Monday, October 3, 2016

Que Viva La Sierra Sagrada

Photo of Roberto Lujan by Nicol Ragland

As a young boy of around nine years of age I lived across the tracks, in the southeastern part of Alpine’s neighborhood known to us as “Pueblo Nuevo”.  This neighborhood was comprised of mainly of families that had migrated from villages with names as Boquillas, San Carlos, Santa Elena, Castolon, Chisos, Terlingua in what is today the Big Bend region.  I would be part of of a group of boys that would play whichever sporting game was in season.  Our street games would begin in the early afternoon during the fall season and right after lunch on summer days.  These games would be interrupted by the occasional passing vehicle.  The longest pause of the afternoon was around five o’clock when most of our parents would come come from their jobs.  However there was one pause that especially stood out to me and the other children. It was when one of the local men, who worked as a vaquero in the area’s surrounding ranches, would walk by and at the top of his lungs exclaim a phrase that demanded a choral response.  “Que Viva La Sierra!” would exuberantly reverberate throughout the neighborhood and we would all respond with “Que Viva La Sierra!”  I was always mesmerized by his apparent gusto and love for his place of employment, none of our parents would come home with such pleasure of their place of employment.  I only dreamed of working in the ranches of which one could see off in the distance somewhere nestled in between the mountain ranges that surrounded the town.  I thought here was a person who loved his job and was willing to let the world know.  The mystical sacredness of seeing the sierra was further stirred at those moments.

The feeling of being hemmed in the segregated town of Alpine was always there physically and spiritually.  I would walk to the outskirts of my neighborhood only to be confronted with barb wire fence lines.  These fence lines with their blue and white no trespassing Texas Cattlemen’s Association metal signs, only made my desire to see the sierra more tantalizing.  It would be more than a decade when I returned to Alpine as a young man honorably discharged from serving our country. I was now old enough to walk into the neighborhood bar, and it was there that I found that old vaquero and that the exclamation  “Que Viva La Sierra!” had a more poignant, revealing and sacred protective second part.

There are still places on the state highways and farm market roads that crisscross the Big Bend region that take me back to that moment when I was nine years old.  These places along the roadside are fenceless, a person can literally within ten feet walk into the sacred desert chaparral, the foreground of the extending vista that culminates with the sacred mountain ranges in the distance, anything further takes you out beyond to where there is no limit. As we are being scarred by soulless intruders we must resolve not only to be resilient but protective of our sacred natural surroundings. It is this places that one must remember the second phrase to “Viva La Sierra!”

And it was there at the bar that night I learn the vaquero’s exclamatory second phrase. There in the bar was the hero of my childhood, the inhabitant of the sacred and mystical sierra. Before I knew it the vaquero’s shouted his exclamation and without hesitation everyone young and old repeated the phrase, just as we had when we were young boys.  To my surprise with an even louder shout followed by a pounding fist on the bar the vaquero shouted the second more protective poignant phrase to “Viva La Sierra!”

 “Y Que No Me La Encierren!” And do not fence it up! echoed louder throughout the night flowing out into the desert chaparral, up the canyons to the sierras and ricocheting off the twinkling stars.  

Roberto Lujan c/s

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Statement from Defend Big Bend on the Occassion of the #NoDAPL #NoTPPL Solidarity March


Here in the Big Bend, approximately two years ago a small group of us became aware that Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) intended to bisect our remote and fragile region with the Trans Pecos Pipeline, a 143-mile, 42” pipeline that would pump billions of cubic feet of fracked gas to Mexico for foreign export. We banded together with the purpose of educating ourselves and our fellow citizens on ways to stop the project, and, should it happen, ways to reduce its impact.

What we have come to learn over the course of these two years is that, in the State of Texas, there is NO legal recourse, NO due process, NO ethical standard that protects landowners, municipalities, Native peoples, cultural relics, endangered species, or fragile ecosystems against the will of Big Oil and Gas.

We discovered that all of the agencies one might expect to “regulate” the industry – the Texas Railroad Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission outstanding among them – are, in fact, industry insiders. They have crafted the laws for their benefit alone. 

Conveniently, they have determined that an international pipeline can be defined as "intra-state". As long as it "begins" and "ends" within state lines, it requires no Federal "oversight" from anyone, in fact, but themselves.

We were disgusted to find that even the definition of “public good” has been twisted by the fossil fuel industry: if a project is profitable to their private corporation, it is deemed in the public interest. Private property rights — held so dear in the State of Texas — are moot in the path of a pipeline. Confronted by eminent domain, a landowner has two choices: take the pittance offered by the industry in exchange for the lease on the land or take nothing and have the land usurped anyway.

We have been appalled by the majority our local, state, and federal officials who – time and time again – have claimed to be powerless to assist (ie: represent) us. They continue to ignore their constituents’ well-researched requests for even the most basic oversight and common-sense safety measures. Meanwhile, ETPs promise of free money raining down from the sky is accepted with hardly so much as a wink and a handshake.

We have watched as our allies — those most qualified to offer insight, including experts in the fields of geology, engineering, hydrology, and archeology – have been silenced, their jobs threatened by the industry. Even local musicians who have expressed opposition to the pipeline have been banned from performing at venues with industry ties.

Above all, we have learned the power of community-building. We have discovered the strength that comes from forming alliances, building trust, supporting one another, and learning to understand and respect one another’s strengths and differences. The bonds we have formed — the LOVE we have come to feel for each other through this effort — is the foundation upon which we have built a resistance against forces that are mighty, but lack the kinds of intangible strengths that no amount of money can buy and no hideous machine can destroy: COMMUNITY, CREATIVITY, and SENSE OF PLACE.

We are connected to one another, and to this land.

Reverence for the Earth and the interconnectedness of all her creatures are basic tenets of Native American philosophy and spirituality that have been viciously attacked by industries that profit from exploitation of the Earth’s bounty . . . that which these industries detachedly refer to as “resources.”  This disavowal of responsibility to make decisions based on potential benefit to future generations has brought us to this perilous historical moment.

Those of us standing here today may not possess the type of wealth or influence that billionaires or politicians possess . . . but it will not be this type of wealth or influence that will take us safely into the future. Our voices are being heard precisely because we represent what we and so many others know in our hearts to be true: in order to leave a healthy planet for our children and our children’s children, we must stand together now as ONE PEOPLE. WE are ALL INDIGENOUS to Planet Earth, and we must now turn our hearts and ears to those for whom this knowledge was never forgotten.



Monday, September 26, 2016

Kelcy Warren's Doublespeak

Here you will find a memorandum concerning the Dakota Access Pipeline project from ETP CEO Kelcy Warren to "All Partnership Employees". This "internal memo" was distributed to the press, much of which simply repeated the many problematic statements contained within verbatim, without the critical analysis the content deserves. We could certainly dissect this propaganda piece line-by-line, but will instead concentrate on two especially revealing sentences:

"Once operational, the project will safely move American oil to American markets. It will reduce our dependence on oil from unstable regions of the world and drive down the cost of petroleum products for American industry and consumers."

The idea of moving "American oil to American markets" may literally be correct...if one were to construe Asia as an "American market". But the sentence that follows is outright false. Numerous investigations have revealed that foreign interests have their fingers in the Bakken pie:
"But rather than serving the exclusive interests of American consumers, critics point to evidence the oil will go abroad. In December, Congress lifted the 40-year ban on crude oil exports.
“We track [Dakota Access Pipeline] and the export dynamics closely,” says Bernadette Johnson, the managing partner at Ponderosa Advisors, an energy advisory firm. Johnson notes that the pipeline provides a “competitive option” to bring Bakken barrels to the Gulf Coast, where “some of it may be exported.”

The Intercept also reviewed regulatory filings that suggest some of the oil transported by the Dakota Access Pipeline will be shipped overseas."
Though Promised for Domestic Use, Dakota Access Pipeline May Fuel Oil Exports, The Intercept, September 1, 2016

"Seventeen financial institutions have loaned Dakota Access LLC $2.5 billion to construct the pipeline. Banks have also committed substantial resources to the Energy Transfer Family of companies so it can build out more oil and gas infrastructure:
All told, that’s $10.25 billion in loans and credit facilities from 38 banks directly supporting the companies building the pipeline. These banks expect to be paid back over the coming decades. By locking in widespread drilling and fracking in the false name of U.S. energy independence and security, the banks are increasing our disastrous dependence on fossil fuels."
Who's Banking on the Dakota Access Pipeline? Food and Water Watch, September 6, 2016
Taken as a whole, these two sentences amount to an astounding display of doublespeak, perhaps penned by a tricky lawyer. Logic would dictate that exporting fossil fuels will neither reduce US dependence on foreign oil, nor lower prices here at home. Where is the evidence to support Kelcy Warren's claims? All we can find is data that indicates precisely the opposite. Perhaps his words are a mantra that Kelcy Warren must repeat to himself over and over to convince himself and all who will listen of the righteousness of his actions?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Silent Bear's plea to Energy Transfer Partners CEO/Music Road Records owner Kelcy Warren

Silent Bear with Pete Seeger

Musician Silent Bear kindly shared this letter with us today as a comment on our August 29, 2015 blog post about Jimmy LaFave's defense of pipeline mogul Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners and owner of the Dakota Access and Trans-Pecos Pipelines. We are sharing it now with his permission. 

More on Silent Bear's music at Mapleshade Records. 

Silent Bear Sep 4, 2016
To: Tinya Seeger, Nora Guthrie Buddha, and Cree Miller
CC: Music Road Records

Hi Tinya, Nora and Cree- 

About 6 months ago, I innocently sent a proposal of my music to Music Road Records in Austin, Texas. In retrospect, I'm very glad that my proposal was denied. I have since learned that the owner of this label and Energy Transfers Partners, Kelcy Warren, are one in the same. Energy Transfers is the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is breaking treaty rights and threatening the water supply and health of the Standing Rock Tribe (and many of all colors and nations that depend on water to survive). This to me is a disgrace. I wrote the label an angry note last week saying that if, "Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie were aware of what you're doing, they would be turning in their graves."

I'm writing you today to bring awareness to this connection if you are not already aware. I don't see the compatibility? In my opinion, if you're going to be care takers of Woody's and Pete's music then you have a responsibility to their legacies and what they stood for as human beings. 

I was made aware of M.R.R via Lance Canales and Tim Hernandez. Lance posted this on his FB today:

"If there is a question as to were I stand in this pipeline protest? I stand with my indigenous relatives! I stand with Standing Rock! 523 years of indigenous protest! Its not just about 1 pipeline, its about water and life and the future of all of us."

I couldn't agree more! Some of my closest friends and relatives are up there protecting their water as we speak! I would have been there myself if I had not gotten sick and my ride had not fallen through. Perhaps in the future? 

So my plea to you is that if you know Mr. Warren that you speak to him and ask him to reconsider what he's doing on behalf of the Sacred Water of Life, The health of the Children and the future generations. In getting to know Pete a little bit, I'm guessing that if he were still with us that he would be on the front lines with his banjo leading "Clear Water," songs. I also invite you to watch this horrifying video that was released by Amy Goodman today in which peaceful water protectors were attacked with dogs and pepper spray!

And I invite to read this as well: Kelcy Warren is Having Fun in the Oil Bust via Bloomberg News.

I ask, how much hardship and disrespect must the 1st Nations of this land endure? You all know me from our common struggle for Native American Political Prisoner, Leonard Peltier. Leonard will be 72 on Sept. 12 and Pres. Obama still has not lifted a finger on his behalf! So the time has come to take a stand against the "Kelcy Warren's," Trumps, Clinton's etc... of the world!!! Maybe we should call for a boycott of the label or you could ask for Woody's, Pete's, Jackson's and Joel Rafael's works to be removed from their catalog unless the pipeline is stopped? 

Well, thank you for listening to my rant. I hope all else is well. 

Many Blessings-
P.S- One More: Tribes Seeking to Block Kelcy Warren's Dakota Access Pipeline Project Bring Fight to Dallas via Dallas Morning News


Silent Bear's song "Dirty River Blues (Kelcy's Pipeline)":

Thursday, May 5, 2016

FERC Issues Approval for Trans-Pecos Pipeline

This afternoon FERC issued an Order Issuing Presidential and Granting Authorization for the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, ignoring over 600 comments from the community and proclaiming that since the project "promotes national economic policy" it is therefore in the "public interest".

Monday, May 2, 2016



Photo by Vicki Gibson

This article published in Truthout on May 5, 2016 is a follow-up to one published there a year ago: A Pipeline Strikes Deep in the Heart of Texas

If there was ever a time when we could accept unchallenged the idea that “domestically produced natural gas can play an important role in the transition to a clean energy economy”, that time is long gone. Reason based on increasingly dire scientific models would indicate that – for the sake of a habitable planet – the transition away from fossil fuels cannot incorporate expanding markets for fossil fuels. Yet this absurd logic is precisely what the fracking industry and its proponents hope will be accepted without a critical thought.

If natural gas were truly intended to serve as a temporary, interim fix – a “bridge technology” – one wonders how the billions currently being pumped into construction of dozens of new oil- and gas-dependent infrastructure projects across the country could possibly be justified? In light of increasing evidence that fracking is neither good for the climate nor safe for communities and the fact that renewable sources of energy are competitive, why is it allowed to continue at all?

These questions loom large in the wild and remote Big Bend region of far West Texas where Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) intends to a bury a 42” high-pressure gas pipeline in 143 miles of fragile Chihuahuan Desert terrain. For over a year residents have been struggling to understand how a privately owned pipeline designed to export 1.4 billion cubic feet of gas per day to Mexico for a minimum of 24 years while serving not a single domestic customer is in the “public good”.

It turns out that in the state of Texas, “public good” can be defined as any business venture from which a private entity turns a profit. And as long as the pipeline can be designated as “intra-state” (we’ll get back to how an international pipeline can be classified as intra-state later) it is exempt from federal oversight that would require extensive studies of environmental and cultural impact. Energy projects in Texas are “regulated” solely by the Texas Railroad Commission, a misnamed agency that has nothing to do with trains and everything to do with assuring that the oil and gas industry gets its way. In fact, if a pipeline company in Texas believes its project warrants the use of eminent domain to acquire property from private landowners, it’s as easy as putting a check-mark next to “common carrier” on the Railroad Commission’s T4 permit – no additional justification required. That is, unless a threatened landowner has the wherewithal to challenge the classification in court.

How did a system so skewed against the rights of private citizens come to exist? This question is best answered by following the money. In 2014, ETP CEO Kelcy Warren gave $555,000 to Governor Abbot’s campaign. In 2015, Abbot appointed Warren to the board of Texas Parks and Wildlife. In the past seven years, ETP’s PAC has given nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the campaigns of three Republican Texas Railroad Commissioners. In 2015 former Texas Governor Rick Perry made $365,000 serving on the boards of Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, both headed by Kelcy Warren. Warren donates money to the University of Texas. The UT and Texas A&M endowments are supported largely through fracking and drilling on University lands. Suffice it to say it is difficult to separate the Texas state government from the oil industry itself.

At the same time, in Texas, property rights are not to be messed with. The mottos “Come and Take It” and “Don’t Tread On Me” can be found on flags flown with pride across the state. In general, these sentiments convey an independence of spirit aimed mainly at government interference. But what happens when a corporation is allotted the same kind of power that was once afforded only to governments, and once came with (ostensibly, at least) a fair chance to challenge unjust terms? Suddenly, those who have typically supported deregulation of industry face a philosophical dilemma: if not a government, should a corporation have the right to come and take it?

Over the course of the past year, in this far-flung corner of the world, stereotypes have broken down. “Don’t Tread On Me” has morphed into “Don’t Tread On Us”. Ranchers, teachers, artists, park rangers, border patrol agents and others who might not see eye to eye under other circumstances have found common ground and joined forces. One particularly striking example occurred when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) opened the Trans-Pecos Pipeline docket to public comment and the Big Bend Conservation Alliance mounted a campaign to help local citizens get involved. Over 600 individuals filed detailed reports on endangered ecosystems, species, and cultural resources. Defend Big Bend, the creative arm of the local opposition, has helped provide a forum for the community – including many people who had never imagined participating in activism – to work together around a common cause.  
Some local land- and business owners who at first were in favor of the pipeline project believing that it would provide revenue and jobs have been disappointed by Energy Transfer Partners’ lack of transparency and underhanded tactics. The economically depressed border town of Presidio was promised they would receive municipal gas service from the pipeline, but the millions of dollars required to implement such a plan has yet to materialize. Several of the 45 landowners served (so far) with eminent domain lawsuits by ETP believed they were in the midst of good faith negotiations when they received notice of the suit. In July 2015 when Energy Transfer Partners gave a presentation to concerned citizens in Alpine, Texas, they told the community that eminent domain is used only rarely, as a last resort.

Even though approximately 53 miles of the total 143 mile route is currently bound up in eminent domain proceedings and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has yet to issue the permit for the tiny (1093’) segment of pipe under their jurisdiction (the part that would cross the border into Mexico beneath the Rio Grande), pipe has begun arriving in the Big Bend by train. And herein lies the answer to the question about how an international pipeline can be classified as “intra-state: as far as the Texas Railroad Commission is concerned, the Trans-Pecos Pipeline terminates at the border, still within the state of Texas. This is called “impermissible segmentation” – a standard tactic used by pipeline companies to subvert regulations.

In fact, the Trans-Pecos Pipeline is but one cog in a much larger machine...namely, the strategic restructuring of Mexico’s entire energy system to run on natural gas.  In 2013 when Mexico opened its fossil fuel industry to foreign investors, Carlos Slim, famed monopolist and the country’s richest citizen, together with the US, leapt at the chance to capitalize. But just 10% of the total quantity of gas to be transported via the Trans-Pecos Pipeline would go toward firing seven new power plants in Mexico – the other 90% is destined for liquefication and transport to Japan. Some have argued that, for Mexico, burning gas would be cleaner than current sources of energy, such as coal or wood. But there is little evidence that the few plants that would be converted to gas, along with increased dependence on gas the new plants would create, would lead to a net positive for the environment – or the Mexican people.

High on the long list of negatives is the fact that increased demand for natural gas would require an increase in fracking on both sides of the border. Fracking is known to cause groundwater contamination, earthquakes, air quality issues, and a host of other serious health, safety, and environmental concerns…with the release of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon, the wildcard at the top of the deck.

Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry presses blindly on in spite of plummeting gas prices and the world around it awakening to the catastrophic effects of carbon combustion. Low oil prices in concert with a messy business deal  has left ETP CEO Kelcy Warren’s net worth at 3 billion – less than half of what it was only a year ago.

Here in the Big Bend, we are watching with excitement as fossil fuel infrastructure projects on both coasts are being suspended. In Coos Bay, Oregon, FERC rejected the construction of an LNG port and, by association, a Kinder-Morgan pipeline, citing lack of overseas demand for the product. The Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline through New York, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, also owned by Kinder-Morgan, was cancelled due to “market conditions”, including lack of demand and low gas prices, the company claimed. The Williams Cos. Constitution Pipeline between Pennsylvania and New England was found to violate New York water quality standards. While these projects were stopped under circumstances that may not directly translate to Texas, the common denominator – and the one least cited by the industry – is sustained resistance by communities in their path.

This is one thing the fossil fuel industry in general and Energy Transfer Partners in particular can count on. Shamefully ironic corporate-backed campaigns to cast concerned citizens as “eco-terrorists” are backfiring. As evidence mounts that the industry has – for decades – been well aware of the harm it has been causing, the larger the environmental movement becomes.

Those of us who have been a thorn in Energy Transfer’s side for over a year are not going away anytime soon. In fact, ETP is finding out that thorns are a special adaptation that we desert-dwellers use for protection under even the harshest conditions.

UPDATE: On the afternoon of May 5 FERC issued an Order Issuing Presidential and Granting Authorization for the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, ignoring over 600 comments from the community and proclaiming that since the project "promotes national economic policy" it is therefore in the "public interest". 

Alyce Santoro is an interdisciplinary artist and former scientist. She is a co-founder of the group Defend Big Bend.