AUSTIN—The “pipeline cowboy,” as Bloomberg News describes Energy Transfer Partners' CEO Kelcy Warren, should be looking for other work, said more than 50 Texas residents who descended upon a Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission (TPWD) meeting on Thursday January 26. The southern water protectors showed up to take the billionaire, appointed to the commission in 2015 by Texas Governor Greg Abbott after a string of donations, to task—even though he wasn’t there.
“We've got no time for your pipelines!” they chanted, undeterred by Warren’s absence. Confronted by more than 100 people at previous commission meeting back in November, he did not attend this one.
Warren, they said, has no place on a board meant to protect the state's natural areas. His pipelines have no business tunneling beneath Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. And they should not cross under the Rio Grande in Far West Texas either, the demonstrators said.
President Donald Trump may be planning a tidal surge of fossil-fuel projects—attempting to kick-start the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), revive the rejected Keystone XL and return to a coal-based economy—but these Texas water protectors have a plan too: resist, resist, resist.
“The same prayer that brought together the people in Standing Rock is the same prayer that is drawing people together here in Texas,” said Dave Cortez, senior organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, while welcoming a stream of water protectors outside the TPWD building.
“The Earth protectors and water protectors have been slowly coming together over the last few years, and in some strange way, in spite of the fear and the confusion, this is the strongest I've ever felt,” Cortez said, referring to the upheavals of Trump’s first week in office. “And it's because of that prayer and it’s because of being united with fellow protectors like you all.”
With banners emblazoned “Water is Life!” and “Remove Kelcy Warren,” the crowd raised their voices in chants, songs and prayers in a manner familiar to an increasing number of contested points of oil and gas extraction across the country.
The fight over the Trans-Pecos, and to a lesser extent the Comanche Trails pipeline crossing into Mexico near El Paso, has escalated in recent months. After two years of local resistance limited mostly to the courts, public meetings and the regulatory process, a partnership was formed with several indigenous groups, including members of the American Indian Movement’s Central Texas chapter, and representatives of several area tribes.
That led to large marches at the end of 2016 and to several direct actions this year conducted by the newly formed pan-indigenous Society of Native Nations and the Big Bend Defense Coalition. Five people have been arrested so far this month, with the most recent earning state felony charges as the Presidio County Sheriff vowed to use all the tools at his disposal to stop any blocking of pipeline construction.
“These pipeline billionaires like Kelcy Warren and Carlos Slim are looking to destroy what we have left in terms of land for the people,” said Equilibrio Norte organizer Rockie Gonzalez, speaking of the Mexican billionaire whose company, Carso Energy, is slated to hook up with the Trans-Pecos in Mexico and carry the gas 137 miles to Encino, just south of the city of Chihuahua.
TPWD commissioners sought repeatedly to limit speakers' comments to items on the meeting agenda. Nevertheless, some speakers loudly decried Warren’s appointment to the commission, coming as it did after a string of donations from the businessman to the governor. Between 2010 and 2016, Warren, ETP's Chief Operating Officer Mackie McCrea, and the company's PAC gave just shy of $900,000 to Abbot, according to the nonprofit watchdog group Texans for Public Justice. Warren’s term expires in 2021.
Several water protectors who spoke off-agenda were ejected from the meeting, while others suggested the agenda be adjusted to address the public’s concerns. Austin resident Hilary Pelham said a conflict-of-interest discussion should be added to the February meeting’s list of topics.
Austinite Angela Goss objected after being repeatedly interrupted with instructions to keep her comments on an agenda item unrelated to pipelines.
“I am sick of your conflict of interest with water and oil,” she said. “That is my comment.”