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Congressional Oversight Hearings are Needed on the Keystone XL Pipeline Construction to Protect Health and Safety of the Public and Environment

Keystone pipeline southern leg - 1The bad news about the Keystone XL pipeline just keeps coming.

After months of research, Public Citizen has brought to light the grave risks posed by sub-standard construction of the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline. Poor welds, dents and other problems in the pipeline have led to TransCanada excavating it in 125 places to conduct repairs.

TransCanada’s poor safety record speaks for itself. The company’s Bison natural gas pipeline exploded within the first six months of operation, and the first phase of Keystone XL spilled 14 times in the first 14 months of its operation, according to the State Department’s August 2011 report on the pipeline.

Now TransCanada wants us to believe that all of the “anomalies” — that’s how they refer to over 200 instances of poor construction — have been identified and fixed and the pipeline is safe.

Say “no” to trusting TransCanada.

Ask Congress to hold oversight hearings on the pipeline before it is filled with toxic tar sands oil.

This pipeline is a disaster waiting to happen.

Not only is there a very real danger of the pipeline spilling toxic tar sands oil on private property and into waterways, but the climate change impact of the pipeline will undo all the progress we’ve made by reducing domestic use of coal.

The safety of the public and the environment must be protected.

Send a message to Congress asking for a full review of the pipeline’s construction practices to protect public safety and the environment.

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Three pinocchiosWashington Post’s “Fact Checker” took issue today with a misleading television ad, sponsored by TransCanada in support of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The ad, titled “TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline: Eliminate America’s reliance on foreign energy” urges Americans to support the pipeline on the basis that it would free the United States from its dependence on foreign countries for energy security.

After addressing the obviously ridiculous claim that imported tar sands from Canada qualifies as domestic energy, noting that “last we had noticed, Canada was still a foreign country,” the Fact Checker took a closer look at other claims made in the ad, including highly questionable job creation numbers.

Based on TransCanada’s history of having a complicated relationship with the truth, it should come as no surprise that this latest ad earned them “three Pinocchios”.

Thanks to Friends of the Earth for pointing this out to us today.

From the Washington Post:

The Pinocchio Test

The Fact Checker takes no position of the politics of the pipeline but TransCanada can’t have its cake and eat it too. The ad shouldn’t cite State’s induced-jobs figure while the company dismisses State’s more relevant calculation of the number of actual construction jobs created in a year. If the 40,000 jobs is good enough for the ad, TransCanada should also accept the 3,900 figure.

Meanwhile, the ad’s initial emphasis on dependence on Middle East oil is specious. Thanks to the fracking boom, the United States is increasingly energy independent — and much of the oil that is imported comes from friendly nations such as Canada. We realize that such ads often use shorthand, but the two main headlines in the ad claim that 40,000 jobs will be created and that the pipeline will eliminate reliance on foreign energy. The caveats in the voiceover don’t really excuse the shortcuts in the headlines.

We wavered between Two and Three Pinocchios. But ultimately we decided that given this is an ad for a pipeline to import Canadian crude oil into the United States, it’s really worthy of a late-night satire.

Three Pinocchios

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Dear Senators and Representatives,

Last Tuesday (Nov. 12), CBS reported that nearly 50 percent of the welds on a section of the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline were faulty. That revelation was based on a Sept. 26, 2013, warning letter to pipeline owner TransCanada from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).  It was part of a broader story about problems with Keystone XL’s southern segment that included Public Citizen’s own investigative report, also released last week.

In the report, we documented 125 excavations TransCanada made to remedy possible “anomalies,” welds, dents or other problems in the southern segment of the pipeline, which runs from Oklahoma through Texas. In conjunction with the report, we sent a letter on Nov. 11 to Congress asking for oversight hearings.

Since then, we have reviewed the two letters cited by CBS, reviewed other PHMSA warning and corrective action letters sent to TransCanada, and spoken to a PHMSA official about some of the correspondence.

The Sept. 26 letter from PHMSA to TransCanada said that “TransCanada experienced a high weld rejection rate” on the section of the pipeline known as “Spread 3” and that “205 out of the 425 welds, or 48.2 percent,” required repairs.  The letter explained that TransCanada employed a welding process that was not a “previously qualified procedure” and “failed to use properly qualified welders.”

In an earlier, Sept. 10 warning letter, PHMSA said field inspectors found dents in pipe that appeared to be the result of rocks in the backfill used around it. The letter said TransCanada did not ensure that the pipe was installed “in a manner that minimizes the possibility of damage to the pipe.”

Damon Hill, a Washington-based public affairs analyst for PHMSA, said in a phone interview that after the letters were sent, PHMSA had “gone out and conducted inspections.” However, he said he could not provide dates of the inspections, confirm that they focused on the problems identified in the letters, or give even an approximate time frame for providing information on the results of these inspections.

Hill said, “The results of the inspections won’t come out until we issue an enforcement order.” He also said, “You’re trying to get me to say something specific, and I am not going to tell you something specific.”

Meanwhile, that section of the pipeline is scheduled to be filled with tar sands crude within a matter of weeks.

The construction problems and the lack of information about inspections are particularly alarming because of TransCanada’s history. The first phase of Keystone XL spilled 14 times in the first 14 months of its operation, according to a U.S. State Department report, and TransCanada’s Bison natural gas pipeline exploded within the first six months of operation.

Moreover, the number of weld problems has implications for the entire southern segment. If 205 repairs are needed on a single section, how many flaws are there likely to be in the rest of the pipeline’s 485 miles?

In light of the above, we firmly believe that the following should take place:

  • PHSMA should ensure correction of the problems identified in its letters, inspect the corrected work, and make the process and results publicly available and readily accessible.
  • PHMSA should inspect all of the “anomalies” indicated by our report and make the process and results publicly available and readily accessible.
  • Because of the high number of problems identified in PHMSA letters and our report, PHMSA should inspect the entire southern segment of Keystone XL. PHMSA should conduct a quality assurance review, and because the quality of the welds is critical to ensuring that the pipeline won’t leak or rupture, another hydrostatic test and caliper inline test should be complete before it is filled.
  • Congress should conduct oversight hearings to ensure that the pipeline is safe for the public and the environment.
  • All of the above should be completed before the pipeline is filled with tar sands crude and put into use.

Our report and PHMSA’s own letters raise the specter of a pipeline rife with construction flaws from its start in Cushing, Oklahoma, to its end at Texas’s Gulf Coast. Congress has a responsibility to ensure that flaws already identified and any undiscovered flaws do not result in a public health or environmental disaster. Texas’ waters should not be put at risk of contamination from pipeline breaks or spills.

Sincerely,

Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director
Public Citizen’s Texas Office
1303 San Antonio St.
Austin, Texas
(512) 477 1155
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Public Citizen today called for congressional oversight hearings and a thorough investigation of the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline because of reports of serious flaws and a warning by a federal agency that nearly half the welds in one section of pipe required repairs.

In a letter sent to Congress today, we said startup of the southern segment of Keystone XL, which runs from Oklahoma through Texas, should be delayed until the inspection is complete and the public can be certain that the pipeline is safe.

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UPDATE:  If you didn’t catch the CBS national news report on Tuesday, November 12th on the problems with the Southern Segment of Keystone XL, click here.

Public Citizen Calls for Congressional Oversight Hearings and Delay in Startup 

As the Obama administration considers whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline’s northern segment, owner TransCanada faces serious questions concerning construction and pipeline integrity issues on the Texas portion of the pipeline that throw its safety into question, Public Citizen said today.

In light of the problems – documented in Public Citizen’s newly released report, “TransCanada’s Keystone XL Southern Segment: Construction Problems Raise Questions About the Integrity of the Pipeline” – citizens and elected officials should call for a delay in startup until an investigation into its safety is completed.

The report documents construction problems and apparent engineering code violations along the Texas portion of the southern segment of the pipeline. The full southern segment, scheduled to be filled with oil by the end of 2013, will run from Cushing, Okla., to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas. It traverses 631 streams and rivers in Texas alone (see http://texaspipelinewatch.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/watersheds.pdf).

The apparent problems documented in the report include pipe being installed as part of new construction that had excessive bending or sagging, and peeling patches of field coating applied to cover damage on pipe about to be placed into the ground.

The report also notes more than 125 excavations in 250 miles of possible “anomalies” on pipe that had been buried for months. Those anomalies included dents, sags and other problems that could lead to spills or leakage of toxic tar sands crude.

“The government should investigate, and shouldn’t let crude flow until that is done,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “Given the stakes – the potential for a catastrophic spill of hazardous crude along a pipeline that traverses hundreds of streams and rivers and comes within a few miles of some towns and cities – it would be irresponsible to allow the pipeline to start operating.”

Public Citizen also urges President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, when deciding on the northern leg of Keystone XL, to consider TransCanada’s record of construction problems and code violations, and the pipeline’s potential impact on the sensitive areas of the Ogallala aquifer, which provides drinking water for millions of people, and the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, which the pipeline route crosses.

The report, available at http://www.citizen.org/documents/Keystone report – November 2013.pdf, encapsulates information gathered by Public Citizen, whose consultant traveled the area from May through June. Public Citizen collaborated with former TransCanada engineer and whistleblower Evan Vokes, who worked for TransCanada from 2007 to 2012 in the division responsible for construction standards.

For the report, landowners were interviewed, excavation sites were observed, video was reviewed and hundreds of photos of damaged pipe and work sites were examined. Observers also flew over the pipeline route several times.

In some areas, observers noticed stakes marked with “anomalies,” placed by TransCanada, with companion stakes marked “welds” and “dents.” One landowner reported that TransCanada contractors said as many as 70 anomalies were found in a 60-mile stretch between the Sulphur and the Sabine rivers in Texas.

TransCanada has claimed that the excavation and replacement of new pipe demonstrates its commitment to implement 57 special conditions of quality assurance and to build a “state-of-the-art” pipeline.However, TransCanada has had a history of problems with pipeline construction and safety for two decades:

  • During the construction of Keystone I, TransCanada pledged to meet 50 special conditions. But more than 47 anomalies along the line in four states had to be retested, and the Keystone I line spilled 12 times in the first year of operation.
  • In July 2011, TransCanada’s Bison natural gas pipeline exploded within the first six months of operation, blowing out an approximate 40-foot section of pipe. TransCanada had been warned of potential quality problems with construction and inspection.
  • In the 1990s, Iroquois Pipeline Operations, a subsidiary of TransCanada Pipelines Ltd., and four senior executives pleaded guilty to knowingly violating environmental and safety provisions of the pipeline construction permit. Iroquois executives had promised a pipeline of exceptional safety.

Public Citizen is calling on the Pipeline and ­­Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) to review TransCanada’s construction quality assurance records, determine whether state and federal laws have been violated, and not permit the start of operations on the southern leg of the Keystone XL until the entire line has been hydrostatically retested – a sophisticated process that sends water through a pipeline at a specified level of pressure higher than the maximum operating pressure to test the integrity and strength of a pipeline. The southern segment also should be tested by an inline caliper device called a smart pig to look for integrity problems.

Public Citizen also calls on Congress to hold oversight hearings to ensure that PHMSA investigates and addresses the safety of the pipeline.

“TransCanada’s history with pipeline problems speaks for itself,” Smith said. “I fear we could be looking at another pipeline whose integrity may be in question.”

Citizens can:

  • Call upon Congress to hold oversight hearings to assure that the pipeline is retested and its safety is ensured;
  • Attend one of seven upcoming citizen hearings on the safety of the pipeline in East Texas (see http://texaspipelinewatch.org/calendar/ for schedule and addresses);
  • Meet with local first responders and ask county governments to develop tar-sands-spill- emergency response plan; and
  • Ask legislators to reform Texas common carrier laws pipeline and pipeline safety standards.

 

For  video of pipeline issues, see http://nacstop.org/EastTexasObserver.html.

June 16, 2013 tape

  • sagging, 4.38-4.59 minutes;
  • coating problem, 5.25-6.12 minutes;
  • anomaly mark, 6.24-7.10 minutes.

See May 31, 2013 tape

  • sagging, 26-31 seconds;
  • water, 4.59 minute
  • unsupported pipe, 4.29-6.20 minutes

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warning pipelineCitizens in East Texas are becoming alarmed as representatives from ExxonMobil, operator of the Pegasus pipeline, show up to post yellow and black-striped warning markers along the pipeline route running across their land, the same one that ruptured about 320 miles northeast of there in March, spewing at least 210,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude into neighborhood streets in Mayflower, Ark.  Click here to read the article by the Texas Tribune that documents how normally conservative landowners are turning into activists in defense of their land and their homes.

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This coming weekend is a busy one for folks concerned about a variety of issues around climate change and eminent domain focusing around the Texas leg of the Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines.

Saturday, September 21, 2013 is a national day of action, some of the events happening in Texas:

  • San Antonio – 10am to noon
    San Pedro Springs Park, 1415 San Pedro Avenue, San Antonio, TX
    Part of the 350.org national “Draw the Line” day of action, with Energia Mia, Alamo Chapter of the Sierra Club, Esperanza Center, the People’s Power Coalition, 100 Thousand Poets for Change, Bexar County Green Party, Texas Indigenous Council, and others will gather at the park to voice opposition to tar sands. (Pinata burst at 11 am)
  • Houston
    1:00 pm – Corner of Post Oak Blvd, and Westheimer, in Houston, TX and
    2:00 pm – Hermann Park, at the Street Theater.
  • Dallas
    9:30 am – White Rock Lake (West Lawther between Fisher and Branchfield), Dallas, TX.  Lake spruce up activities
    7:00 pm to Sunset – a roadside rally and candlelight vigil
  • Austin – Rally at the Texas Capitol

Click here to find out more about these actions and to locate actions in other communities.

line-11.jpg

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In a report by TruthOut, Mike Ludwig tells how federal regulators have failed to enforce pipeline safety despite spills and deadly accidents.  Each year more than 250 significant pipeline accidents cause explosions, pollution, property damage, injury and death across the country.  Since 2006, 96 people have been killed, yet no one seems to be there to protect the interests of the public.   Click here to read this report.

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There’s a lot to like in the president’s plan that he announced today, but there is a lot that falls short, too. Certainly on the most important measure, reducing coal-burning plant emissions, the president is a day late and a dollar short. The lack of specificity on the standard eventually to be issued makes it impossible to know how far reaching it will be.

But Texas shows how it can be done!  See below.

Associated Press/Charles Dharapak - President Barack Obama wipes perspiration from his face as he speaks about climate change

Associated Press/Charles Dharapak – President Barack Obama wipes perspiration from his face as he speaks about climate change

Catastrophic climate change poses a near-existential threat to humanity. We need a national mobilization — and indeed a worldwide mobilization – to transform rapidly from our fossil fuel-reliant past and present to a clean energy future. We need a sense of urgency – indeed, emergency – with massive investments, tough and specific standards and binding rules which are missing from the president’s plan.

The administration is finally using the authority ratified by a conservative Supreme Court to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. The Administration will re-write rules for new plants and develop rules for all existing power plants. This is the most important tool the Administration has, and if the rules are written the way they should be, it will go a long way towards protecting consumers and our climate. This initiative builds on the successful and strong automobile tailpipe standards that have already been successfully rolled out. The downside is that the late 2015 final rule date is far off in the future, and will likely see lengthy legal challenges.

The plan also, helpfully, builds on existing programs and plucks some low-hanging fruit to reduce carbon emissions: Increasing renewable targets and efficiency on federal land, in the federal government’s operations, in the Pentagon, and in federally-assisted housing.

The Administration set the table recently by increasing the estimated cost of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to society, from $23.80/ton to $38.

Targeting oil industry subsidies, as the Administration proposes here, is also commonsense, and much needed policy.

However, there is no mention in the plan of using a uniform, strong climate change impact assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act, which would require the costs and impacts of GHG in every federal environmental impact statement. The failure to utilize NEPA for GHG assessment is a huge oversight.

Reserving the troubled loan guarantee program for “clean coal” is a taxpayer boondoggle waiting to happen. A case in point is the Obama-backed Kemper IGCC coal plant owned by Southern Co, which has seen costs balloon from $2.4 billion to $4.2 billion, with costs still rising further.

In general, the President’s embrace of an “all of the above” strategy, including oil and gas expansion, is a disaster. His focus on fossil fuel exports — including the explicit promotion of LNG (liquefied natural gas) and his failure to curtail coal exports – threatens to undo any positive elements of the plan. By promoting LNG, the Administration is moving full-speed-ahead on fracking – with no mention of how to control fugitive emissions, water contamination and other environmental problems posed by the controversial process. And while the proposed EPA rules over existing and new coal power plants will result in significant GHG reductions here at home, all of that will be negated (and more) if we ramp up our coal exports to China. Using NEPA and other statutes to ensure that the emissions of coal exports – and the fugitive emissions of fracked gas – are included in the environmental impact study (EIS) for export projects is essential.

The same goes for Keystone XL. Awaiting approval by the State Dept, the Keystone XL pipeline’s EIS is fatally flawed. The Administration has a chance to re-write the EIS to take into account the true GHG impact of the tar sands, which would require this gas-price boosting project to be rejected.  And Obama’s welcome announcement on KXL won’t affect the southern segment of the line being built from Oklahoma to Houston, nor will it stop the conversion of existing pipelines to carry tar sands. These are the back door ways that tar sands and its carbon pollution will leak into the international markets

At the end of the day, it would be helpful if the Administration would lend its support to an existing climate bill – the Climate Protection Act of 2013. This legislation places a price on carbon, sending revenues back to families and into investments for a sustainable energy economy (not to mention regulating fracking and repealing oil industry subsidies).

“Texas Shows How It Can Be Done”

The good news is that the solutions to global warming from the energy sector are within reach — and Texas shows how it can be done. We can power our state with renewable energy, energy efficiency demand side management and energy storage technologies and techniques that exist or are being developed right now.

“Here’s what Texas has shown in recent years:

  • In 1999 Texas adopted renewable energy goals – partially to reduce global warming. Now Texas leads the nation in production of wind energy, which is now so cheap that it is reducing consumers bills;
  • Renewable energy is now employing more people than coal plants and coal mines are  in Texas;
  • If we were to  develop more solar and geothermal, and employ energy  storage, we could meet our energy needs around the clock without relying on coal;
  • With the combination of those tools we could phase out and shut down our 22 climate killing coal plants;
  • Adopting building energy codes has reduced statewide carbon emissions by as much a coal plant would produce.”

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Texas Capitol - north viewWith the regular session behind us and energy and environmental issues not likely to find a place in the special session, it’s a good time to look at what we accomplished.

Our wins came in two forms – bills that passed that will actually improve policy in Texas and bills that didn’t pass that would have taken policy in the wrong direction.

We made progress by helping to get bills passed that:

  • Expand funding for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) by about 40%;
  • Create a program within TERP to replace old diesel tractor trailer trucks used in and around ports and rail yards (these are some of the most polluting vehicles on the road);
  • Establish new incentives within TERP for purchasing plug-in electric cars; and
  • Assign authority to the Railroad Commission (RRC) to regulate small oil and gas lines (these lines, known as gathering lines, are prone to leaks); and
  • Allows commercial and industrial building owners to obtain low-cost, long-term private sector financing for water conservation and energy-efficiency improvements, including on-site renewable energy, such as solar.

We successfully helped to stop or improve bad legislation that would have:

  • Eliminated hearings on permits for new pollution sources (the contested case hearing process is crucial to limiting pollution increases);
  • Eliminated additional inspections for facilities with repeated pollution violations;
  • Weakened protections against utilities that violate market rules and safety guidelines;
  • Eliminated property tax breaks for wind farms, while continuing the policy for other industries;
  • Granted home owners associations (HOAs) authority to unreasonably restrict homeowners ability to install solar panels on their roofs; and
  • Permitted Austin City Council to turn control of Austin Energy over to an unelected board without a vote by the citizens of Austin.

We did lose ground on the issue of radioactive waste disposal.  Despite our considerable efforts, a bill passed that will allow more highly radioactive waste to be disposed of in the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) facility in west Texas.  Campaign contributions certainly played an important roll in getting the bill passed.

We were also disappointed by Governor Perry’s veto of the Ethics Commission sunset bill, which included several improvements, including a requirement that railroad commissioners resign before running for another office, as they are prone to do.  Read Carol’s post about this bill and the issue.

With the legislation over and Perry’s veto pen out of ink, we now shift our attention to organizing and advocating for a transition from polluting energy sources that send money out of our state to clean energy sources that can grow our economy.

We’re working to:

  • Promote solar energy at electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities;
  • Speed up the retirement of old, inefficient, polluting coal-fired power plants in east Texas;
  • Protect our climate and our port communities throughout the Gulf states from health hazards from new and expanded coal export facilities;
  • Fight permitting of the Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines in Texas;
  • Ensure full implementation of improvements made to TERP; and
  • Develop an environmental platform for the 2014 election cycle.

Our power comes from people like you getting involved – even in small ways, like writing an email or making a call.  If you want to help us work for a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable future, email me at [email protected]  And one of the best things you can do is to get your friends involved too.

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Excerpted from Julia Trigg Crawford’s facebook page.

Julia on her ranch before Keystone starts work

Julia on her ranch before Keystone starts work

Crews from TransCanada/Michels/Universal Field Services and others I don’t recognize started arriving yesterday in preparation for the destruction on our place. Within hours of their arrival the pasture inside “their” fenced in area was shredded, road signs designating “work area” went up, hundred of timbers used to support heavy machinery were unloaded from 18 wheelers and stacked, and most gut wrenching was the “blading” of our land by a trackhoe in preparation for even more heavy equipment. I’ve attached a photo of my land a few months ago and what I witnessed yesterday. I intend to share as much of this process with you as I can.

But just as the workers were really getting going, yesterday afternoon a monstrous wind and thunderstorm blew in, forcing all the men off their equipment, scurrying for cover in their nearby pickups. A sign perhaps?

I was told our place is the final link, the last piece of property needed to complete TransCanada’s conveniently uncoupled and renamed Gulf Coast Segment of their Keystone Project. Furthermore, they will work 7 days a week if needed to overcome any delays, weather or otherwise. All eyes are on us folks, we really are The Last Stand.

Day one of Keystone's destruction of Julia Trigg Crawford's ranch

Day one of Keystone’s destruction of Julia Trigg Crawford’s ranch

All this while our appeal is freshly delivered and active at the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Texarkana. Unbelievable. TransCanada’s decision to move forward and initiate construction during our legal case just strengthens my family’s resolve to continue fighting. We maintain, now more than ever, that they never had the right to take our land in the first place. Their claimed Common Carrier status? A rubber stamp handed out by the embattled Texas Railroad Commission. This pipeline? An interstate project, even the Railroad Commission says it is out of their jurisdiction. The product to be carried? Tarsands, a product mined in Canada, and one of the most toxic and destructive products borne by Mother Earth. Just ask the residents in Kalamazoo and Mayflower what it did to their communities and waterways when it could not be contained. And sadly ask the First Nations in Alberta how is is destroying their lands and lives.

I hear the beeping of heavy equipment being moved, I guess they’re back at it already today, so I’m headed out to watch and take more photos. If you thought I was a mad and motivated landowner before, well, you’re about to see me hit a new gear. Stay tuned.

We’ll keep you updated about her appeal and the work on her land.

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Join 360.org with a message to Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline

RSVP on Facebook: facebook.com/events/167981560029199/

Here are the details:

  • What: Austin Tells Obama: No KXL!
  • When: Thursday, May 9 at 3:30pm
  • Where: Obama will be speaking at Applied Materials at 9700 US Highway 290 East. We are going to be meeting at Uncle Bob’s Self Storage- 9717 U.S. 290 Austin, Texas at 3:30pm and will try and get as close as possible to the event location.

Applied Materials is a technology company that makes solar panels. Obama will probably be speaking about clean energy and he needs to get the message that he cannot support a clean energy economy and also approve the Keystone XL pipeline, one of the dirtiest energy projects in the world.

President Obama already supported construction of the southern leg of Keystone XL through Texas and Oklahoma, but he has a chance to reverse course and make the right choice on the crucial northern leg of the pipeline. 350 organizers have met him at every one of his public events in the past few weeks — including overseas — help them keep the pressure on when he comes to Austin. We can’t let him talk about clean energy without speaking up about Keystone XL.

This is one of the best ways you can show the President that Keystone XL does not fit into a clean energy future. So, invite your friends and neighbors and co-workers, and take an hour to join tomorrow. Click here to RSVP!

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Two bills were laid out in the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday – SB 1625 by Senator Davis (D-Fort Worth) and SB 1637 by Senator Duncan (R-Lubbock).  Senator Duncan summed up the issues before the committee. He said the key issues include: who gets notice and how; whether hearings are to be held by the Railroad Commission- the State Office of Administrative Hearings; which courts review the decisions on common carrier status- the local courts or ones in Austin; what are the standards used to determine if someone is a common carrier and can the Railroad Commissioner adopt rules to fix the problems without legislation.

Julia Trigg Crawford, a Paris area landowner whose land was condemned and taken by the Keystone XL pipeline, which declared itself a common carrier, and was given the right through an eminent domain decision.  The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that in order for a pipeline company to take land, they must prove they really are common carriers, but to date Keystone XL has not proven they will carry anybody else’s product. Crawford’s land is threatened with imminent trenching for the Keystone XL pipeline even though she has appealed the court’s decision that Keystone XL is a common carrier and has the right to take her land.

Texas law ought to protect landowners from Big Oil, but today in Texas the Railroad Commission rubber stamps common carrier permits.  As a result, I am days away from having my land destroyed by the Keystone pipeline and poisons being pumped through my pasture,” said Crawford.

What’s upsetting to those of us who live along the path of these tar sands pipelines — no matter if they are new pipelines like Keystone or repurposed lines like the 35-year old Seaway and the 65-year old Pegasus — is that no one knows just how toxic these tar sands are and there isn’t a safety plan in place for residents or first responders should there be a spill,” noted Crawford. “Many of the toxic substances in these products are deemed ‘proprietary’ and therefore first responders haven’t had and won’t have the complete information they need to address an incident when a spill occurs unless the legislature acts. Saving the health of my community and my water is more important than a private company’s worries about the “proprietary” information of their product. This puts Texans and those who are here to protect us at risk.

There have already been three spills in residential areas: one along the Kalamazoo River in Michigan about three years ago, one in Arkansas last month, and a small leak in Ripley County, Missouri less than a week ago, a month after the same pipeline spewed thousands of barrels of crude in Arkansas. Almost three years and $850 million later, the Enbridge tar sands spill in Michigan is still not cleaned up. Witnesses told elected officials today that they should have the right to know what is in these pipelines before they are declared common carriers, are given the right to condemn Texans’ land, and travel through Texas backyards and water sources

Tar sands are far more toxic than conventional crude, and as a result of the recent Pegasus spill in Arkansas we now have a recipe for disaster with several tar sands pipelines threatening communities throughout Texas.  Tar sands crude contains a toxic mixture of more than 30 chemicals that can cause cancer, brain damage, and even death.  When tar sands crude hits water, it doesn’t behave like conventional crude.  The benzene and hydrogen sulfide go airborne necessitating the evacuations of nearby citizens due to possible exposure to dangerous neurotoxins, meanwhile the heavier bitumen in the tar sands crude sinks like a stone and essentially paves the river bottom, comment Rita Beving, a consultant to the 391 Commissions that have formed in several East Texas communities to either oppose the pipelines or to get additional information about the pipelines.

In Texas, the 65-year old Pegasus pipeline runs from Dekalb to Corsicana and then turns southeast to Nederland carrying tar sands crude.  The 36-year old Seaway line comes into Texas at Grayson County passing through the east side of Dallas and onto Freeport.  Seaway is now being surveyed to twin the existing line to double its capacity to carry tar sands for upgrading and refinement on the coast.  Finally, the new Keystone line is being trenched, entering near Paris in North Texas and coursing through the state to refineries in the Port Arthur/Houston area.

Public Citizen is proposing a few suggested amendments that would make for a far better bills.

  • Right to Know: Landowners and citizens have a right to know what is being carried in the pipelines going through their communities, farms, ranches and school yards.  We like Senator Davis’ language on this subject pg 5 section 111. 0122 9 (a) (3)   This provision should be expanded to include the chemicals used to dilute the materials such as tar sands in the pipeline and to refer citizens  to a website containing more information about the toxicity of the  substances.
  • Notice: Landowners should have the right to actual mailed notice about the decisions being made on common carrier status so they can decide whether to contest the decision in a timely manner. We prefer Senator Duncan’s language but think it should be expanded to include neighbors and others who might be affected if a spill were to occur
  • Hearings: Protestants have the right to a fair hearing in front of an impartial judge.  Time and again we hear from local landowners that the local district court judges, while sympathetic to their plight, tell them that they don’t believe they have jurisdiction, and these same landowners hear the same thing from the Railroad Commission   We prefer Senator Davis’ provision that requires the use of the State Office of Administrative Hearings. They will be far more mindful of landowners’ rights and more impartial than the Railroad Commission who sees part of its mission to be promotion of the oil and gas industry, but regardless Texans need to have a clear path to follow to address these issues.  We do have concerns about the 30 day time frame and would urge the bill to be modified to allow hearings in a SOAH regional office
  • Test for Common Carrier status: It is important that common carriers are really serving the common interest. Thus assuring that the common is not so affiliated with one company that they are not just a private pipeline is key. We prefer Senator Davis’ language.

Things to watch out for:

Conclusive Determination:  One of the divisive issues in the House debate has been over whether the Railroad Commission’s decision on the issue of whether a RRC decision on common carrier status is a conclusive determination for the purposes of a judicial proceeding.  What this section means is that a landowner or other affected party can’t challenge the common carrier status in a later court even if they never really got notice.  Farmers, ranchers and environmental groups have all expressed their concern about this provision as have Tea Party and liberal groups.  This is a major issue in the Julia Trigg Crawford appeal and in several other appeals as well. The committee’s decisions on the issue of who gets notice, how they get it and what kind of information about the contents will determine a lot about how contentious this debate will be.

Confidentiality: Senator Davis’ bill provides in two sections that the information about the common carrier application and the substances in the pipeline are confidential if specifically identified as such by the company. The presumption should be one of openness unless the company can prove that real harm will result from disclosure that outweighs the public right to know. We can see company after company claiming that their tariffs and customers are confidential and that the substances and the toxins used to dilute the tar sands are confidential.

Think it couldn’t happen? Ask the people whose health and homes were ruined in Mayflower or Kalamazoo. Ask the first responders how long they had to wait to get information on what was in those leaking pipelines. In both cases information was withheld and declared “confidential”

Citizens have the right to know when an application has been filed, right to effective mailed notice, a right to know if the applicant really is a common carrier with real customers and real tariffs or just a private pipeline and what’s in the pipelines so they may decide how to react to an application.

Contact the members of the Senate State Affairs Committee and your senator and ask them to require disclosure of the chemicals flowing through the pipeline that will be flowing through Texas land, perhaps even your backyard, as part of the notification process and before eminent domain proceedings can begin.

Senate State Affairs Committee Members: Duncan (R-Lubbock) – Chair / Deuell (R-Greenville) – Vice Chair / Ellis (D-Houston) / Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) / Huffman (R-Houston) / Lucio (D-Brownsville) / Nichols (R-Jacksonville) / Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) / Williams (R-The Woodlands)

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Keystone XL opponents are asking President Obama to reject the tar sands pipeline based on the new EPA report that assessed “environmental objections” and found that the State Department’s analysis included “insufficient information”.

The State Department’s own Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) made the case that Keystone XL would provide no tangible benefits for the U.S.—and now the EPA’s comments highlight the serious risks that the pipeline would create for the U.S. and for the communities along the pipeline route.

EPA’s letter to Assistant Secretary Fernandez and Assistant Secretary Jones outlined serious concerns regarding missing information from the DEIS, namely:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Pipeline safety
  • Alternative pipeline routes
  • Community and environmental justice impacts

Per the two reports from his own Administration and the over 200 pages of comments on the DEIS submitted by opponents, President Obama has no choice but to reject Keystone XL because it is not in our national interest.

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Julia Trigg Crawford, a Texas landowner fighting a legal battle with TransCanada over the rights to her family’s farm, will be in Washington on Thursday to testify in front of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice during a hearing on the Private Property Rights Protection Act. Ms. Crawford will be discussing her personal experience with the use of eminent domain by a foreign company, as it is being used by the Keystone XL pipeline.

The bill filed in the 112th Congress as H.R.1433 can be read here.

The hearing will begin at 9am ET on Thursday and may be covered on C-Span in case you want to catch Julia’s testimony.

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