2011 Ride

Explore the latest during the 2011 ride

Ride Ends in Shadow of Toxic Refineries

Day 70: This morning, pedaled the final two miles from downtown Port Arthur to the Carver Terrace public housing project, where I was warmly greeted by 2011 Goldman Prize winner Hilton Kelley and members of his community. Media turnout was a grand slam. All four major television networks (ABC, NCB, CBS & FOX) were there, as well as the local papers, and all ran stories. Really appreciate Bruce Walker & Bruce Drury making the trip down to be part of it. Want to give a special shout to Tyson Sowell, Program Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment, for videotaping the press conference. You can watch it in its entirety here: http://tinyurl.com/btt65wo.

I chose to end the ride at a playground in the largely African American West Side neighborhood of Port Arthur for a reason. This is where TransCanada wants to refine much of their toxic tar sands slurry before shipping their product overseas. The American people need to know children live and play in the shadow of petrochemical facilities spewing streams of toxic emissions from their smokestacks. The EPA notes Port Arthur as having some of the highest levels of toxic air releases in the country (the companies operating the plants have been cited with hundreds of state air pollution violations). The West Side’s asthma and cancer rates are among the highest in Texas, with income levels among the lowest. The citizens of Port Arthur have suffered enough. They don’t need insult added to injury in the form of toxic tar sands emissions raining down on their community.

The end of ride press release was entitled, “2,150 Miles Later, Keystone XL ‘Tour of Resistance’ Ends With Demand for President Obama to Reject Keystone XL Without Delay.” Here are some key quotes from the release:

Ride endorser Paul Hawken, author of The Ecology of Commerce and Blessed Unrest, joined the call for Obama to immediately reject TransCanada’s permit, or be challenged on the campaign trail until he does:If America does not draw the carbon line in the Athabasca tar sands, then the question is: who are we, and why are we here? Of all the environmental follies that have occurred in time, surely this is the greatest.

Texas landowner and founder of Stop Tarsands Oil Pipelines, David Daniel:My message to every politician, from President Obama on down, is if you plan to put my family’s life and water at risk by supporting this pipeline, you need to be the first one to step foot on my property to try to take it.

Nebraska fourth generation rancher, Teri Taylor, appealed to Obama:Keystone XL is not right for America. It puts America in danger. Deny this permit for your daughters and my grandchildren.

2011 Goldman Prize winner and Port Arthur resident Hilton Kelley:The people of West Port Arthur have suffered enough. We cannot tolerate the additional toxic emissions Keystone XL would rain down on our community. Poor people also have a right to clean air and water.

Oglala Lakota matriarch and 2011 Indigenous Woman of the Year award winner Debra White Plume:President Obama faces a truly historical moment.The world will soon see if he caves in to the tyranny of big oil, or if he is a sensible human being with a heart on fire for life, for the future generations. I hope he denies the permit right away, as game over for big oil, and the first stroke of painting a beautiful path for our generations to walk on.

Let’s be real: President Obama has shown zero leadership to date on Keystone XL. TransCanada’s toxic tar sands project is not only un-American, it is a direct threat to the American people. Anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention can see this. Yet our president can’t seem to bring himself to reject this project on “national interest” grounds. Obama needs to be challenged on the campaign trail until he does. Alternatively, he needs to lay out a green energy plan for America that will revive our ailing economy and put millions of unemployed Americans back to work. On Keystone XL, there is no middle ground. Barack Obama is either with us or he’s with a foreign corporation.

After the press conference, Hilton escorted Bruce Walker and I to his restaurant, Kelley’s Kitchen, where his wife, Marie, treated us to some wonderful soul food. If you’re ever in the area, do yourself a favor and stop in for an unforgettable meal. A glutton for punishment, I then set out to pedal across the Martin Luther King Bridge for a better view of the port and the refineries surrounding the community. Felt the burn in my legs on the long, slow uphill climb. Climbing the back side, felt the burn not only in my legs, but also in my lungs, which was a first. Only later did it dawn on me this was due to the sulphur and other airborne chemicals I was breathing in. The difference is I get to leave. The people living here don’t.

Spent the rest of the afternoon doing a driving tour of the community with Hilton, learning more about the challenges facing his hometown. I am in awe of this person who gave up a successful Hollywood acting career to move home and fight for his people. Literally acting on a dream, he returned to Port Arthur and founded the Community In-Power & Development Association, for which he was honored this year with the Goldman Prize. The Goldman Environmental Foundation chose very wisely in honoring this man who gives so generously of his time, spirit and soul to protect our future: the children.

I want to take this final opportunity to thank David Blittersdorf, CEO of AllEarth Renewables; Stefanie Spear, Executive Director of EcoWatch; Casey Sheahan, CEO of Patagonia; and all my other wonderful sponsors for their extremely generous support and unquestioning faith in me. I couldn’t have done this without them.

2,150 miles later, the “Ride for Renewables: No Tar Sands Oil On American Soil!” has ended, but the fight to defeat Keystone XL and ecodical tar sands mining has only just begun. It is time now to contemplate next steps, SO STAY TUNED…

Fighting for West Port Arthur’s Children

Day 69: Pedaled the final real leg of the journey today, a flat and fairly quick 21 miles from Beaumont to Port Arthur. A few miles outside of Beaumont, a large hawk appeared seemingly out of nowhere and alighted on a utility wire not 20 feet away, wings spread wide and looking right down at me. Reminded me of the hawk in Boulder that suddenly appeared and helped inspire my ride last year. Very auspicious sign. A light rain was falling as I pedaled, which seemed to intensify the sulfur smell of the surrounding oil refineries. Made it to downtown West Port Arthur, with only a mile or two now left to go.

Today was dedicated to a group of West Port Arthur children who Goldman Prize winner Hilton Kelley had lined up to see the trike and learn about the Keystone XL pipeline. We met in a community room at the Prince Hall government housing project — overshadowed by the nation’s largest cluster of oil refineries and chemical plants — where people have been suffering in silence for far too long. Where we met was right next door to the Carver Terrace housing project, where Hilton was born in a back bay room. We had about 20 local kids there, a group small enough that each one got to take a short ride in the trike. VERY fun. One of the big “kids” even took the trike for a spin. Look for a wonderful YouTube video of Hilton Kelley showing how its done.

Afterwards, we went inside and did some Q&A with the children. Not surprisingly, most of the questions were about the rocket trike, but I think some of what Hilton and I said about why we don’t want tar sands coming to their community also sunk in. One of the older kids, Jeremiah Williams, said he wanted to talk to me, so I pulled up a chair. With a look of disbelief on his face, he quietly asked me why I did it (that is, rode from Canada to West Port Arthur). He listened with rapt attention as I told him, then handed me a wrist bracelet that read “LAUGH.” I’m wearing it now. Balances out well the jail wrist bracelet I’ve been wearing since I was arrested outside the White House this summer, along with 1,252 others, protesting against Keystone XL.

Then Hilton and his wife, Marie, generously treated me to a wonderful Cajun-style dinner at one of their favorite restaurants, where we learned that we shared a mutual friend in common, one of my ride sponsors, Graham Hill, from Boulder. So of course we had to give him a call. The older I get, the smaller the world seems to get, and I really like that.

Am writing this around 1:00am — one last late night preparing for tomorrow’s end of ride media event. I want to thank Bruce Walker and my amazing friend, Paul Alexander, for their herculean efforts to alert the media. Here’s one more newspaper story on the ride that ran in Oklahoma: http://tinyurl.com/7my8nlu.

TransCanada’s “12 Disgraces of Christmas”

Day 68: Ron and I were up most of the night (got 3 hours of sleep, tops) preparing for our street theatre media event at TransCanada’s Houston headquarters. So tired by now, I practically sleepwalked through it, but it came off well. Twelve pipeline fighters lined up in front of TransCanada’s Houston headquarters and, one by one, opened gift boxes containing twelve of the most egregious lies and abuses TransCanada is giving the world through their proposed Keystone XL pipeline and tar sands exploitation. Here are the 12 Disgraces (in no particular order): 1) Toxic Tar (not oil), 2) Ecocide, 3) Human Rights Abuses, 4) Eminent Domain Abuses, 5) Lies about Jobs, 6) Lies about Energy Independence, 7) Pipeline Leaks, 8) Polluted Water, 9) Environmental Injustice, 10) Climate Chaos, 11) Higher Fuel Prices, and 12) Undermining the Green Industrial Revolution.

During the event, on the sidewalk outside the office building where TransCanada takes up several floors, several well dressed executives walked past with their security detail to their black, tinted window SUVs with dismissive smirks on their faces. For me, it immediately brought to mind the arrogance of Ken Lay and the Enron meltdown.

We later attempted to return the “gifts” to TransCanada, with decidedly mixed results. Security stopped the larger group, but Ron Seifert, Bryan Parra and Hope Sanford got into an elevator, where they began chatting with a friendly TransCanada employee.  When they got to the office door, which was supposed to be locked, it opened, prompting the employee to say, “That’s not supposed to happen.” He then took them to his office cubicle, where they opened the “gifts.” Right about then, two big burly security guards confronted them, told them they needed to leave, and showed them the door. Despite repeated attempts to identify someone to come down and accept the other nine gifts, we were told we would have to mail them, so that’s just what Hope is going to do.

Afterwards, met up with Scott Parkin, Phillip Walker (thanks for lunch) & Bryan Parra (thanks for the coffee) at a bustling local coffee shop, before Ron headed off to the airport (thanks, Neil Carmen, for so generously picking up his flight) to join his family for the holidays. I can’t thank Ron Seifert enough for helping me take the “Tour of Resistance” to a whole new level. Ron literally “quit his job and became voluntarily homeless” to fight this ecodical pipeline project. In addition to selflessly supporting me for most of the ride, we rode together through most of Oklahoma and Texas, managing to double the size of the Ride for Renewables. It was a journey I know neither of us will ever forget.

Ended the day by doing this 9-minute interview with Marlo Blue at KPFT FM Radio in Houston before shuttling back to Beaumont for tomorrow’s final push into Port Arthur:  http://tinyurl.com/7tgl4fc.

Houston, We Have A Problem

Day 67: Shuttled the rocket trike from Port Arthur to Houston this morning (thanks, Ricky Melancon, for trusting me with your new rig!) to visit the Johnson Space Center. There’s nothing like seeing real rockets up close to inspire the imagination. Rolled the trike into Rocket Park for some photos with Saturn V and other real rockets. Then took the Space Center tour. The most exciting part was sitting in the visitors gallery of NASA’s Mission Control Center, where the people responsible for sending up and bringing our astronauts safely home do their work. It’s a serious place with a serious mission, where failure is not considered an option. We clearly need a CLIMATE Mission Control Center to help bring America, and the planet, back from the brink of global meltdown. But this requires bold and inspired presidential and congressional leadership, neither of which is anywhere to be found in 2011. Time for Occupy Congress and Occupy White House?

Later dropped in on an Occupy Houston direct action training put on by my friend, Scott Parkin, before heading over to the Occupy Houston General Assembly in Tranquility Park, where we were not only both generously invited to speak, but very warmly received. Ron inspired everyone with his talk about how the Keystone XL fight and the Occupy movement are inseparable. From there, it was on to the home of Madeleine & Jim Crozat-Williams, who very kindly offered to put us up for the night.

Here’s one more Texas newspaper article on the ride. The reporter got a few significant facts wrong, but also got a lot right: http://tinyurl.com/78lmcld.

Obama’s Trust Deficit

Day 66: Much end of ride event planning left to do, so today’s post will be short. But wanted to share this important article with you (http://tinyurl.com/bsg9uvb)
reporting on how Obama administration and State Department officials say the two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, which includes a provision requiring the president to make a decision on Keystone XL within 60 days, will likely keep the project from moving forward because it would cut short the necessary environmental review. Do you believe them? I don’t.

Keep in mind this is the same President Obama who said he would veto any legislation that included conditions on Keystone XL, then caved in and said he would sign the bill. Obama has shown he can’t be trusted to do the right thing when it comes to protecting America from Keystone XL. The American people are going to have to make him do it.

Planning the Final Push

Day 65: Spent the day in Beaumont closely monitoring the political brinkmanship over Keystone XL being played out on Capitol Hill, while laying plans for the final week of the ride. Plans include an action (“TransCanada’s Twelve Disgraces of Christmas”) at TransCanada’s Houston headquarters on Monday; riding the final leg to the Gulf Coast on Tuesday; and a press conference marking the end of the ride in Port Arthur on Wednesday. Spoke on the phone today with yet another senior citizen landowner from the Houston area distraught at how she has been treated by TransCanada. Told her she’s not alone, and that the fight against TransCanada has only just begun.

Leila Melancon and Donna Troxell Oberle rode their bikes over to Bruce & Kathryn’s in the morning for a promised spin in the trike (Leila was having so much fun I thought I might never get it back). In the small world category, Donna and I know some of the same people in Boulder (her sister’s best friend, Jim Morris, is also a friend of mine).

Here’s some more Lone Star state press coverage of the ride, this time from the Beaumont ABC and NBC news affiliates: http://tinyurl.com/7vgyglc.

Ground Zero for Environmental Justice Fight

Day 64: Today we got an up close and personal tour of the ravaged city of Port Arthur, TX, which sits in the shadow of some of the world’s largest oil refineries (this is the end of the line for Keystone XL — where TransCanada wants to pump their toxic tar sand slurry to be refined and shipped overseas). Bruce Walker donated yet more of his time to drive us into the city to scout the safest bike route from Beaumont (there really isn’t one), and to meet with Goldman Prize winner Hilton Kelley, who has dedicated his life to protecting his hometown from toxic contamination. Many thanks to Chris Wilson for arranging this important meeting.

What Hilton showed us was shocking. In my 49 years living on this planet, I have never seen a community more under assault than Port Arthur. The city is ringed by an industrial beast, belching out plumes of toxic smoke and oozing an alphabet soup of chemicals into the groundwater and soil, with neighborhoods and houses pushed right up to the fence line. This is the same beast that fuels the trucks and cars we drive every day.

Well over half the businesses in a once vibrant downtown were boarded up, the streets deathly quiet. Many homes we drove by were shuttered, others collapsed or burned to the ground. Yet others stood strong — one I saw was being freshly painted a bright yellow — as if reflecting the proud spirit of this resilient community. Hilton explained that for most residents, there was no escaping the toxic assault, and even if they could afford to move, this would mean leaving behind their family and friends. Schools are way too close for comfort, and a large number of the community’s children suffer from acute asthma. Hilton himself was living the good life in Los Angeles when a dream called him home to fight for the future of his people. I am filled with admiration for his commitment to his hometown and cannot imagine a more appropriate place to end the Keystone XL “Tour of Resistance” than Port Arthur, TX.

Don’t believe an American city in the 21st Century is being subjected to a 24/7 toxic assault of their air, water and soil in violation of U.S. law? Visit Port Arthur and see for yourself. Or save the travel fuel and watch this video: http://tinyurl.com/6t3afxh.

Reporting from the Big Thicket

Day 63: Local Sierra Club activists Bruce Drury and Bruce Walker laid some beautiful groundwork for us by arranging a press conference at the Big Thicket National Preserve. We chose that location because Keystone XL threatens to contaminate several rivers and creeks upstream from this biological wonder. Also joining us there was Maxine Johnston, matriarch of the Big Thicket Association and 1996 recipient of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Citizen Conservationist Award. Covering the event were reporters from The Examiner, the Hardin County News and the Beaumont Enterprise, as well as the local ABC and NBC news affiliates (which ended up running three evening stories and two morning pieces on the ride).

The past few days have seen the weather turn in our favor for the final push to the Gulf Coast. Highs in the 70s today and swimming in humidity. Made our way to Kountze, where Bruce Walker treated us to some good old fashioned southern lunch fare.  The closer we got to Beaumont, the heavier the traffic became, so Bruce trailed us for the final push into the city. 53 miles from where we started the day, we rolled down a quiet lane to the home of Bruce and Kathryn Walker, where we unloaded our gear before negotiating the city’s new bike lanes to a nearby outdoor bar for a meet and greet, where we were once again treated to dinner and drinks by our most generous hosts.

Less than 30 miles now remain to complete the ride, which will end in Port Arthur, TX. Will be using Beaumont (home of “Spindletop,” where the modern oil industry was born)
as our staging area for the next few days to plan the ride finale. A big thanks to Bruce and Kathryn for putting us up while we finalize our plans. Here’s another Lone Star story on the ride by The Paris News: http://tinyurl.com/7ajwaw2.

Getting By With Help From Our Friends

Day 62: Today was marked by flat tires. No sooner had we started down the road when I saw one of the trailer wheels behind Ron wobbling badly. Just as I started pulling up to warn him, the protruding tube exploded with a loud “POP!” Without a spare, Ron had to tough it out and ride 11 miles to the next town with a tubeless tire. Not my idea of a good time. Made it to Livingston, where Ron went in search of a tube, while I grabbed some desperately needed food fuel at the Whistle Stop Cafe. There I met Debra Fuller, who handed me some traveling cash from her and her friends (really appreciate that, guys!). Trailer fixed, we were back to full speed, and made a visit to the Polk County Enterprise on our way out of town.

Getting off the main road gave us a respite from the oppressive traffic noise. Despite the logging trucks, backroad traffic was relatively sparse and the shoulder wider than the actual traffic lane for most of the day. That, and the serenity of the swampy forests, made every mile pedaled enjoyable. Today was also actually hot for the first time in weeks, which was a welcome change.

Knowing we were going to be pushing it again to make the next town before dark, and not wanting a repeat of last night, I dialed up local pipeline fighter, Bruce Drury, who offered to rendezvous with us at sunset and trail us to the next town with his car. This was very fortuitous, as we hadn’t rolled a mile down the road in the fading light before it was my turn for a flat tire. Our angel for the day had just the tool I needed to complete the repair, or I would have been stuck on the side of the road in the dark being eaten alive by mosquitos. Trike repaired, Bruce accompanied us to an unmanned volunteer fire station, where we pitched camp in the back, 43 more miles closer to our destination. Every time we’ve needed some kind of assistance on this eco-odyssey, help arrives, usually in the form of a new friend.

We’re leaving a “breadcrumb” path of news articles down the proposed pipeline route. Here’s one that ran in the town of Newkirk, OK: http://tinyurl.com/d2wmqtk.

Truckin’ Thru Texas

Day 61: After a hearty breakfast at the Baggett’s, Vicki dropped us off in downtown Nacogdoches to meet a local landowner with more personal horror stories to share about his dealings with TransCanada. “Unfair,” obstinate,” and “heavy-handed” were adjectives he used to describe the energy giant. Being a southern gentleman, I suspect he was being kind. I think it’s safe to say TransCanada’s management has never read the book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

By now it was after noon, so we pushed hard to Lufkin on a very rough shoulder of the road, with heavy traffic racing past. In town, we were tracked down by a reporter with the local ABC News affiliate for a story on the ride. Then it was on to Corrigan, which we hoped to make by nightfall. After another hard push, we made town just as the light was beginning to fade, but no motel was to be found. But we did meet a local reporter with the Corrigan Times and the Polk County Enterprise on the side of the road. With darkness falling, we decided to push on 11 more miles to the 7 Oaks Motel, with our bikes lit up with flashing lights. Not something I recommend doing, but Lady Luck was on our side, and we arrived without incident. The only other business in “town” was a liquor store right across the street. You can guess where we went first.

Today’s 55-mile ride moves to the top of the list as the worst stretch of road I’ve ever pedaled. While a large shoulder made riding relatively safe, the noise of the roaring semis blasting by every 20 seconds or so made the ride less than pleasant. As the saying goes, we aren’t in Kansas anymore. We’re in Big Truck Country now, and I suspect will be until the ride concludes.

I can honestly say I’ve never led a project that has generated more media than I can keep track of – until now. We’ll be lucky if we collect half of it. Here’s a piece that ran in today’s The Daily Sentinel: http://tinyurl.com/83jdbwq.