge.  Even Governor Kitzhaber got on the safety train this month as he called on the federal government to move faster to make trains transporting crude oil throughout the state safer.   To his credit, the Governor outlined five areas where he’d like the feds to do more including higher safety standards, oil train tracking systems, and funding for emergency response.

 

The trains sure aren’t going to go away tomorrow so all these things are good– important, really, when you consider that lives are at stake. But who’s paying for increased inspections and emergency response? We are. Why? So the corporations that are profiting from the “fracking frenzy”7 in North Dakota can continue to increase their wealth? Or are we paying for all this because we believe that the oil industry will in turn provide badly needed jobs in our still sluggish economy?

 

Making oil trains safer isn’t going to reverse the trend of climate change.  It isn’t going to reverse ocean acidification or the melting of the polar caps or sea-level rise or provide the next seven generations with breathable air or drinkable water.  Safer oil trains might help to protect salmon habitat from impending disasters, but it’s not really gonna do anything for the fish.  Not the Governor, in fact, no politician that I know of is calling for a slowdown or a halt to our increasingly oil-dependent economy.

 

An economy built upon extraction and consumption is unsafe at any speed.  It is up to us, to people who value our natural heritage to change the discussion.  And it is up to us to stop the plundering of our natural resources because the corporations and the politicians and the regulatory agencies are not so inclined.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1 https://portlandrisingtide.org/campaigns/coal-exports/terminated-coal-terminals-dead-or-dying/

2 http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2013/12/viability_of_oregon_washington.html

3 http://earthfix.opb.org/energy/article/oregon-issues-3-permits-for-boardman-coal-export-t/

4  http://tdn.com/news/local/state-county-order-wide-environmental-review-of-millennium-coal-project/article_d847c38c-9411-11e3-b699-0019bb2963f4.html

5 http://earthfix.opb.org/communities/article/comments-on-longview-coal-export-project-reach-163/

6 http://www.ecy.wa.gov/geographic/gatewaypacific/

7 http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/03/bakken-shale-oil/dobb-text

8 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lac-M%C3%A9gantic_derailment

9 http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2014/04/oregon_oil_train_shipments_inc.html

10 http://columbiariverkeeper.org/top-stories/port-of-vancouver-approves-oil-export-lease-governor-inslee-will-now-decide/

11 https://portlandrisingtide.org/campaigns/vancouver-oil-terminal/

12 http://columbiariverkeeper.org/our-work/oil-by-rail/port-westward/

The Columbian: Just Say No to Oil Terminal

Having provided months of thorough coverage of the Tesaro/Savage proposal, the Columbian came out flat against the terminal in an editorial published on January 12 —

Tesoro-Savage proposal bad for safety, economic development, quality of life

—  In the end, it’s no contest: The drawbacks to building an oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver greatly outweigh the benefits of such a plan, and state officials eventually should reject the proposal.

At the heart of the issues are the future of Vancouver’s waterfront, the local economy, the quality of life for residents, safety concerns, and the image the city wishes to portray to the rest of the world. On each count, the proposal approved by port commissioners comes up short:

• The deal reached with Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies is butting heads with a $1.3 billion redevelopment of the former Boise Cascade site along the Columbia River, less than two miles upriver from the proposed oil terminal. Given the proximity of the projects and the fact that oil-bearing trains would pass within 100 feet of much of the development, these proposals are, indeed, mutually exclusive. It is unrealistic to think the waterfront development would not be hampered by the oil terminal, and a mixed-use project would have far greater growth potential for the city.

• The proposed $110 million oil terminal would bring an estimated 120 full-time jobs to the port, handling as much as 380,000 barrels of crude per day. It would be worth at least $45 million to the port for the first 10 years of the agreement. But broad-based economic development such as that provided by the waterfront development would have more far-reaching economic benefits.

• Trains carrying up to 380,000 barrels of crude per day through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Washougal, Camas, and then Vancouver, would do little to enhance the region’s quality of life. Port Commissioner Brian Wolfe said at a recent public meeting that BNSF Railway currently is operating at full capacity and that it’s the railroad company’s responsibility to address that, not the port’s. That is not an adequate answer. Considering a spate of oil-train explosions in North America over the past six months, port officials must do more to reassure the public regarding safety concerns.

• That brings us to an inconvenient truth: Nothing could adequately reassure the public regarding safety concerns. The fact is, regardless of how many safeguards are in place, transporting oil is fraught with peril, and transporting it through heavily populated areas is an invitation to disaster.

• Cities throughout the country in recent decades have repurposed their waterways and riverfronts. What once were conduits for heavy industry now are locations for tourism, service industries, and white-collar jobs, and that speaks to what kind of image Vancouver wishes to cultivate. Look at it this way: Will residents more effectively promote their city by telling outsiders, “Hey, we have a new oil terminal and lots more trains going through the heart of the city,” or by saying, “We have an amazing new waterfront development along the majestic Columbia River”? Or look at it this way: If Vancouver were being built from scratch, the last thing officials would do is put railroad access along the waterfront. It would be a travesty to exacerbate that unfortunate situation by becoming more reliant upon already crowded rail lines.

More than 31,000 public comments regarding the oil terminal were received by the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which will determine which factors to consider and then launch a lengthy evaluation process. Eventually, Gov. Jay Inslee will have the final say on whether the proposal is approved. Because of the proposal’s vast, long-lasting impact upon Vancouver, every possible environmental and economic factor should be considered. If that happens, the final decision will be no contest.

Open post

The Climate Movement’s Pipeline Preoccupation

Yes, Keystone XL is horrible – but so are plenty of other fossil fuel infrastructure plans

–By Arielle Klagsbrun, David Osborn, Kirby Spangler and Maryam Adrangi
The following excepts were published  in  Earth Island Journal and  Waging Nonviolence, October, 2013

–Architecturally, a keystone is the wedge-shaped piece at the crown of an arch that locks the other pieces in place. Without the keystone, the building blocks of an archway will tumble and fall, with no support system for the weight of the arch. Much of the United States climate movement right now is structured like an archway, with all of its blocks resting on a keystone – President Obama’s decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.

This is a dangerous place to be. Once Barack Obama makes his decision on the pipeline, be it approval or rejection, the keystone will disappear. Without this piece, we could see the weight of the arch tumble down, potentially losing throngs of newly inspired climate activists. As members of Rising Tide North America, a continental network of grassroots groups taking direct action and finding community-based solutions to the root causes of the climate crisis, we believe that to build the climate justice movement we need, we can have no keystone – no singular solution, campaign, project, or decision maker.

The Keystone XL fight was constructed around picking one proposed project to focus on with a clear elected decider, who had campaigned on addressing climate change. The strategy of DC-focused green groups has been to pressure President Obama to say “no” to Keystone by raising as many controversies as possible about the pipeline and by bringing increased scrutiny to Keystone XL through arrestable demonstrations. Similarly, in Canada, the fight over Enbridge’s Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline has unfolded in much the same way, with green groups appealing to politicians to reject Northern Gateway…

The “game over for climate” narrative is also problematic.  With both the Keystone and Northern Gateway campaigns, it automatically sets up a hierarchy of projects and extractive types that will inevitably pit communities against each other. ..Our work must be broad so as to connect fights across the continent into a movement that truly addresses the root causes of social, economic, and climate injustice. We must call for what we really need – the end to all new fossil fuel infrastructure and extraction. The pipeline placed yesterday in British Columbia, the most recent drag lines added in Wyoming, and the fracking wells built in Pennsylvania need to be the last ones ever built. And we should say that.

This narrative has additionally set up a make-or-break attitude about these pipeline fights that risks that the movement will contract and lose people regardless of the decision on them. The Keystone XL and Northern Gateway fights have engaged hundreds of thousands of people, with many embracing direct action and civil disobedience tactics for the first time. This escalation and level of engagement is inspiring. But the absolutist “game over” language chances to lose many of them. If Obama approves the Keystone XL pipeline, what’s to stop many from thinking that this is in fact “game over” for the climate? And if Obama rejects Keystone XL, what’s to stop many from thinking that the climate crisis is therefore solved? We need those using the “game over” rhetoric to lay out the climate crisis’ root causes – because just as one project is not the end of humanity, stopping one project will not stop runaway climate change…

Read the entire Rant here.

Arielle Klagsbrun is an organizer with Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment and Rising Tide North America, and is a 2013 Brower Youth Award winner. David Osborn is climate organizer with Portland Rising Tide and Rising Tide North America. He is also a faculty member at Portland State University. Maryam Adrangi is a campaigner with the Council of Canadians and an organizer with Rising Tide Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories. Kirby Spangler works with the Castle Mountain Coalition and Alaska Rising Ride.

 

 

As Coal Exports, Its Dark Legacy Stays Home

Guest Ranter:  Tom Turner of Earthjustice, August 13, 2013 —

Earthjustice challenges industry plans to increase world market

The use of coal in the U.S. has declined over the past few years, and orders for new plants are being cancelled at an increasing rate, owing to pressure from Earthjustice and others and competition from cheaper natural gas. Meanwhile, President Obama has made increasingly stern pronouncements about moving toward a renewable energy regime.

Big coal, hoping to shore up its bottom line, has turned its attention abroad: Exports of coal from the U.S. to the Far East have increased, subsidized by the U.S. Export-Import Bank (a federal institution), and there are proposals pending to establish coal-export facilities in the Pacific Northwest. China and the other importers have far laxer pollution laws than ours; that too is another story. The impact of burning the coal affects us all.

There are so many things wrong with this picture it’s hard to grasp them all. Bad for climate. Bad for communities near the mines. Bad for people living near the tracks that carry the coal trains (which spew vast quantities of coal dust as they travel from mine to port) and others who live near the export facilities (read four personal stories here).

More Here

 

 

 

Scroll to top
%d bloggers like this: