Students stand in solidarity against pipeline

Randy Hazelton | The Free Press

Posted on January 27, 2014 in News
By Sidney Dritz

TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline is drawing objections from a range of USM students, staff and faculty, perhaps most dramatically when a handful of students were involved in a protest recently that culminated in two arrests.

Last Wednesday, a group of between 12 and 24 people, at different points in time, stood at the entrance to the 481 Congress St. branch of TD Bank to protest the bank’s investment in the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which is intended to carry tar sands oil between Canada and Texas. A press release was sent out 40 minutes after the protest began by the Maine Trans and/or Women’s Action Team, the group that organized the event. The group, according to member Meaghan LaSala, a junior women and gender studies major, is organized around a shared political vision on a range of issues including decolonization, environmental justice and gender equality. LaSala said the group’s intention was to stand in solidarity with communities living along the southern leg of the KXL Pipeline, which runs through the southwestern United States.

A second press release sent out by the Maine Trans and/or Women’s Action Team at 2:47 p.m. reported the arrest of two protesters who had chained themselves to the doors of the bank. LaSala later identified the protesters as Betsey Catlin and Sylvia Stormwalker, both of whom, she said, were from Maine but had strong ties to the areas affected by the southern section of the pipeline. Catlin and Stormwalker were both later released.

“We support everyone’s right to safely and respectfully protest. TD is committed to providing a safe environment for our employees and customers,” TD Bank Media Relations Associate Lauren Moyer said when the Free Press approached TD for comment. When emailed a question about Catlin and Stormwalker’s arrest, Moyer did not respond.

The group targeted TD Bank as one of the top two investors in the pipeline through investment in TransCanada, the company that owns the pipeline. “TD Bank supports responsible energy development. We employ rigorous due diligence in our financing and investing activities relating to energy production,” Moyer said. “At TD, we carry out environmental initiatives where we can drive the greatest results — they are energy efficiency, and growing and protecting forests,” she said.

“Many people know and are talking about the northern leg of the pipeline,” said LaSala. She went on to explain that while objections to the northern section of the pipeline have stayed its opening for now, that delay was contingent on the opening of the southern part, which was set to begin operation on Wednesday. The northern section of the pipeline would stretch from Alberta, Canada through Nebraska before merging with the existing Keystone pipeline. The Maine Trans and/or Women’s Action Team, LaSala explained, organized the protest in a show of solidarity with the Oklahoma and Texas communities, which have called for action against the pipeline’s presence in their areas, and the health and environmental hazards it causes.

The call for solidarity by NacSTOP, an East Texas group, cited safety risks as a main concern. “A toxic product will flow through our communities in a pipeline which has been identified as having major flaws.”

The protest, which LaSala attended with USM freshman Iris SanGiovanni, is just one of several actions against the pipeline taken by the USM community. “We’re going to be stronger if we remember that we’re part of a larger community,” LaSala said. The sentiment was echoed by junior math and computer science major Shaun Carland, who has been active in the USM branch of the Divestment movement, and who said he was sorry to have missed Wednesday’s protest because he was in class.

Carland described the opening of the southern leg of the pipeline as a wakeup call and alluded to further national action to be taken against the pipeline which would involve USM students.

More immediately, USM will host a presentation called “Tar Sands Exposed” in Hannaford Hall on Jan. 31, which will feature Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation activist Eriel Deranger and National Geographic photographer Garth Lenz.