Kelcy Warren Takes a Meeting

Talk of Standing Rock overshadows pipeline easement dispute

Protesters rally outside a meeting of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission. (Photo by John Anderson)

It was really a sort of proxy war.

Dozens of people from all corners of the state lined up to speak at last Thursday's meeting of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission, each ostensibly there to oppose what otherwise would have been yet another pipeline cutting through yet another slice of vanishing native habitat in the country's most heavily pipelined state.

Up for consideration was a coil of six pipelines that TPWD commissioners appeared poised to approve on second reading. The installation would require a 150-foot-wide, 6,500-foot-long slice through the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area, outside heavily industrial Port Arthur. But even that was a secondary concern. The primary issue was the presence of Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren on the commission's board. More than 100 self-described "water protectors" had already been singing, chanting, praying, and drumming outside TPWD HQ all morning calling for the recent appointee (and heavy political donor) of Gov. Greg Abbott to resign. "He wants to put profits before people," said Austin-based filmmaker Fox RedSky. "He is suffering from a disease called greed."

As CEO of Dallas-based ETP, Warren is the force behind the hotly contested Dakota Access pipeline seeking to connect the fracklands of North Dakota to an energy hub in Patoka, Illinois. The months-long standoff with the Standing Rock Sioux and their native and non-native allies – perhaps the largest gathering of native peoples in a century – has seen activists occupying portions of the company's pipeline easement and chaining themselves to construction equipment. The police response has been robust. Two weeks ago, members of the Morton County Sheriff's Department, with support from departments across the region, broke up the declared 1851 Treaty Camp, arresting an estimated 140 aided by armored vehicles, shotgun-fired non-lethal projectiles, pepper spray, Tasers, and a high-frequency sound "cannon."

Inspired by the spirit of resistance being demonstrated at Standing Rock, many protesting at the Parks & Wildlife Commission meeting said they were prepared to use direct action to stop pipeline projects here at home, including potentially at several ETP lines seeking to link the Permian Basin fields in West Texas with Mexican infrastructure.

Announcing what he called the birth of the "Texas water protectors movement," Tane Ward, of the indigenous empowerment organization Equilibrio Norte, said, "We're here to protect our aquifers, our rivers, our lakes, our streams, our bays, and protect the water for future generations."

After attendees' bags had been hand-searched by security, the agency's land conservation program director informed the commissioners that staff believed there was "no feasible alternative" to approval of the mass of pipelines at the targeted WMA. As the first speaker wrapped up her three-minute protest, Commissioner Bill Jones, a Rick Perry appointee, asked: "Ma'am, just a quick question: Have you ever been to this park?" "No," she replied, "but there's a pipeline going through my town and I've studied all the possible impacts."

Just as the Sioux have objected they were not consulted about the Dakota pipeline route that is to cross under the Missouri River just upstream of Lake Oahe, their main source of drinking water, Juan Mancias, tribal chair of the Carrizo-Comecrudo nation in South Texas, accused the commissioners of consistently ignoring native concerns in their analyses.

"I don't think any of you realize there are still native people alive in Texas, and the environmental impact statements you do don't touch any of that," Mancias said. "The Kickapoo depend on cattails from that area for their summer houses. Do you know about that? No, you don't know that because you don't care about native people."

Warren remained silent despite frequent challenges. When pipeline comments veered into calls for Warren to recuse himself from the vote, Jones and the bailiff issued stern correctives. When Austin musician Charlie Pierce charged, "You're really undermining your authority when you allow people like Kelcy Warren, who attacks my people in North Dakota with militarized police," he was quickly escorted from the building. Later, two women stood up spontaneously to sing, "Which side are you on, my people? Which side are you on?" Both were also quickly escorted out.

Ultimately, it was the soft-spoken Pete Hefflin of the Society of Native Nations who was able to draw Warren into conversation. "How would you feel if I went to your place and [dug] up your ancestors, like you have been doing to our people?" Hefflin asked, referring to charges made by the Standing Rock Sioux against pipeline crews in North Dakota. "I'm not mad, because I'm tired of being mad. I would like for you to give me a serious answer to that. ... Do you think it is right to go and dig up burial grounds, sacred burial grounds? Desecrate them?"

"No sir. I do not," Warren responded. "I do not think that's appropriate. I think that would be bad."

With the room at a total hush, with no admonitions from Jones or the bailiff to stay on topic or efforts to hustle Hefflin along, the two men agreed to share contact information and meet privately on the subject.

According to Mancias and others who have been going back and forth between Texas and Standing Rock, this is the first time Warren has addressed native people directly. If the meeting occurs, it would be Warren's first meeting with indigenous peoples on these concerns.

After a brief recess, it was almost incidental when both Warren and another commissioner, who confessed a financial conflict of interest in the deal, abstained from the J.D. Murphree vote, leaving the issue stranded without the benefit of a quorum, pending for another day.

Inspired by the spirit of resistance being demonstrated at Standing Rock, many protesting at the Parks & Wildlife Commission meeting said they were prepared to use direct action to stop pipeline projects here at home.

Peter Hefflin, who is quoted in this story, was recently revealed to living somewhat of a double life. His actual name is Pedro Rabago Gutierrez. He has been avoiding his parole officer in California since 2002. More more, see "Trans-Pecos Imposter Discovered," March 10.

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Kelcy Warren, Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission, J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area, Fox RedSky, Tane Ward, Standing Rock Sioux, Dakota Access, Bill Jones, Juan Mancias, Pete Hefflin, Charlie Pierce

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