In this episode of teleSUR’s Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges speaks with attorney Thomas Linzey and activist Mark Clatterbuck about the grassroots movements rising up against the fracking industry, and the legislative and direct action necessary to resist corporate power in the absence of a true democratic system.
CHRIS HEDGES, HOST, DAYS OF REVOLT: Hi. I’m Chris Hedges. Welcome to Days of Revolt. Today we’re going to talk about the grassroots movement across the United States to rise up against the fracking industry, what that resistance looks like, how it can become effective, and what the industry, and in particular the state, is doing to stop it. With me are two anti-fracking activists: one, Thomas Linzey, the executive director and senior legal counsel for Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, or CELDF. CELDF has assisted close to 200 communities in ten states to ban certain corporate projects and nullify corporate constitutional, quote-unquote, rights at the municipal level. I’m also joined by Mark Clatterbuck. He’s an associate professor of religion at Montclair State University. He lives in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He’s a member of LAP, or Lancaster Against Pipelines. This works with a large coalition of community members to keep the proposed Atlantic Sunrise project from being installed through five Pennsylvania counties. Thank you very much for joining us. THOMAS LINZEY: Thanks for having us. MARK CLATTERBUCK: Thank you. HEDGES: So, Tom, let’s start with just give us–and you work nationally–give us a global view of what’s happening and why it’s dangerous. LINZEY: Well, for a number of years, Chris, we assisted communities to try to say no to certain projects coming into their community. So it could be factory farms or pipelines or frack projects or those types of things. And it used to be that communities would basically be told that they can’t say no under this system of law that they have and they would move to a regulatory approach. So they would try to regulate the project better as it was coming to their community. And increasingly we found that that just wasn’t that good enough. I mean, whether that’s fracking, that’s a threat to clean air and clean water and sustainable energy future. And, of course, when we frack or lay pipelines for fracked gas, we’re cooking ourselves in our own juices because of climate change. But for all those reasons, it’s not enough to better regulate these projects. We actually have to stop them. And, unfortunately, in the United States what few people–relatively few people know is that if you live in a municipality, your own community, that your community is prohibited from banning certain types of projects under the law. And people generally ask us: well, why is that? Why can’t we say no to a pipeline or no to a frack project coming to our community? And the answer is not really that complicated. It’s that corporations have two types of power base. One is they can go to the legislature and get a law passed, like an oil and gas act, at the state level that preempts or nullifies our communities from saying no to these facilities coming in, or corporations can use their corporate constitutional rights directly. So corporations in the United States have constitutional rights, and they can use those rights directly to sue municipalities who attempt to pass laws to ban projects. So it’s almost like a myth in this country that we have the power to decide the fate of our own communities. We don’t. And it’s basically because of this collection of corporate law and power that’s exercised against communities. So in the fracking arena I think it’s even worse than factory farms or toxic waste disposal or landfills or those types of things, because with fracking you’re looking at these horrendous consequences–you know, radioactive material coming up from the ground, huge amounts of water being used for these frack projects. And then you’ve got to dispose of the waste water, which the frack industry generally jams into these things called injection wells. And, in fact, one injection well in Pennsylvania is slated to receive the equivalent of eight seconds of Niagara Falls every year, so in terms of volume of this toxic wastewater that’s being injected into the ground. So all those harms, you would think that communities should have the power to say no to the fracking operations or these pipelines coming in. And it turns out, because of those combination of legal doctrines that have been concocted by the corporations, that we don’t. So the question is: what do communities do when they run up against that obstacle of law? And the answer is: we’ve been pioneering and helping communities to actually say no in a way that sticks. So 200 communities across ten states have adopted local laws that we refer to as community bills of rights, so essentially a community saying, hey, we have a right to clean air, we have a right to clean water, we have a right to a sustainable energy future. We even have a right to climate, which is starting to emerge at the local level, people saying, we have a right to a safe, clean climate that’s unaffected by fossil fuel emissions. So that’s a right of ours. And then in these laws they ban the activity that’s actually violating those rights. HEDGES: Let’s go back. Just how large is the industry? Give us a picture of–I mean, we have, what, 30 pipelines either in place or being built, I think, just in the Northeast. But give us a picture, because it’s massive. LINZEY: Oh, it’s immense. And it’s not just fracking, of course–the energy industry, so shipping coal in the Northwest. You have the Powder River Basin where the coal’s being extracted. You have the tar sands, the Keystone XL project that recently got–. HEDGES: Which is coming down largely by train, isn’t it, now. LINZEY: Yes. HEDGES: I mean, it’s–I mean, banning the XL is largely symbolic. If I have this correct, it doesn’t really disrupt. LINZEY: Yes. They’re talking about barges now. They’re talking about all these different kinds of projects. And at least in our opinion, the oil will eventually find the market. HEDGES: And most of it’s being exported. LINZEY: Yes. There’s the lifting of the export ban stuff that’s being talked about now in different energy sectors. And so a lot of it is getting it from us [crosstalk] HEDGES: So you’re running these pipelines, your trains, barges, through communities, with toxic material, and the pipelines are very dangerous because of potential explosions in addition, of course, to the leakage, and yet these communities are not in any way benefiting from, largely. LINZEY: Yes. HEDGES: Right? LINZEY: And in some ways, even if they were, it’s so negligible or incremental that they should still have the power to say no to them. And so the industry is immense. It’s basically the accumulation of all the power over the last hundred years of the energy corporations that have accumulated, and now in these trade associations. So we have the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. We have the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association. You have these trade industries that basically run–in some ways run as advocates for the energy industry as well. And then you have the politicians, which is–the industries own the governments. And so, in Colorado, you had Colorado Governor Hickenlooper, who joined in a lawsuit brought by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association against one of our communities. [crosstalk] HEDGES: Right. And you’ve also pointed out to me in the past that the old tactic of [attempting] to reach out to regulators, to politicians, to carry out, sign petitions, all of this, if we look back over the last 30 or 40 years, things are worse, that all of the attempts that we have made to regulate the environment through the structures of power have not worked. And that’s largely because the system now has been so gamed against us, and not just the court system, but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or FERC. I think it has five members, four of whom come straight out of the oil and gas industry, the fifth, of course, very sympathetic. They have approved every pipeline. They have to carry out the approval. They’ve approved every pipeline except for maybe one over the last decade that the system is used. We saw it in Denton, Texas, where a community rises up, and then it goes to the Texas Senate and they ban the ban. We’ve seen in Ohio, Colorado, and other states where either legislative bodies or high courts have essentially overruled the democratic process at the local level whereby people have attempted to protect their water or their air and their land. LINZEY: Yeah. And so whether you come at it from the top, which is to say, is economic or environmental sustainability possible when we live in this system in which corporations actually make decisions and have more rights than the communities in which they operate, or come from the bottom, in which you say, shouldn’t communities have the democratic authority to make decisions about the future of their own communities, whether you come from either of those levels, the answer to us is clear that you will never have sustainability in a system that lacks local democracy, because if people aren’t making the decisions where they live, where the impacts are happening, and you have corporations and corporate boards making decisions 2,000 miles away, you’re never going to have a chance at any kind of sustainability. That’s a pipe dream at this point. But people also forget that the first regulatory agency was the Interstate Commerce Commission in the early 1900s, which was created to protect the railroad corporations from the people. And so it’s an old history here that we have to deal with. HEDGES: I’ve heard you say that the problem’s not fracking; the problem’s democracy. LINZEY: Yes. The people think we have a fracking problem. It’s not. It’s a democracy problem is that it doesn’t matter what we want at the local level. It doesn’t matter that we don’t want fracking or corporate factory farms or corporate water withdrawals. It doesn’t matter, because we’re under a system of law that doesn’t care what we want as a community. And part of our job, at least, is to actually bring majorities around that concept to begin passing laws that challenge the basic structure of how the corporate state [crosstalk] HEDGES: Right, but you pass the local laws–and we’ve seen this over and over in the states that I mentioned, where the superstructure essentially nullifies the law. And I know you’re involved now in Spokane. I think they’re bringing–was it shale oil down on railroad through railroad cars? LINZEY: Yup. HEDGES: And maybe you could speak a little bit about that as an example of what we have to do to regain control over our own destiny. LINZEY: It’s almost an intelligent evolution of activism toward saying, we want not to have a fight over parts per million of coal dust spilling into the river; we want to have a fight over whose rights are subordinate and whose rights are elevated over whose. And in these communities across the United States that have been doing this work, they’re now joining into statewide organizations to run state constitutional amendments to change their state constitutions to allow communities or authorize communities to actually do this kind of work. And just recently, folks from the states who have joined together came together at the national level to propose a federal constitutional amendment that would create a federally recognized right to local community self-government. So it’s multilayered, it’s complex stuff, but we’ve got to grapple with the basic structural stuff. It’s not enough to say no, ’cause no doesn’t stick. We actually have to go after those doctrines to clear them out so that the work is actually easier a year down or five years down the road or ten years down the road. HEDGES: And yet, at the same time, we also have to engage in sustained act of civil disobedience, not, as you have pointed out, to make a statement, but to actually disrupt the process. And I know that’s an issue you’ve confronted in Spokane. Maybe you can talk about it. LINZEY: I think when these local laws get passed, in some ways it legitimizes direct action, civil disobedience, so that people can say, we’re not necessarily acting outside the law; this is our law, this is our bill of rights, and we’re actually enforcing that bill of rights. And in places where a judge has overturned it or people can’t get it passed because the corporate folks clamp down and spend $500,000 to beat a local initiative kind of thing, I think that still serves as a platform for people to do that civil disobedience. In Spokane, one of the options for folks now is these coal and oil trains coming through the city. HEDGES: Do you know how many are coming through, what the rate is? LINZEY: It’s about 40 a day. HEDGES: Is it that many? LINZEY: Yup, 40 a day. And so folks are saying, well, if we can’t use the legal process to actually confront these actors, these corporations–. HEDGES: Which you would argue they can’t. LINZEY: You can’t. But it would be nice to have a city council that would stand up and say, we’re going to take them on anyway. But there’s relatively few elected officials that are willing to stand up and actually say, we’re going to drive in place a different kind of law and then get sued kind of thing. So not just Spokane, but other places are considering civil disobedience, not just to make a statement, like you said, of four or five people sitting on a track and then getting arrested, but actual hundreds or thousands of people who are doing the direct action to actually stop the project. HEDGES: Well, you have talked about it as a kind of military operation. Explain what it would look like. LINZEY: Well, I think it means thinking about civil disobedience differently than we’ve thought about it before. So it’s not just to make a moral or ethical statement; it’s actually aimed at stopping the project itself. And that means, I think, successive days. It means rotating people through. It means bringing people in from other places. It means filling up jails. I mean, we’re back to the civil rights movement of the ’60s, where they did the math and said, okay, we’ve got to fill the beds in the jails, we’ve got to overflow them, we’ve got to got to go to other places. I mean, our resistance has to ratchet up, the opposition has to ratchet up our stuff to a point where it’s actually actively interfering with these projects, because if you don’t do that and you rely entirely on the legal process and the legal process is so stacked against you in terms of what municipalities can and can’t do, that at that point you have no other option but to engage in that type of action. HEDGES: Is it happening anywhere? LINZEY: It’s not happening right now. I mean, there’s pockets of people getting arrested in different places to try to stop different projects, but most of it becomes a one-day thing. So people get arrested, and then they go home and there’s nobody to [crosstalk] HEDGES: Boutique activism. LINZEY: Boutique activism. Or, like, not to pick on the Sierra Club, but I know the Sierra Club suspended their one-day prohibition on civil disobedience to allow arrests to happen in front of the White House around Keystone XL. So it’s going to take a shift in groups’ mentality, not just the grassroots groups on the ground, but also the major environmental organizations, who in some ways have been a disappointment to a lot of people in terms of the direct action, confrontation type of thing [crosstalk] HEDGES: Well, there’s a lot of collaboration between big green and– LINZEY: Yes. HEDGES: –the varied corporate forces, including the animal agriculture industry and others. There are big green groups that take money from the oil and gas industry. LINZEY: Yup. And we just wrote a piece called “Firing Big Green”, that it’s time for the community groups to understand that the options that they’re being given by the major environmental groups are not the full spectrum of options that they need to explore. HEDGES: So, Mark, you have been involved in Lancaster at the local level. You have a relationship with Tom and his group. Just tell us, from your kind of microcosm, what it is you’ve been up against. I know you were, I believe, charged with disorderly conduct for taking pictures of construction. CLATTERBUCK: That’s right. HEDGES: Tell us a little bit about what’s happening in Lancaster. CLATTERBUCK: Yeah. The project that we’re resisting in Lancaster is called the Atlantic Sunrise project. And it’s a massive pipeline transmission line that Williams Companies is planning to run from Marcellus Shale regions of Pennsylvania through about five Pennsylvania counties. It hooks up with what they call the Transco line and basically takes that natural gas to export facilities along the East Coast. HEDGES: In Maryland, right? CLATTERBUCK: Cove Point in Maryland, as well as further down the coast. And it’s clear that the majority of this natural gas has already been contracted for export. This is public record; it’s a matter of public record that this gas is for export. So we, Lancaster County, where I live, really got pulled into this. It was March a year ago, so March 2014, that we had the land folks, landmen, come to our doors and start knocking on our doors, saying, hey, can we survey in your properties? We have this pipeline project that we’re working on. It was the first we had heard about it. And so pretty quickly we got drawn into understanding what this is. It’s a 42 inch massive transmission line at about 15 to 2,000 psi. HEDGES: What does that mean, psi? CLATTERBUCK: So that’s the pressure of this gas line. HEDGES: And why is that–explain why that’s important, ’cause it is. CLATTERBUCK: Well, a part of it, you know, a lot of concern that folks have is the danger of an explosion, of a leak or an explosion that would–the best estimates–we don’t have lines at that pressure, at that size. So even estimates we have of what a disaster would look like are just based on mathematical models, ’cause we don’t know. But the best estimates are saying that probably a quarter-mile in either direction of the line, so about a half mile wide, would essentially be a kill zone if there would be an explosion of some kind if that line were ruptured in some way. HEDGES: And so what have you–I mean, you heard Tom speak about that struggle by local communities. How does that reflect what’s happened in your community? CLATTERBUCK: Yeah. I mean, I think the story that Thomas Linzey was talking about and this situation we found out and are continuing to find out on a very personal level, ’cause at first we assumed–as local residents, we thought, well, surely if we want to say no to this project, we should be able to. HEDGES: Right. Were they using eminent domain to take land? Or not? CLATTERBUCK: Well, basically, right now the project has been submitted to FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission you mentioned. And if the project is approved, which likely will be next spring, then it carries the weight of eminent domain. So the landowners–. HEDGES: So they can just seize land. CLATTERBUCK: That’s right. Landowners who don’t go into an agreement with Williams–it’s a one-time payout–will then force Williams to use eminent domain. HEDGES: But they determine the way you’re remunerated. They say, we’re going to pay you. It’s their decision. CLATTERBUCK: Yeah. They come to your door and negotiate one-on-one, and, yeah, you can sign the lease or not. HEDGES: And I think Thomas was saying that even where people can resist eminent domain, these companies have so much money, they can come in and pay two, three times the land price. There’s always people they can buy out. CLATTERBUCK: That’s right. Yeah. And where we live in Lancaster County, of course, there are a lot of Amish in our community who have resisted this pipeline and are willing to say, I don’t want this to go through my farm. It looks to me like Amish farmers were actually disproportionately targeted by Williams because they don’t protest publicly, they don’t use social media, they don’t want to go into a court of law. So we’ve talked with–I’m surrounded by Amish neighbors, Amish farms where I live in Lancaster County. And when we were all first learning about this project, we had conversation after conversation after conversation with these farmers saying, we don’t want this project, this is a violation of our way of life, a disruption to what we’re doing. HEDGES: We should just be clear for people who don’t understand that the Amish will not use mechanized equipment. They don’t have electricity, right? They don’t have electricity. CLATTERBUCK: They’re off the grid. They don’t do electricity, don’t do vehicles, don’t use the internet, right, and are strictly a pacifist group on religious grounds. And for them that also means staying out of the public spotlight. And it also means not going to court, not fighting in court. So we know, I mean, numbers of our Amish neighbors who are opposed to the project but had surveyors and landmen come up from the industry, telling them, you don’t have the right to resist; we can take your land; if you don’t go into a lease with us, we’ll take your land and you’ll get nothing–and even though that’s a lie, ’cause through eminent domain they’re required to compensate them. HEDGES: Oh. I see. Now, and you were arrested. Talk about your arrest. CLATTERBUCK: So, yeah. Well, the first time–we’ve had a few run-ins with the law. I mean, this is what we’re finding out, as Thomas was talking about: we realized that all of the things we thought, all the mechanisms that we thought would protect us from a project like this in fact don’t. So we thought land that’s in Lancaster County Conservancy or preserved farms or land that’s designated state Native American archaeological sites, surely they can’t–those lands are protected. And we found out none of them in fact are. So there was a site called Conestoga Indian Town, which is just a few miles from where I live in Lancaster County, that’s one of the most significant Native American archaeological sites. It was a piece of property that William Penn had designated to the Conestoga Indians in the early 1700s. And a lot of burial sites have been discovered in this plot of land. And there’s one feature called Chief’s Hill that is especially sacred and recognized as a sacred site to native communities. So the pipeline, one of the routes that was proposed would come right through Chief’s Hill, just tear right through Chief’s Hill. So a number of us in the community were trying to protect that land. And there was some soil sample drilling that Williams had contracted out ahead of the pipeline construction in Conestoga Indian Town. And they were doing the drill sample testing–and this was willful–almost on top of the shovel test that had just turned up archaeological artifacts in this plot of the land. So those of us in the local community kept going to them, saying, as a community, we’re telling you you cannot disrupt this; this is sacred to the community. And they basically said, the law is on our side; what you want doesn’t matter. So there were about 40 of us–this was back in January, a cold 20 degree day–about 40 folks from the community, kids, parents, grandparents, like, I mean, just farmers, school teachers, just came up and surrounded the drill rig and said, we as a community are telling you we’re saying no. And so there were eight of us that were arrested that day, including a chief of the Northern Arawak Nation, that–a woman who had delivered, I think, 1,200 babies in Lancaster County was arrested that day. And so we’ve had a number of run-ins with the law. HEDGES: And you are arrested–we’ll close with this, but you are arrested with taking pictures. Was that right? CLATTERBUCK: Yeah, just–. HEDGES: For just taking pictures. CLATTERBUCK: That’s correct. A few weeks ago, there was a separate project by Williams, pipeline project, that has gotten approval in our county. It’s a 10 mile stretch of pipeline that goes through 30 preserved farms. And the construction began just a couple of weeks ago. And there were about six of us from the community that went down to see firsthand how disruptive this project is. And they were clearcutting woods, they were crossing an exceptional value– HEDGES: Even though the pipeline hasn’t been approved, they were already–. CLATTERBUCK: –waterway. This was a separate, 10 mile stretch of the pipeline that did just receive approval. HEDGES: I see. Okay. CLATTERBUCK: So they began construction on that. So part of what we wanted to do was to basically document the degree of disruption that this project would cause, and so that the rest of us in Lancaster are better aware of what it would look like if this other project’s approved. So we went down and we were taking pictures of the bulldozers, of them tearing through this beautiful scenic riverway–one of the treasures of our county, really, Fishing Creek. And, yeah, the moment we showed up–we were walking up and down the road taking pictures, this little back country road. Within minutes, the state police pull up and basically to tell us–find out what we’re doing. They realized we weren’t doing anything, so they left. We left. One of the things that I wanted to do was take pictures of the license plates of all of the work trucks on the site, because one of the ways that Williams has tried to ingratiate themself to Lancaster County is to say, we’re going to provide all these jobs for local Pennsylvania workers. There were about 12 work trucks on the site that day, and every single one was Texas, Tennessee–you know, out of state. So I video-recorded–made a video recording of these license plates. We all went home. I had my–my two kids were with me, and my wife, a couple of friends. So the next day–it was a Sunday afternoon–I get a call from the Pennsylvania State Police, and they said, we’re filing charges against you, Mr. Clatterbuck, for disorderly conduct. And I said, well, you mean you’re calling to get a statement from me to tell you that nothing happened? And they said, no; Williams employees went on record; we have all we need to file these charges. HEDGES: And they’re bringing you to court. CLATTERBUCK: So, yes. So on Friday, in just a few days, I’ll be in court pleading not guilty to these charges. So we’re beginning to see that as the community does rise up and say, we’ll do what we need to to stop this project and to raise awareness of what’s involved, how our rights as communities are being trampled. They’re taking steps to even file false and malicious charges [incompr.] HEDGES: Right. They’re going to play rough and dirty. Thank you, Mark. Thank you, Tom. LINZEY: Thank you. CLATTERBUCK: Thank you. HEDGES: And thank you for watching Days of Revolt.
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CreditsProducer – Kayla Rivara Associate Producer – Dharna Noor, Thomas Hedges Audio Engineer – David Hebden Camera – Bashi Rose, Ryan Porter, Cameron Granadino Editor – Sebastian Pituscan Graphics – Oscar Leon Transcription – John McLeod