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Life, Liberty, and the Constitution Pipeline: Gripping Testimony

November 3, 2012
Rally outside FERC Constitution Pipeline scoping meeting in Oneonta, New York, October 24 2012. Courtesy of

Rally outside FERC Constitution Pipeline scoping meeting in Oneonta, New York, October 24 2012. Courtesy of

For three years, I have gone to hearings. I have testified at hearings. I have witnessed others testifying at hearings. But rarely have I been so moved by the power of public testimony as by the video recording of the Oneonta, New York FERC meeting about the Constitution Pipeline on October 24th, 2012.

Why tears? Not because of the tedium (it can be tedious), and not because of the frustration (want to increase your ability to endure frustration? Go to hearings about fracking, water, air, and legal poisons; about the ability of multinational corporations to blast our bedrock to bits, inject poisons into water, air and soil, and sign contracts to export the booty overseas; go to hearings with lawmakers at all levels and with the DRBC, DEP, SRBC, DOE, and FERC).

But, no — our neighbors’ testimony at the Oneonta FERC meeting moved me to tears by the feeling of elevation.

What’s that?

Elevation is the feeling you get when somebody does something right. It’s that feeling deep in your chest, in your veins, in that part of your nervous system that communicates directly with all that is right and good with our world, especially with people’s positive actions.

Every time a resident of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, New York, West Virginia or Ohio — the people I’ve been privileged to listen to at all these hearings (but mostly Pennsylvanians and New Yorkers) brings their commitment to their part to fight for clean air, water and health; to fight for justice — in spite of the horror of the moment, in spite of how many temporary losses we sustain — I am so impressed with the dignity, intelligence, resourcefulness and emotional power of these, my neighbors, that I am at a loss for words.

To listen to one person’s testimony, such as in the first six minutes of this video (part 4 of 5, for the Oneonta FERC hearing about the Constitution Pipeline lasted for five hours total), is energizing. To watch this solid hour is galvanizing. It’s packed with information, and we’d love the transcript. But it’s even more packed with spirit. Watch it now.

If you’ve been to some of these hearings — fighting for the Delaware River,  and winning, at least temporarily; fighting for the Susquehanna River, and losing, over and over again; fighting for DEP to even lower the TDS requirements (don’t ask me to translate that one — if you were there, you remember; if that’s gibberish to you, you can look it up — suffice it to say we won, but only halfway) — you’ll appreciate it more. If you haven’t, please listen and learn from some of the speakers here, both from Pennsylvania and from New York, who managed to show up; to organize their thoughts; to conduct themselves with dignity, sometimes humor, despite the potentially deadly threat posed by the pipeline; and to express themselves fully.

Life, liberty, and long-range planning

The pipeline at issue– the “so-called Constitution Pipeline” — would, these participants argue, deprive them of quality of life, and possibly life itself. One participant describes a pipeline explosion which burned to a crisp all 12 people who were standing over 600 feet away; some jumped in the nearby river while being burned alive; all died.

It would deprive them of liberty. Eminent domain does away with the liberty to say “no” to pipeline companies, one of which is currently using diesel-based drilling mud to drill horizontally in Susquehanna County. And if the infrastructure is bulldozed through all six PA and NY counties where the industry wants to lay this big pipe, those communities could further lose their liberty to say “no” to fracking, with all its associated poisons and social and economic damage. Fracking is further induced by increasing pipeline capacity to carry shale gas all the way to LNG  export facilities (points north, most likely Maine).

One careful speaker who supports the pipeline lays out her reasoning, and is met with overt hostility by the crowd.  It’s understandable that when it comes to horizontal drilling, people engage in “horizontal hostility” — directing anger at their own neighbors who support the pipeline, for whatever combination of reasons. But a Unitarian minister testified not long after, and spoke clearly the message we all resonate to: we are all in this together.

An estimated 90 people, according to eyewitness and videographer Bill Huston, spoke out against the pipeline, and about five spoke in favor.

In my view, even those who spoke in favor are all potential allies. They might change their minds, and join the opposition. Regardless, they must be treated with respect. Even if they speak untruthfully, they may believe what they say and be sincere. The hostile heckling is brief, but I say: save it for those in power. Offer it up to the policymakers.

Humans are terrible at long-range planning, as one person testifies, but some are better at it than others. The humans here, in this video, speak to the long-range concerns. They speak to the property loss, sure: the eminent domain used by pipeline companies is a form of legal theft which absolutely has the capacity to destroy these people’s lives as they know it, and they cherish what they have. But they also speak quite specifically about climate; about other environmental impacts; and, in the words of one woman, “the deer, foxes, raccoons and rabbits who couldn’t make it here tonight.”

The deadline for written comment submitted to FERC about the Constitution Pipeline is November 9th, coming right up, so please take a few minutes to submit your own, with help from Delaware Riverkeeper Network, right here.

FERC: Rubber-stamp machine?

FERC hearings may be a sham; FERC may be, as a certain singing telegram in New York City told them last week, a “rubber-stamp machine,” and we may need to do a lot more than testify to stop this pipeline and its associated compressor stations, gas processing centers, and export facilities. Nonetheless, public testimony can delay, or in the 100:1 rare case, cause FERC to deny, pipeline drilling permits. Please watch — any single 5-minute segment is powerful — and join your neighbors fighting for their lives, our planet, and our democracy.

One Comment
  1. November 3, 2012 9:13 am

    thanks, Iris for expressing so eloquently the viseral responses of NYer’s and others fighting for their lives and world and for the “deer, foxes, raccoons, rabbits”, dear creatures who could not make it here tonight and that brought me to tears…..

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