Despite another oil spill, Keystone XL pipeline is approved in Nebraska. Resistance is strong and resolute

On November 16, TransCanada Pipeline shut down the existing Keystone Pipeline to contain a spill in South Dakota, estimated at 210,000 gallons– the third in the area since operations began in 2010.  Reports include “South Dakota Warns It Could Revoke Keystone Pipeline Permit Over Oil Spill”  in Inside Climate News .   On November 20, the Nebraska Public Service Commission granted approval to Keystone  – but an approval which Anthony Swift at NRDC describes as a “pyrrhic victory” because the original proposed route through Nebraska was rejected, and the new alternative route approved – the Keystone Mainline Alternative route –  must now undergo new state and federal environmental approval processes .  Official intervenors may also file an appeal  in the Nebraska courts within 30 days and may petition the Public Service Commission for a rehearing within ten days.  Even TransCanada seems to wonder if the Keystone will ever get built – the official press release  states:  “As a result of today’s decision, we will conduct a careful review of the Public Service Commission’s ruling while assessing how the decision would impact the cost and schedule of the project. ”   Other reaction to the news of the approval: from The National Observer  ;  Alberta’s Calgary HeraldCouncil of Canadians ; Bold Nebraska (an alliance of landowners, environmental groups and First Nations), and  from Common Dreams, ” ‘This Fight Is Far From Over’ Groups Declare as Nebraska Clears Path for Keystone XL Construction”  – summarizing the responses of 350.org and the Sierra Club.

As for strong and resolute opposition: In May 2017, CBC reported that leaders of the Blackfoot Confederacy in Canada, the Great Sioux Nation (U.S.) and the Ponca tribe (U.S.)  signed a joint declaration of opposition to Keystone XL . In a broader coalition,  First Nations, along with non-native groups such as 350.org and Greenpeace USA, have now launched  the Promise to Protect campaign which states:We will make a series of stands along the route – nonviolent but resolute displays of our continued opposition to a project that endangers us all. Join native and non-native communities in the Promise to Protect the land, water, and climate. ”  In light of the resolute and deep resistance, it is important to note an article in The Intercept   “Nebraska approves Keystone XL Pipeline as opponents face criminalization of protests”   (Nov. 20), which reported:  “In anticipation of the Keystone XL’s construction, legislation was passed in South Dakota in March that allows the governor or a local sheriff to prohibit groups numbering more than 20 from gathering on public land or in schools, and also allows the Department of Transportation to limit access to highways by prohibiting stopping or parking in designated areas.”  The South Dakota Senate Bill 176 is here.

 

Workplace resistance to the Trump agenda, and tracking the changes

The deliberately-executed distraction and turmoil of President Trump’s policies in the U.S. threaten and weary us all, at the same time that well-planned  resistance is most necessary.  Long-time activist Frances Fox-Piven wrote in The Nation in January, before the Inauguration,  “Throw sand in the gears of everything”, reflecting on past resistance movements in U.S. history, including civil rights and the Vietnam War.  She asks, “ So how do resistance movements win—if they win—in the face of an unrelentingly hostile regime? The answer, I think, is that by blocking or sabotaging the policy initiatives of the regime, resistance movements can create or deepen elite and electoral cleavages”.  Fox Piven puts strong hope in the actions of state and local governments, as well as citizen action. She also points to the defining protest which finally turned government policy on the Vietnam War: soldiers refused to followed orders.

In   “Where’s the best place to resist Trump? At Work” ( Washington Post ,Jan. 31; re-posted to Portside) the authors argue that  “ From solidarity strikes to slowdowns and sit-ins, workplace revolt is a key strategy in opposing the new administration”.  Describing some of the early anti-Trump protests, they state:  “These actions are indispensable, and may form the seeds of a new movement, but people should not ignore one of the most powerful means of resistance and protest that they have: their roles as workers.” Federal workers are not the only ones with the power to resist and disrupt, though federal workers are leading the way with courageous initiatives such as information leaks and alternative Twitter accounts.  The longshoremen in Oakland, California for example, declined to report for work on Inauguration Day :  see “Want to Stop Trump? Take a Page From These Dockworkers, and Stop Work”   in In These Times  (Jan. 23).  Or read “Some New York Taxi Drivers Are Striking In Protest Of Trump’s Refugee Ban”  in Buzzfeed (Jan. 29).

altepaResistance by federal workers is described in “In Show of Internal Dissent, Federal Workers Rising Up Against Trump”  a February 1 article from Common Dreams.  Another ongoing, public form  are the many   “rogue” Twitter accounts, started by the National Parks Service ,and now including very active accounts at  alt_EPA (with over 300,000 followers), alt_Interior  , alt_NOAA  , alt­_DOL , and more.  Ironically, they form a goldmine of activist information.  But beware of trolling accounts and imposter accounts.

Other web sources to follow U.S. developments, especially those related to climate change and environmental regulations,  are: Climate Central   ;   Common Dreams   ; Democracy Now: Donald Trump Coverage ; Inside Climate NewsThink Progress ; and   350.org   . Also notable,  Deregulation Tracker , where the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law (Columbia Law School) is  monitoring changes to  legislation and regulations, and the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative , which  is  monitoring, documenting, and analyzing changes to approximately 25,000  federal  websites using proprietary software that allows them to track changes to the language and code.  Climate Central published “The EPA Has Started to Remove Obama-era Information”   (Feb. 2)  based on the EDGI monitoring.

The Women’s March was a huge success. Next up – Sustained Resistance

toronto women's march jan 2017.jpgUnionists were among the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who joined in the Sister Marches for the Women’s March in Washington on January 21, 2017 .  The Canadian Labour Congress statement of “Why we March” is here  .  Unifor’s President Jerry Dias  endorsed the March and called for a “united mobilization effort” against the Trump agenda.  The March was an undeniable success,  and the Washington organizers, quoted in a Globe and Mail report,  recognized:   “This is more than a single day of action, this is the beginning of a movement – to protect, defend and advance human rights, even in the face of adversity. ”

Jeremy Brecher of Labor Network for Sustainability tackles this issue for U.S.  labour unions in “How Labor and Climate united can trump Trump” . After cataloguing some of the worst threats under a Trump administration , he calls  for “an alliance of unions and allies willing to fight the whole Trump agenda”  and states: “Such a “big tent” needs to include unions that are not part of the AFL-CIO, such as SEIU, Teamsters, and National Education Association. Some unions may choose not to join because they are unwilling to take a forthright stand against the Trump agenda; it would be both absurd and catastrophic for that to prevent the rest of the labor movement and its allies from taking on a fight that is about the very right of unions to exist.”

The United Resistance, led by the  NAACP, Greenpeace USA, and the Service Employees International Union, is chief among these new alliances, pledging to “stand together”  on the issues of civil rights, immigrants, women’s reproductive rights, social equality, action on climate change, public health and safety, public dissent, and access to information. Their inspirational video is here , as well as a list of the alliance members. The AFL-CIO is not listed as a member of the United Resistance, though their recent blogs oppose Trump’s nominees, and they promoted the Women’s March.   For more about the United Resistance, see  “More than 50 Organizations Launch United Resistance Campaign as Trump’s Cabinet Hearings Begin”  in Common Dreams (Jan.10).

In a second article , SOCIAL SELF-DEFENSE: Protecting People and Planet against Trump and Trumpism ,  Jeremy Brecher borrows a term from the Solidarity movement in Poland 40 years ago, and takes a larger, more global focus.  He writes that “Social Self Defense includes the protection of the human rights of all people; protection of the conditions of our earth and its climate that make our life possible; the constitutional principle that government must be accountable to law; and global cooperation to provide a secure future for people.”  “Social Self-Defense is not an organization – it is a set of practices to be engaged in by myriad organizations, hopefully in close coordination with each other.”  Although the article highlights a number of examples, such as the growing Sanctuary movement in the U.S.,  and case studies of alliances, including  Vermont Labor Council Initiates Social Self-Defense ,  the overriding impact is to emphasize the scale of the task: “These actions appear to be on the way to being the greatest outpouring of civil resistance in American history.”

Non-violent climate insurgency: people using the power of the law to protect the planet

Despite the hooplah of Paris and Marakkesh,  a new article by Jeremy Brecher argues that climate protection will never be accomplished by existing government and institutional actors.  “Climate Emergency: Global Insurgency: There is no choice but to escalate today’s campaigns against global fossil fuel infrastructure”  appeared in Common Dreams  on October 14  , and while the author commends the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, (mirrored in Canada by protests against the Kinder Morgan Pipeline) he quotes Bill McKibben that “Fighting one pipeline at a time, the industry will eventually prevail.” Brecher advocates instead what he calls a “global nonviolent constitutional insurgency”.  “A non-violent insurgency, like an armed insurgency, refuses to accept the limits on its action imposed by the powers that be. Unlike an armed insurgency, it eschews violence and instead expresses power by mobilizing people for mass nonviolent direct action….It is not formally a revolutionary movement because it does not challenge the legitimacy of the fundamental law; rather, it asserts that current officials are in violation of the very laws that they themselves claim provide the justification for their authority. Although the established courts may condemn and punish them, constitutional insurgents view their “civil disobedience” as actually obedience to law, even a form of law enforcement.”

Recalling the great civil disobedience campaigns of Gandhi, the American civil rights movement, and Polish Solidarity movement , Brecher points to the current “Break Free From Fossil Fuels” global campaign, begun after the Paris Agreement in 2015, as an encouraging start to the climate insurgency he advocates.   The U.S. organizers of Break Free From Fossil Fuels issued a “Public Trust Proclamation”   which summarizes the principles.  The legal actions inspired by the Urgenda case and  Our Children’s Trust in the U.S. share many of the same values, but apply them in the courts.  Brecher links these two movements in an earlier article, “A new wave of climate insurgents defines itself as law-enforcers“.   Brecher’s 2014 book,   Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival    has been updated and reissued as a free ebook , to make it as widely available as possible to those who want to understand and help halt climate change.

Note:  In Canada, the May 2016 Break Free protests were focused on the Kinder Morgan pipeline (photos still available here ).  Protests are continuing – including sit-ins in the offices of government ministers in November, as even the federal government’s Ministerial Panel Report , released on November 3, raises questions about how the pipeline fits with the government’s commitments on climate change, First Nations reconciliation, and social license for fossil fuel projects. According to Environmental Defence, rejecting Kinder Morgan and restarting the review process after reforming the National Energy Board is the only viable option for the federal government.  The government’s decision is due December 19, and is seen as a defining moment for the Trudeau government to demonstrate a clear commitment to its climate goals, rather than a compromise with energy/economics.

Is the Dakota Access Pipeline the next Keystone Pipeline battle within U.S. Labour?

“Standing Rock Solid with the  Frackers: Are the Trades Putting Labor’s Head in the Gas Oven? is a new article by Sean Sweeney,  examining the divisions in the U.S. labour movement over the Dakota Access Pipeline.  The  article , originally published in New Labor Forum and re-posted and updated on the website of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy on October  14 , describes the pro-pipeline statements of the North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU) , and, like Jeremy Brecher’s article  on the same issue , Sweeney sees NABTU as the driving force behind the AFL-CIO’s energy positions.  Likening the current dispute to the internal division over the Keystone XL Pipeline, Sweeney states that  “The DAPL fight suggests that the split in labor is deepening.” Sweeney pays particular attention to (and promises a future article about ) the Laborers’ International Union (LIUNA)’s  Clean Power Progress campaign,  launched in June 2016 to support natural gas as a clean, bridging fuel – with the  glaring omission of any mention of  the emissions of fracking.   The article concludes: “For now, having waged a successful putsch, NABTU is the voice of the AFL-CIO regarding a big chunk of labor’s energy policy. The Federation’s reputation is now so low that it seems to be no longer concerned about ‘reputational damage.’ By linking arms with Standing Rock Sioux, progressive labor is keeping alive the best traditions of labor environmentalism pioneered by Tony Mazzocchi and the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers in the 1970s.”

Further updates on the DAPL front:  Protests and arrests  continue as recently as October 22.   But in what is seen as a victory victory for freedom of the press,  on October 18  a judge dismissed trespassing and riot charges against reporter Amy Goodman, the  reporter for Democracy Now whose video ignited support for  the Standing Rock  Sioux Nation protest.   Read the transcript of Amy Goodman’s reaction here   , and complete Democracy Now coverage of the DAPL protests here . For a summary of the judge’s decision,  see the New York Times report  .