AFTER ACTION REPORT for FERC's CONSTITUTION PIPELINE DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT PUBLIC HEARING at AFTON 04 02 2014
This was the third night in a row for the FERC team, and they looked tired but determined. Williams again bussed in union workers from Rome and Newburgh to pack the room and dominate the speakers list. Judging from their comments, most of which we’d already heard in Oneonta on the previous evening, none of them have actually read the DEIS that they were supposed to be commenting upon. Most simply said that the DEIS was complete and adequate, and then moved on to fantasize about jobs and economic salvation for upstate NY.
The region around Afton is dominated by gas-collaborators. A couple of local elected officials spoke in favor of gas. Anti-gas activists were outnumbered by 3 or 4 to one in both the audience and as speakers, and many of the anti’s did not appear to be local. Friendly faces I recall seeing include Loddie Marsh, Barb Loeffler, Gene & Carol Marner (Delaware County), Kristina & William Turechek (Otsego County), Eddie Rodriguez, Mina Takahashi, Peter Hudiberg (Chenango County), Bill Huston (Broome County), Vera Scroggins (PA), and probably 10 or so others that I recognized but can’t recall names now. It was like a hometown baseball game during Hall of Fame weekendall the heavy-hitters were in Cooperstown. We did not fill our bench, and we had none of our top players to lift us up, but we soldiered on.
As you may recall from previous reports, union workers in orange t-shirts have been bussed in to each hearing this week. They claim that their shirts and dinners and transportation expenses are all paid by their unionsof course one would never suspect that the pipeline company would be making contributions to unions to help cover these expenses, any more than they would try to bribe local fire departments, EMS squads, libraries, or even school districts with “grants” intended to demonstrate their strong ties to our communities.
Despite a warning from the moderator in his opening remarks, the orange shirts were even more boisterous, more aggressive, more rude, and more bullying than they were in Oneonta. They seemed buoyed by their superior numbers, and have been learning each others’ obnoxious behaviors. Sherriff’s deputies were eventually summoned to confrontations both inside and outside the building, and the FERC moderator ultimately threatened to shut down the hearing if there were any more interruptionsthey took a 10 minute recess, during which one of the videographers was threatened by one of the orange mob ringleaders, “You’d better hope I don’t follow you out of here tonight.” After the recess, the booing, jeers and catcalls were somewhat diminished but continued. Only after the stormtroopers returned to their busses did the meeting afford pipeline opponents an opportunity to speak without overt intimidation, as the local orange shirts seemed to lose some of their bravado, and they too quickly departed, well before the end of the meeting.
So what functions did the orange shirts provide for the pipeline company? Pipeline opponents were obviously intimidated from speaking by threats of public humiliation and physical abuse. But just as importantly, a great amount of time was wasted, listening to orange shirts blather on about issues having absolutely NOTHING to do with the DEISmany of them openly acknowledged that they were speaking “off topic”. One orange shirt used his time to lead the audience in the Pledge of the Flag, and several of his colleagues subsequently wasted even more time by thanking him for reminding us all of our patriotic duty. (The clear implication here was that being against gas is being un-American.) As a result of this packing of the speaking schedule, citizens who wished to address legitimate concerns with the DEIS were forced to reduce their presentations to just 3 or 4 minutesnot much time to offer meaningful criticism of a 945 page document crafted in large part by gas industry lawyers.
I’m glad I went to the Oneonta hearing, if for no other reason than to balance the despair that I felt in Afton. Our nation has much bigger problems than pipelines. This was my testimony last evening:
I sat through the entire hearing last evening in Oneonta, and I want to speak briefly about the environment that I grew up in:
I’m old enough to remember tattoos on old peoples’ arms in the subway, indelible evidence of a final solution
I’m old enough to remember fire hoses and police dogs, lunch counters, lynching, and muddy graves
I’m old enough to remember hardhats beating demonstrators, kids who did not want to fight rich men’s wars
I’m old enough to remember when 1984 was only a prophesy, and “Big Brother is watching” seemed just a paranoid delusion
I’m old enough to know a bully when I hear one, especially when he whines how unfair the world has been to him, to justify screwing his neighbor
I’m old enough to know a bully when I see one, his conscience muffled under a uniform, his bravado inflated with false camaraderie, his hunger fueled by carrots he’ll never reach
I’m old enough to see the new fascism, and hopeful enough to think we can beat it
I know I can’t do it alone, and I’m counting on you brave public servants at the front of the room: Please, don’t let orange become the new brown.