The Keystone XL Battle Comes to East Texas

IN A RURAL TOWN IN East Texas, a battle is being waged between a multinational energy corporation and an alliance of rural landowners and environmental activists.

A gravel road leads to the battleground. Towering oaks punctuate the gray October sky and the damp ground is overgrown with moss. It’s a fairy tale-like scene, marred by yellow police tape and the grating of heavy machinery slicing through trees and heaving up soil.

This forest near Winnsboro is the unlikely epicenter of a growing movement to halt the Keystone XL pipeline, slated to bring oil stripped from the tar sands of Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. In an effort to stop the steady progress of the pipeline, protesters have taken to the trees—living on wooden platforms 80 feet in the air. Their platforms dot the tree canopy within an easement obtained by TransCanada, the corporation building the pipeline.

The tree-sitters have been living in this tree village, which they’ve dubbed “Middle Earth,” for a month. Their world is confined to the 4-by-6-foot platforms and the ropes connecting them. They’re able to zipline between platforms, but the structures only offer enough room to sit or lay. If they want to stretch their legs, they use a catwalk—nicknamed “Helm’s Deep”—that extends 100 feet across the tree village’s northern boundary. Below, a police officer asks anyone who approaches the easement for identification and waits to arrest any protesters who might come down.

In this increasingly tense showdown, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney promised to build Keystone XL himself if elected to curb U.S. dependence on foreign oil. On the other side of the debate, environmentalists view stopping the pipeline as essential to keeping vast amounts of carbon in the ground and out of the atmosphere. And landowners, farmers and even some tea party types up and down the pipeline route are raising a host of objections, from potential contamination of aquifers to the trampling of private-property rights.

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Solar Advocates Say It’s High Time for Public Utility Commission to Act

Seven years after the Texas Legislature passed a bill calling for the state to add 500 megawatts of non-wind renewable power to its energy mix by 2015, the Public Utility Commission has yet to enforce the law. Solar power advocates are urging the commission to enact rules that would implement the change and add another 2,500 megawatts to the target by 2025.

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Wind Advocates Urge Texas Congressmen to Make Move on Key Tax Credit

As the deadline to extend a key tax credit for wind energy nears, threatening to deal a blow to the industry, advocates are asking two Texas congressmen to vote for extending the credit.

Texas leads the nation in installed wind capacity, with more than 10,000 MW of wind power providing nearly 10 percent of the state’s electricity. Advocates are urging representatives Quico Canseco (R-San Antonio) and Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi) to demand a floor vote in the U.S. House before the lame duck session.

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Taking on Gulf Chemical in Freeport

Three months ago, Melanie Oldham moved from Angleton to a tiny old home in downtown Freeport, a southeast Texas town that lies in the shadows of petrochemical plants. She began filling a spare room with posters, photos, newspaper clippings, reports and books about one of the town’s most notorious polluters, Gulf Chemical & Metallurgical Corporation—a reading room for the community. Her home’s proximity to the company, and to other plants like Dow Chemical’s massive campus, also allows her to claim legal status in challenging the plant’s permits.

Not that many years ago, Oldham enjoyed a life of relative luxury. She was married to a Dow chemical engineer and lived in a spacious home. Now she works as a physical therapist, making enough money to support her real passion: trying to force Freeport’s chemical companies and refineries to clean up.

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Retio Uses Social Media to Fight Drug War Corruption in Mexico

While Google chairman Eric Schmidt was declaring technology to be the solution to Mexico’s drug violence, two kids from Mexico were already expanding coverage of their citizen-sourced crime reporting app to the entire country.

After visiting Juarez in July, Schmidt suggested Google’s intelligence capabilities could be used to facilitate information-sharing about cartel activity among police and citizens. A great idea—and one that Mario Romero and Jose Antonio Bolio, two friends from Merida, Yucatan, had already started implementing with their free app, Retio.

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