As environmentalists figure out the next steps in their opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline after a discouraging report from the State Department concluded that the project’s impacts on the climate will be minimal, some landowners in Texas continue to battle construction of the southern portion of the pipeline, which is already half complete.
Photos by Julie Dermansky
Mike Bishop, a US Marine veteran and one-time chicken farmer in Douglass, Texas is trying to get TransCanada to remove the pipeline that it recently installed through the center of his property. Sections of Keystone XL have been laid just 120 feet from his home and cut right through his garden, which a construction crew did not hesitate to destroy. In a sign of protest, Bishop has hung his American flag upside down. “The United States flag code states the flag should be flown upside down as a signal of dire distress in the instance of extreme danger to life or property,” Bishop says.
Bishop is in distress. He’s fighting TransCanada, a foreign corporation with deep pockets, on his own. In December Bishop won a temporary halt to construction, but then felt he had to settle with the company because his lawyer, who he has since fired, said if he didn’t settle he would face eviction. He told the Associated Press that he settled “under duress,” and so be bought a law book so he could defend himself moving forward.
Bishop tried to stop the pipeline from crossing his land by accusing TransCanada of fraud. He points outs that the company’s permit is for the transporting of crude oil when, in fact, the company will be transporting bitumen, which is not the same. Bishop also asserts that Texas laws do not allow property to be seized by eminent domain unless the project is one in which the public has an interest; Bishop says the pipeline will only result in private gain. TransCanada countered that others will use the pipeline, too; but the company did not provide proof of that assertion before being granted eminent domain rights by the Texas railroad commission.
Bishop’s case was thrown out by a judge who said he didn’t have jurisdiction over the matter and negated the injunction Bishop had been granted stopping work initially. Bishop filed an appeal on March 1.
Other landowners are fighting against eminent domain as well. Their efforts, like Bishop’s, have been stymied by lower court decisions that dismiss their case without explanation. Julia Trigg Crawford of Sumer, Texas is waging a battle against TransCanda too, despite the high cost of standing up for herself. Her case was dismissed, but she is appealing that ruling. And in Beaumont, Texas, attorney Anthony Borcato has also filed suit against Trans Canada, alleging TransCanada’s pipeline does not meet the state’s definition of a common carrier, disqualifying it from utilizing the Texas eminent domain laws. Despite President Obama’s fast tracking of the southern portion of the Keystone XL, the Texas landowners say they are determined to continue the fight.
Bishop says Texans were short changed by the fast tracking of the Keystone XL’s southern portion. The state didn’t do the kind of environmental impact study that was done in Nebraska, which resulted in the pipeline being re-routed away from the Ogallala aquifer. The path of the southern pipeline portion goes through the Texas Ogallala aquifer, which is also classified as an “ultra-sensitive area” by the US Department of Transportation.
Bishop will be filing suit against the US Army Corps of Engineers in federal court, asserting Texas was not given equal protection under the law. He also plans to challenge Obama’s executive order for bypassing statutory and regulatory law.
Bishop says that TransCanda’s lawyer recently complimented him on his legal work. But Bishop isn’t interested in niceties. He wants TransCanada off his land so he can return his American flag to right side up.
Watch this video of Bishop explaining why he’s flying the American flag upside down:
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