KNOCK US OVER WITH A FEATHER–TWO PIPELINES DOWN! Amazing news on Earth Day that the DEC denied the Water Quality Permit for the Constitution pipeline. Following close on the heels of Kinder-Morgan pulling the plug on their NED pipeline, it's clear that the power of public opinion, and the work of thousands of Northeast activists, is having direct impact on our energy future across the region. Catch all the details on both defeats HERE–rejoice, take a bow–and then let's redirect all that activism towards the projects that remain. (But seriously, what joyful change is being made!)
In the five years we've been fighting pipelines, a question frequently asked by newcomers who've just learned about the infrastructure invasion is an outraged, "Why isn't the New York Times covering this?!" A good percentage of the population revers this paper as the arbiter of important issues, and reaching that audience is considered a kind of golden ring. It can be argued that the early anti-fracking movement got a huge boost from the groundbreaking series Ian Urbina wrote for the Times. Now, at long last, because of the work you all have been doing, The Gray Lady has caught on in a big way to the scope and power of the anti-infrastructure movement. We celebrate this important milestone.
First the Times published this post, detailing how the AIM pipeline increases concerns about Indian Point, complete with Governor Cuomo's announcement of an independent safety investigation, and his call for FERC to halt construction on the project. Then, on March 19th, this story portrayed the united movement that infrastructure battles around the country have become, observing, "Bound together through social media, networks of far-flung activists are opposing virtually all new oil, gas and coal infrastructure projects."
Reporter John Schwartz catalogued infrastructure fights in Portland, Seneca Lake, and at FERC offices, quoting one advocate who said, “When we pick up the ball and run with it here in North Carolina, we’re well aware of what’s going on in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island,” adding, “The fight we’re doing here, it bears on what happens elsewhere—we’re all in this together."
The reporter also noted the connection the movement has made to climate change, and the push for green energy. Our own Patrick Robbins, whose press release about AIM piqued interest in the bigger picture, was also quoted: “It’s not a bridge to renewable energy—it’s a competitor."
Bill McKibben, whose recent arrest with We Are Seneca Lake advocates was highlighted in the story, called the blockade “a good scene,” noting that it was hardly an isolated action: “There’s 15 places like this around the world today,” McKibben said. “There will be 15 more tomorrow, and the day after that.”
Ben Adler has posted an article in Grist detailing the rise of blockades against Spectra's AIM pipeline in the Northeast. Despite Spectra's spokesperson's rote statements about "clean, reliable, domestic natural gas," Adler notes that "new pipelines are actually less safe than older ones. Pipelines built in the 2010s have been failing at about three times the rate of those built from the 1950s to the 2000s." Sane Energy Co-Director, Kim Fraczek, who was arrested as one of the Montrose 9, says, “New York state has outlawed fracking because of health and safety issues; we need to consider that the infrastructure is just as damaging to our health and safety as much as the drilling is.”
Things are always jumping at Sane Energy Project, but this past Fall season has been particularly active, with the successful campaign against Port Ambrose in full gear, the Resist AIM campaign taking off, plus so many events, rallies and forums! Here are some highlights:
We Won Port Ambrose!
We celebrated the Port Ambrose veto with all the allies who helped defeat the proposed Liquefied Natural Gas project. It was a sweet win after an intense two-year battle that included getting the NY City Council to pass a resolution against it, innumerable hearings, community meetings, rallies, press conferences, email and postcard campaigns– plus lots of work behind the scenes to win over electeds throughout Long Island and the rest of the state. This concerted, coalition effort was rewarded when Governor Cuomo vetoed the Port on November 12th, and then in December, the Long Beach City Council presented advocates with a proclamation on behalf of the local community. Such wins are so rare and treasured that Naomi Klein invited Co-Director Patrick Robbins to write an article about the experience on her blog,
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The campaign leading up to the defeat ran hot and heavy from Labor Day on, rallying massive turnouts–from hearings on Long Island to street performances in front of a Broadway show where Governor Cuomo held a fundraiser.
Resist AIM Launched
Sane Energy Project has supported the efforts of local organizers to lead a campaign of Creative Peaceful Resistance (CPR) against the construction of the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline, since its approval by FERC over the objections of the public, and the start of tree cutting. These efforts have involved hosting frontline residents at forums throughout Westchester and NYC; promoting their pledge to resist, facilitating art builds, media outreach, and organizing support teams for blockades. Co-Director, Kim Fraczek, was arrested with local advocates at the first blockade on November 9th. Because of Sane's alliances, there were even corresponding blockades using inflatables on the same day in Westchester and at the Paris COP 21 talks!
We REVed it Up!
The statewide REV (Reforming the Energy Vision) has been a big focus for us this Fall: "Make REV R.E.A.L (Renewable, Equitable, Accountable and Local)" started with a banner for a joint Sierra Club/Sane rally, then became the clarion call for the Energy Democracy Alliance, of which Sane is a member (logo, below, courtesy of Sane's artistic powerhouse, Kim Fraczek). There was a packed house at the REV hearing at NYU on October 27th, calling on the Public Service Commission to stop supporting fracked gas and coal infrastructure and replace these polluters with offshore wind and solar.
And there were so many other events!
We led off our new bi-weekly Sane Energy volunteer meetings with trainings for the Port Ambrose and REV hearings; we supported the Blued Trees art project; we presented the YOU ARE HERE map at Seneca Lake, we screened THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING and connected the global climate crisis to local fights with environmental justice speakers; and our Climate Rider, Lorna rode nearly 400 miles to stop climate change, and we threw her a big fun party!
(There was so much more that we can't fit in here, and that's why we encourage you to keep up with us daily on Facebook, where all the late-breaking news and events across the state are posted!) We so look forward to doing more great advocacy with you in 2016! If you would like to support the work we do, please click here!
The AIM pipeline sparks multi-state resistance.
When you think about the kind of person who would blockade a backhoe with their body, Nancy Vann might not be whom you’d picture. Mild-mannered to the point of needing frequent reminders to speak up, her fine-boned body is surgically pieced back together after a long-ago car accident that left her walking with a cane and merits a handicap-parking permit. The former financial services lawyer is a homeowner in the Reynolds Hills community near Peekskill, New York.
This bucolic bungalow colony had been a peaceful place until the recent arrival of tree cutting equipment, brought in by Spectra Energy to clear a route for their Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline. The pipeline path comes within fifteen feet of one of the Reynold Hills cabins and borders several of the backyards there.
Residents here have larger concerns than their own backyards: Nancy and other advocates are deeply concerned about the wider impact of the pipeline, which would cross two fault lines, the Hudson River, and on the west and east sides of the river, rail lines that carry, respectively, “bomb” oil trains and propane trains.
Compressor and pigging stations that are part of the project would spew emissions over a wide swath of residences, schools and playgrounds. The pipeline would run through New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island to a Massachusetts hub that would connect shale gas supplies from Pennsylvania to an export facility in Nova Scotia.
The biggest worry, however, is that the high-pressure, forty-two-inch-diameter pipe would pass within one hundred and five feet of critical equipment that is part of the Indian Point nuclear facility. An accident there would devastate a wide area, including New York City.
The tree cutting taking place now at Reynolds Hill is in preparation for pipeline construction. Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who ran a pro-fracking campaign against Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014, has allowed Spectra eleven months to cut trees on county parkland. Had Astorino opted to give the company twelve months, it would have triggered a legislative vote.
Reynolds Hill Resistance
Just after dawn, on Thursday, Nov. 19th, Nancy saw a tree cutting crane making its way towards her house. Realizing there was no one she could call in time to stop it, she walked outside and placed herself in the path of the cutter, under one of the larger trees. She was later joined by her local city councilwoman, and several other advocates.
According to recommendations printed on the tree cutting crane, a distance of 300 feet should be maintained between the machine and people. Nancy remained on her own property, and therefore could not be arrested, but her proximity led to a work stoppage for the day.
On Friday, the crews returned, this time with chainsaws. Eight advocates who’d signed a pledge of resistance joined the protest, including Jess Rechtshaffer, who climbed one of the trees. For unknown reasons, on this day, the tree cutting crane did not maintain a 300-foot distance to the demonstrators.
A worker operating a chain saw began cutting trees within five feet of protesters. An arborist friend, someone who is familiar with how to take down a tree, urged them away, saying it was too dangerous to remain so close. Police at the scene did not interfere with the tree cutters and moved demonstrators back to a safe distance. Recounting the incident, Nancy said, “People got killed in the Civil Rights movement; you don’t stop because you could get hurt.”
A photographer documenting the scene was struck by branches, captured on video by NBC News 4. The protest was also filmed by CBS News and Westchester's News 12, and ongoing coverage has been provided by Patch.com.
After two-years attempting to engage FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), as well as town, county, state and federal officials, residents in Peekskill and other Westchester communities who feel that Creative Peaceful Resistance (CPR) is now their only remaining option, recently formed Resist AIM.
Resist AIM organized last week's early-morning blockade of a ware yard in Montrose, from which Spectra workers launch their daily tree-cutting activities. Nine were arrested, and all pleaded “not guilty” at their arraignment this past Friday. Like the fishermen who blockaded a New England coal ship in 2013, the advocates feel they are acting out of necessity; on the principle that their actions prevent a greater harm to the larger society. December 11th is the next court date for the Montrose 9, as they are now called, and a $10,000 legal fee must be raised (contributions may be made at the SenRG website––notate donations as “Fight AIM.”)
Like the We Are Seneca Lake (WASL) blockades, Resist AIM expects to run an extended campaign against the pipeline. The WASL model of themed blockades (mothers and grandmothers one day, faith leaders another) has been picked up by many allied groups fighting infrastructure.
Opposition is fierce throughout New England
The Westchester groups are only the latest to join a resistance that has already been active along the route of the AIM pipeline. To date, there have been sixty-seven arrests in the regional fight against Spectra. Groups such as SWRL (Stop the West Roxbury Lateral) in Massachusetts, CVC (Capitalism Vs. The Climate) in Connecticut; BASE (Burrillville Against Spectra Expansion) and FANG (Fighting Against Natural Gas) in Rhode Island, have dogged Spectra for more than a year. CVC member Bernardo McLaughlin locked down to Spectra equipment at the Chaplin, CT compressor station on November 16th, delaying construction for three hours. And as of November 14th, Spectra has halted construction on the Roxbury Lateral until at least next spring, moving SWRL members to call for its members to support other Spectra fighters.
Like the Westchester groups, FANG started out leading letter writing campaigns and visiting elected officials, before launching a direct action campaign. FANG Member, Sherrie Andre, was arrested last May for a tree sit to block expansion of the Burrillville compressor station. A large-scale mobilization is planned in Rhode Island for December 4th and 5th.
Mutual support among pipeline fighters is spreading along the eastern seaboard: FANG Northeast is networked not only with Westchester groups and the Northeast Pipeline Alliance, but with groups in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. BXE (Beyond Extreme Energy), the DC-based group that most recently organized a hunger strike in front of FERC offices, is supporting the AIM resistance and other front-line community efforts. And mainstream organizations such as New England chapters of the Sierra Club and 350 are joining the battle against pipelines as well.
The Empire Strikes Back
But homeowners and advocates aren’t the only ones turning up the heat: Dirty energy companies––finding themselves blocked at multiple points along a given project––have taken to claiming restitution, such as the $30,000 fine imposed on three FANG members after a lock down halted work crews for three hours this past September. (FANG’s legal fund can be found at their website.)
Pipeline builders often make "donations" to local police, fire and civic organizations, by way of engendering support for their projects. Rumor has it that Spectra has been making payments to the local Peekskill police force. Westchester and Peekskill police have been stationed at both ends of the Spectra construction area at Reynolds Hills since tree clearing began, with nighttime search lights so bright it is difficult for drivers to see the road. Last weekend, one officer appeared on private property, apparently "checking on" a community meeting. Senior Peekskill police at the scene promised that there would be no further incidents of that type. While it is proper that officers enforce laws that protect property, the question is whether the presence of a high-spending corporation affects the protection of free speech and assembly by law-abiding citizens.
Whether such harassment tactics are abandoned could depend on how the public responds. Recent media coverage has brought plentiful negative publicity to Spectra for pursuing actions against ordinary citizens defending their homes. The builders’ tactic of eminent domain is highly unpopular, especially among conservatives.
Adding to Spectra's woes is the recent study released last week by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy, which found there is no need for additional gas pipelines, and that less expensive, less carbon-intensive options–especially efficiency measures–would be more effective in ensuring energy reliability. The study contradicts builders’ claims that the pipe would bring cheap energy to New England and lays bare their ambitions to use the line to reach export terminals further north.
Where are we now?
This is a turning point. As awareness builds, and having been burned by a gamed system run by industry-friendly agencies such as FERC, citizens are losing patience working within regulatory boundaries. Like Nancy Vann, people who never considered it before feel compelled to offer a direct response.
Earlier human rights struggles moved society from a place where oppressive behaviors and policies were accepted and commonplace, to being looked upon as barbaric. Women, minorities and LGTB community members were once legally and socially ostracized as lesser human beings, a concept that civilized society now rejects. How then can it be acceptable to treat those who live near where energy is extracted, stored, or transported as collateral damage in the service of perpetuating the use of climate-destroying fossils fuels?
In the context of a world that has already warmed one degree, allowing the continued harms to human health, the taking of private property, and the harassment of resisters is not only barbaric, but insanely self-destructive. People like Nancy Vann and other advocates who engage in peaceful resistance against dirty energy are–like the suffragettes, civil rights marchers, and Act Up leaders–a vanguard of ordinary people caught in an historical moment not of their own making, who nonetheless stand up for their inherent rights, and push to change the whole of society for the better.
Reynolds Hills photos courtesy of Erik McGregor
Many are familiar with the Canadian artist who stopped an oil pipeline from crossing his property by copyrighting the top 6" of his soil. Now, an American artist has been tapped by a team of advocates hoping to do the same with the Spectra AIM (Algonquin Incremental Market) pipeline. The high-pressure AIM pipeline would transit within one hundred and five feet of the Indian Point nuclear facility. In February 2015, a group of New York State residents, responding to the abuse of eminent domain that has already been demonstrated by pipeline companies (such as Williams, the builder of the Constitution pipeline), and is threatened by Spectra in the multiple states that AIM would cross, decided to take action. They enlisted eco-artist Aviva Rahmani, who created the Blued Trees Symphony–an installation on private land, along the path of the proposed right-of-way, in Peekskill.
These trees, which were slated to be chopped down, are marked with a sine wave, a musical note, in non-toxic buttermilk paint that is semi-permanent. Together, the "notes" form a symphony, which is copyrighted.
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“We need nature - now nature needs us.” – Nancy Vann, property owner
Blued Trees asserts the language of the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), for the moral rights of the art over condemnation of private land. In Peekskill, pipeline construction would threaten the rights of Blued Trees. The art cannot be destroyed by moving, or otherwise destroying the trees with which it was created, without infringing on VARA. Protecting Blued Trees as a work of art will test corporate eminent domain takings in the name of “public good” in the judicial system. If that copyright suit is successful, it could impede the proposed AIM expansion.
Would you like to participate in Blued Trees?
HELP MAKE WAVES: The more trees that get painted, the more visible and powerful this artwork will be. Already, others have started painting trees on their property. Any willing landowner may join the “Greek Chorus,” as part of the Blued Trees Symphony, by painting a wave “note” on one tree or more, preferably roadside for visibility. You may be along the route of the AIM pipeline, or another pipeline. How beautiful will it be to see these trees popping up all over the Northeast, and how will the public respond when they learn what these mysterious painted trees symbolize?
Instructions for mixing the buttermilk slurry and painting your own Blued Trees can be found here.