In which we struggle to maintain our measured tone…

We’re a little groggy on this Monday following an exciting four day academic conference we helped to organize at our university, which is why we’ve been a little quiet here at the blog lately. Scholars from all over the world traveled to Michigan to talk about nerdy literary scholar-type things. It was great. Almost as great is the fact that most of our home institutions recognize that the intellectual exchanges and sharing of knowledge that takes place at these conferences is a tremendously important and valuable professional activity. Therefore, most institutions offer at least some form of funding to cover faculty travel expenses to these conferences. And that’s because they understand that it’s not enough just to say you value something; you have to actually do something to prove it. Sometimes, you have to put your money where your mouth is.

You see where this is going? We’re still fuming about the fact that the Pipeline Safety Trust has had to resort to panhandling in order to get ordinary citizens to the Pipeline Safety Trust Conference. It’s now the end of the month and they have not reached their goal– not by a long shot. We think– and we appear to be mostly alone on this– that this is totally and completely outrageous, infuriating. And it’s not just because we think begging is beneath the dignity of Carl Weimer. (Which is saying something; have you  seen how the man behaves in front of a tableful of powdery beignets?) No, we’re infuriated because everybody knows how to solve this problem simply and swiftly, saving everybody, especially the people at the PS Trust, who have much better things to be doing, all the trouble of scrambling and begging.

The pipeline companies just need to write some checks. It may be crass to say it, but we all know it’s true: they’ve got plenty of money– millions, hundreds of millions, of dollars that they make every year. Their executives themselves make millions of dollars a year. Each of them could write a personal check to cover the travel costs and not feel a thing. Not only that, as we have already pointed out, they say that they value dialogue with the people the Trust wants to bring to the conference.

Yet collectively they can’t cough up a lousy $20k for the Trust? This is instructive. We now know that unlike universities, pipeline companies are NOT willing to put their money where their mouth is. All of their talk about relationship building is just a bunch of talk, a load of b.s.

Of course, there’s still one more day to go before the Trust’s fundraising deadline, so maybe the industry will swoop in yet (though we’ve already pointed out what a self-serving and inconsiderate move that would be). The more likely scenario, however, is just this:

The companies will write (or have already written) some checks. Most (but not all) of them will donate a little something. It will be small and mostly perfunctory, a few hundred dollars maybe, rather than a few thousand. They certainly won’t create a permanent fund to ensure that citizen travel is always covered in the future as we’ve suggested (and frankly, we think that’s the best idea we’ve ever floated here at the blog). They’ll donate just enough to give themselves a little cover, just enough to be able to say that they donated to cover citizen travel to the conference and prevent people like us from saying they don’t put their money where their mouth is. But the truth will be– though we will never know it because the people at the Trust are too decent, too discrete, and too fair-minded (and we wouldn’t have it any other way) to say otherwise– that it won’t be anywhere near what the Trust needed to raise. It won’t be enough to send all those citizens and local officials from Arkansas and Nebraska and Alaska who ought to attend. It won’t even be as much as Enbridge paid last year to send that gaggle of six or seven spinmeisters they sent.

As a result, Enbridge and its industry peers will pretend like they’ve actually done something when in reality they haven’t done a thing except make sure dissenting voices are not heard. And they will continue to pretend like they actually give a s#*t (pardon our language) what the landowners along their pipelines have to say, even though the rest of us will see the truth. We will have clear evidence that they do not really care at all, evidence that they care so little, in fact, that they all but guaranteed, by doing nothing more than sitting on their wallets, they would not have to face those landowners. We will see that they are not only hypocritical and cheap, but cowardly too.

 

Breaking News: Upton Betrays Michigan

Some breaking news to report: Michigan Representative Fred Upton, who represents plenty of citizens along Line 6B, has introduced legislation that would put an end to the Presidential Permitting process for cross-border pipelines. The bill is intended to fast-track pipeline projects, requiring that they be approved in no more than 120 days. The bill would also explicitly exempt pipeline reversals, volume expansions, and other modifications from the approval process.

For a long time now, we’ve been bemoaning the lack of public input, careful environmental review, and regulatory scrutiny of the Line 6B project as well as other tar sands pipeline projects, like Keystone XL, the Alberta Clipper expansion, the Flanagan South project, and the planned volume expansion of Line 5 under the straits of Mackinac. This bill would make sure that there is even LESS chance for public input, environmental review, and regulatory scrutiny. It is designed to ensure the “anything goes” when it comes to the production and transportation of tar sands pipelines.

This is a bill of the industry, by the industry and for the industry. It represents a serious threat to the Great Lakes. We need to stop it.

Please write or call Fred Upton or your U.S. district representative. The number for Upton’s Washington D.C. office is:

(202) 225-3761

Or you can call his Kalamazoo office at  (269) 385-0039.

Or you can send him an email here: http://upton.house.gov/contact/

 

“Horrific”

It’s been a few days since our last landowner story. But don’t worry; we’ve got more. We think the series has been quite powerful (if you’ve missed any part of it, please take a look back). We wonder what Enbridge thinks. We wonder how many stories like this, how many voices of unhappy landowners they need to hear before they’ll accept that they’re responsible for all the dissatisfaction, pain, and bad feelings. We wonder whether they’ve got the courage and integrity to own up to that.

Today’s story comes from Bob and Beth Duman. You likely know about Beth. She’s a real hero, one of the earliest landowners to speak out, organize, and help inform her fellow landowners about this project. We all owe her a debt of gratitude. And like some others we’ve heard from in this series (and that David Hasemyer wrote about last week in Inside Climate News), the Duman’s home is very close to the pipeline. We can hardly imagine what they’ve had to endure.

 

big dust

Construction work at the Duman’s house.

By Beth and Bob Duman, Oceola Township

An excellent one-word response to your request [for an account of our experience with Enbridge] would be:

Horrific.

Our lives have been turned upside-down for over a year.  Dealing with Enbridge, especially with their “musical chairs” of right-of-way Agents, and their continual disrespect of our contract, our rights, and even our good will has created a huge amount of stress within our family and between us and our neighbors.  The entire process took over a year, with the invading army driving on their log-mat road for nearly 9 months through our back yard, within 15 feet of our house, rattling our windows, knocking down pictures off our walls, upsetting our dogs, and generally disrupting our lives.  All this, after being assured that they’d be “on our property” for 3 to 6 weeks.

Even though we had agreed to a contract with our specific needs detailed in the “line list”, Enbridge managed to come up looking like either fools or uncaring oafs, by ignoring some simple requests, like speeding through our yard, throwing up clouds of dust.  Refueling one of the monster machines just outside our bedroom windows. Having to force them to allow a garden hose out to our garden to water it, and a bridge over their log-mat road for our lawn tractor for access to our wood supply.  In almost every case we had to watch them, catch them breaking our agreed contract, and then they begrudgingly tried to satisfy us.

One bright spot in this huge folly has been the remediation work of Bowman Excavating, and Marshal Bowman’s point man, Brent Smith.  They actually met with us and asked us how we would like the right-of -way restored.  When we told them about the 25 years-worth of Prairie plantings that were destroyed, they offered to re-plant it with a selection of native prairie plants, and they put in a water irrigation system to water the plants in mid-July’s awful heat.  They hauled in topsoil to replace the sand and gravel that Enbridge left instead of 10,000 years-worth of fertile soil.  This has also been a source of many hours of work, as the freshly-reseeded grass came up along with thousands of ragweed and foxtail grass that came in with the new soil.  We have spent the better part of 4 weeks pulling out these weeds so that they don’t re-seed themselves for next year.

So we will stick with our first word on the entire experience: Horrific.  A monetary settlement 3 times what we were given could not replace the sense that we have been imprisoned in our own home for a year.  And this nightmare isn’t over yet, as we are sure that they will be back to have us “sign off” on the work which will release them from any further responsibility for the massive ecological damage that they are causing not only on our 330 feet of the line, but everywhere that their pipelines have leaked or broken.

Sadly, we just read an article in the Livingston County Press & Argus about a landowner on the next segment of the 6B pipeline west of Stockbridge, [David Gallagher].  It could have been almost word-for-word about us, but it was Enbridge doing the same things all over again to a new set of landowners.

Horrific, really.

Radio, Radio

If you’re bored at work this afternoon, you might want to tune in to the Tom Sumner radio program on WFNT out of Flint from 4-5 pm. His guests will be the awesome Beth Wallace of the National Wildlife Federation (you know her!) and, um, yours truly. Let’s just say that the bumbling and the stammering won’t be coming from Beth.

You can listen live on the internet.

Oh, and if you really want a full day of tar sands talk, the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee is holding hearings on Keystone XL today. Right now. Our friends Anthony Swift of the NRDC and Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska will both be testifying.

Breaking News (we wish!)

Breaking News (we wish!)

You might recall that a couple of weeks ago, we mentioned that the Pipeline Safety Trust has had to resort to crowdfunding in order to raise enough money to send ordinary citizens to this year’s Pipeline Safety Trust conference. In our view, this is a dire situation. Having landowners, advocates, conservationists, engaged citizens, and local officials at the conference, where they get to interact with industry representatives and regulators, is arguably the most important part of the conference. There’s nothing unique about a gathering between industry representatives and regulators. They lie in bed together all the time, speaking candidly and hammering out lily-livered “rules” that masquerade as “regulations.” Those cosy meetings, to say the least, lack perspective and desperately need disruption– which is why the PS Trust conference is so tremendously vital.

Not only that, everyone seems to agree that the exchanges that take place between ordinary citizens and industry/regulators are quite fruitful. Just take a look at the testimonials from folks who have attended the conference.

And not only that, but as we pointed out a couple of weeks ago when we declared it high time that industry either put up or shut up, pipeline companies all profess to value relationships and dialogue with citizen-stakeholders. But it’s one thing to post some pleasing-sounding phrases on your corporate website; it’s quite another to take action that demonstrates unequivocally that they’re more than just pleasing-sounding phrases. What better way for the corporations to do that than to foot the bill to make sure that they’ll actually get to look a landowner or public advocate in the face, shake her hand, and have an actual conversation– at an event that is specifically designed to make such encounters possible?

In fact, we’d even go so far as to say that if it turns out that the companies are NOT willing to step up, open their (exceedingly large) wallets, and make sure those encounters happen, it will provide vivid and powerful evidence that they do NOT, in fact, mean what they say when they talk about cultivating relationships with their landowners and other citizens. It will send a clear message that all the talk is just that, talk, a lot of public relations pablum, a bunch of hot air.

Now, we’re not entirely certain about the current status of the fundraising effort. For all we know, great big checks are in the mail. But we can tell you that a few weeks into the effort, we’ve received no jubilant emails from Carl Weimer or seen any effusive announcements on the PS Trust website announcing that the travel-funding problem has been solved–even though any number of pipeline executives (say, Enbridge’s Stephen Wuori with his $6 million per year compensation package) could sneeze out the $15k the Trust is trying to raise and hardly even sully their handkerchiefs. They’d probably get a tax write-off to boot!

Of course, it’s entirely possible that the money will materialize, that industry is waiting it out a little and planning to swoop in at the last minute to save the day like some kind of comic book superhero. That’s all fine and good, we guess– better late than never. But if that is the case, we have to say that’s pretty uncool and pretty disrespectful toward the Trust and the people who would like to attend the conference. The good folks at the Trust don’t need to scramble around and worry; they’ve got better things to do. And the citizens who will attend have arrangements to make– they’ve got to ask off of work, find daycare for the kids and the dogs, polish their dress shoes. Preventing that from happening just to pull off a dramatic (and self-serving) stunt to look good is just plain cynical and, frankly, a little mean.

Instead, as we suggested before, these large, powerful, wealthy corporations should band together to establish a permanent fund designated for citizen travel for as long as the Trust holds this conference. It would take no time at all and very little expenditure (relatively speaking) to make that happen. Honestly, the fact that it hasn’t happened already strikes us as more than a little outrageous or, at the very least, worrisome.

In fact, just this morning we had a vision of how news like that would be received. Surely, media outlets all over the country would run the story. All it takes is a little press release. In fact, as our own contribution to this effort, we hereby declare that the industry is free to use, in whole or in part, the imaginary press release/news article that came to us in a vision today (and which follows). After all, as always, we are here to help.

Pipeline Companies Come Together to Fund Citizen Travel

By Joe Reporter, National Newspaper

Sep 18, 2013

HOUSTON, TX– In a rare show of cooperation, a number of U.S. pipeline firms are working together to make sure ordinary citizens have a voice in the development of pipeline safety initiatives. Led by Enbridge, Inc, a coalition of oil and gas industry giants will establish a permanent fund to pay for citizen travel to the annual Pipeline Safety Trust conference.

The Pipeline Safety Trust is a nonprofit public charity promoting fuel transportation safety. Its annual conference, held in New Orleans, brings together industry, government, residents, and safety advocates to work toward safer communities and a healthier environment. In the past, citizen travel to the conference has been subsidized by external grants, but those funding sources have dried up. Executive Director Carl Weimer said, “It’s heartening to see industry stepping up and demonstrating their commitment to fostering positive relationships with ordinary citizens. The Trust is grateful for their generosity.”

Weimer added that the travel fund will allow citizens from Mayflower, Arkansas, the site of a 2013 oil pipeline spill, as well as landowners who live near oil and gas pipelines from other parts of the country, from Maine to Texas and Alaska, and local officials and members of environmental groups to attend the conference and talk with regulators and industry representatives. The company responsible for the Mayflower spill, ExxonMobil is among those contributing to the fund. Other donors include Marathon, Pacific Gas & Electric, Spectra Energy, TransCanada Corp, Williams Pipelines, Sunoco, and Enbridge. While the precise amounts of each donation will not be made public, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, which helped organize the coalition, said that each company agreed to a contribution “in the thousands of dollars, because, let’s face it, for companies with such vast resources and enormous profits that amount is really not a big deal.”

Stephen Wuori, President of Liquid Pipelines and Major Products for Enbridge, Inc. spearheaded the effort to get companies to work together to fund citizen travel. “Our philosophy is that you don’t compete on safety,” Wuori said. “My industry peers all jumped at the chance to participate in this effort. The Pipeline Safety Trust does important work and we all agree that ordinary citizens have a crucial role to play in pipeline safety.”

Gary Pruessing, President of ExxonMobil Pipelines said that “Continued dialogue is critical to the long-term relationship between our employees and our neighbors. Funding citizen travel is a simple and inexpensive way for us to foster that dialogue.” Other executives expressed similar sentiments.“Everything we do depends on the strength of our relationship with local residents.” said Russell Girling, President and CEO of TransCanada. “Helping to ensure that some of those residents will always be in attendance at the PS Trust conference is our way of trying to walk the walk.” Christopher Johns, President of Pacific Gas & Electric said that “It is important for us to inform and problem-solve with our diverse stakeholders. For us, this is more than just talk. Our donation to this fund is a matter of putting our money where our mouth is.”

Citizen activists and environmental groups hailed the action by industry. Beth Wallace of the National Wildlife Federation said, “While we often have serious disagreements with industry, we are all committed to doing everything we can to ensure the safe transport of oil and gas. The industry is to be commended for doing more than just paying lip service to open dialogue with citizens and advocacy groups.”

Wuori, the Enbridge executive, deflected the praise heaped upon him for leading this effort. “This is simply what it means to live our core values,” Wuori said. “The fact is that we are multi-million dollar corporations. A few thousand dollars is for us a very small investment. But it’s one that we believe will yield big rewards.” Alan Armstrong of Williams Pipelines echoed Wuori’s remarks. “Our company takes great pride in the relationship of trust and harmony we’ve developed with the many landowners and communities with whom we co-exist. Giving a few thousand dollars each year to get some of those landowners to this conference is, quite frankly, the least we can do.”

Rebecca Craven, Program Director for the Pipeline Safety Trust said that she wasn’t surprised that industry stepped in to help. “We have worked hard to develop productive relationships with industry and government through the conference,” Craven said. “Because of that, I know that companies’ statements about building safety partnerships with members of their communities are more than just rhetoric. This proves it.”

This year’s conference will take place November 21-22. More information is available at the Pipeline Safety Trust website, pstrust.org.