New Film, “The East Tavaputs Plateau: A Land Fighting for Survival”

 

This newly-released short film lets you see for yourself the incredible beauty of the East Tavaputs Plateau, slated for tar sands strip mining. Get up close to the natural wonders hiding throughout this enchanting land, and ask yourself what you would do to defend it.

On the East Tavaputs Plateau of so-called Utah, which is Uintah Ute territory, US Oil Sands is trying to start up the first massive strip mine to produce fuel from tar sands in the U.S. Meanwhile, grassroots groups like Utah Tar Sands Resistance, Peaceful Uprising, and Canyon Country Rising Tide are battling to defend this lush and diverse land. 

Witness the amazing beings and ecosystems fighting for life alongside incredible destruction. While they don’t get the attention of Canyonlands or the San Raphael, these places are near and dear to us and many other folks in Utah. From the sandstone cliffs of Main Canyon with their hidden bat caves, to the sweeping vistas of the Book Cliffs, this land deserves protection as much as any national park. And as part of the headwaters of the Colorado River as well as a massive source of carbon, our future is intertwined with its own.

Site Report: USOS seems far behind on schedule!

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From the looks of it, no one’s going to be processing bitumen on the Tavaputs Plateau this year.

US Oil Sands has promised investors they’d achieve commercial production by the final quarter of 2015.

Let’s take a look at what’s happening out there.

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Though there’s personnel on the production site, it seems impossible to run graders and other machinery in all this muck.

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The entrance to Children’s Legacy Camp (the area they’ve been clearcutting and grading) is a slushpile.

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The processing site has a nice layer of snow on the ground. There’s been no paving work so far, meaning it’s awfully hard to run machines over this slushy ground too. Paving site roads (a goal outlined in the mine plan) sure seemed like one of the crucial stepping stones to building capacity to work all winter and achieve commercial production.

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New conveyors are in, but kind of just sitting there in the snowy field.
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The Legacy area has been quiet. At 8,000 feet, it seems awfully hard to dig up this frozen tundra in the winter.
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Seems like a whole lot of investor dollars being spent on worker salaries, with the potential for very minimal results.

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If seeing all this destruction moves you, now is the time to jump in! Together we can win this fight.

 

We’ve Moved Our Vigil to SITLA!

BREAKING: Utah Tar Sands Resistance has moved our protest vigil to SITLA, the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, located in downtown Salt Lake City!

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That’s right, we rolled in with our water barrels, tents, and banners, and set up shop at high noon today.

Join us if you can. Bring food or coffee, and it will be a party.

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SITLA's dirty work banner

Read the press release:

Utah Tar Sands Resistance
Stages 24-Hour Vigil on Lawn of SITLA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 21, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY, UT: On October 21 at noon, members of Utah Tar Sands Resistance and supporters launched a 24-hour vigil in front of SITLA (School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration) in Salt Lake City. This summer and fall, beginning in mid-May, they have been holding an ongoing protest encampment in the Book Cliffs of eastern Utah, at the site where US Oil Sands is attempting to start the first commercial tar sands mine in the U.S. Now, they have brought their protest to the front doors of the agency responsible for leasing the lands, SITLA, located at 500 S/700 E, Salt Lake City.

The group chose to launch their vigil the day before SITLA’s next board meeting, which will take place at 9 a.m. on October 22. SITLA’s board is stacked with developers chosen by the governor, and its decisions to lease land for the world’s dirtiest energy sources—like tar sands and oil shale—stand in stark contrast to its mandate to never sacrifice short-term gains for the long-term wellbeing of Utah’s children.

In reality, SITLA contributes just 1–2% of the public schools’ budget. What do SITLA’s choices actually give the residents of Utah? The high rate of infant mortality in the Uintah Basin and the red air days in the Salt Lake Valley during which children and pregnant women are told to stay indoors, for starters. Human health will be jeopardized even more if the world’s dirtiest projects are allowed to take root in Utah. Along with decimated ecosystems, dwindling watersheds, and climate chaos, these realities show that SITLA’s choices are giving our children a toxic and frightening future, leaving them to cope with previous generations’ mistakes.

Jill Merritt, a mother of four and a grandmother, says, “SITLA’s choices put my grandchildren and future generations in grave danger, leaving them with a world torn apart by climate chaos, poisoned rivers, and toxic air. We call on SITLA to immediately rescind their leases for tar sands and oil shale, and start focusing on the long-term wellbeing of our children.”

Utah Tar Sands Resistance encourages all concerned members of the public to join them in standing up for a livable future. Their vigil is a family-friendly environment that they hope will serve as a public forum in which people can discuss their concerns about the management of public lands and resources. They will be recording stories on the site for a video project on this issue, and they invite kids, parents, and other members of the public to come share about their concerns for the environment and their love of Utah’s public lands.

Our 2015 Permanent Protest Vigil Has Launched!

Two weeks ago, tar sands resisters returned to the East Tavaputs Plateau to set up an ongoing protest vigil on the land leased for tar sands extraction. We came to witness, to document, to show people the land and inspire them to stand against tar sands, oil shale, and all extreme extraction.

We are now excited to tell the world that we’re back, and we’re not leaving until US Oil Sands gives up and goes home.

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In this remote area of the Book Cliffs, a start-up company called US Oil Sands has leased 32,000 acres of land managed by the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) for tar sands mining. Based in Alberta, Canada, US Oil Sands is a striking example of how corporations pay no mind to the same borders through which regular people are so often denied access. The company says it plans to begin commercial production in late 2015.

Tar sands mining would turn this lush wilderness into a bleak moonscape of gray rubble. It would level the canyons teeming with life, and send toxins into the waterways that feed the Colorado River, which 40 million people rely on for survival. And because tar sands refining is an incredibly dirty process–even compared to refining of regular crude–it would also pump toxins into the air of people in Salt Lake City. All this would support the production of a low-grade fuel that would never even be feasible without heavy subsidies, because it takes much more energy to extract than regular crude.

UTSR Vigil 2Last year, our ongoing protest vigil lasted through US Oil Sands’ work season, from mid-May through late October. We hosted numerous groups and individuals at our public gatherings, giving people tours of the land and inviting them to become part of the popular resistance against tar sands mining and for a livable future.

We’re thrilled to be returning to the land we love so deeply. It’s a land with a rich history, part of the Uintah Ute Band’s homeland and their traditional hunting grounds. It’s a land filled with bears, cougars, coyotes, and countless other species. So far this year, we’ve seen deer, elk, turkeys, and a coyote. And lately, it’s been a land of rolling thunder and sudden downpours, but fortunately we spent last summer practicing our tarping skills. 

Please DONATE to this effort to help make our protest vigil a huge success!

Things seemed quiet on US Oil Sands’ work site at first, though we witnessed some activity this week. We know it’s awfully hard for those big machines to work on muddy ground–the East Tavaputs Plateau has been holding her own against the ongoing violence enacted against her.

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This vigil–and the many direct actions that various groups and individuals have taken against the tar sands mine–are necessary because we don’t seem likely to win this battle through the court system. On June 12, 2014, the EPA issued an order to US Oil Sands demanding that they gain additional permitting to deal with stormwater runoff before continuing with their project, because they are operating on an area deemed “Indian Country” under federal law. The company continued bulldozing, and nobody made them stop–that is, until 80 folks took direct action in July, shutting them down for a week. But during that action, the police worked to arrest the folks taking action and protect the company, paying no mind to the fact that they were operating illegally.

Living Rivers is pursuing a legal challenge to the mine. Their first case was dismissed on a technicality by the Utah Supreme Court in June 2014, but they recently filed another suit that cites more recent evidence of how US Oil Sands would pollute the watershed of the Green and Colorado Rivers. We fully support Living Rivers and believe this is necessary work, but we aren’t banking on the court system–and we hope you aren’t either.

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Back at the home front, we’ve been preparing for upcoming gatherings like the June 19-21 Intergeneration Campout. We look forward to sharing this summer and fall with new and old friends, witnessing all the plateau’s seasons along with the growth of our vibrant community of resistance. We hope to see you soon on the East Tavaputs Plateau!

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Please DONATE to this effort! Thank you for all of your help and support.

 

A message to potential MCW Energy investors: #NOTARSANDS

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Turns out MCW Energy, another Canadian tar sands strip-mining company, was “unveiling its proprietary, oil sands extraction technology near Vernal, Utah” today.

According to MCW’s press release: “The occasion will be marked with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a demonstration of MCW’s extraction plant on MCW’s lease site at Asphalt Ridge, near Vernal, Utah. Many local dignitaries, Utah State officials and the corporate MCW team are scheduled to be in attendance at this benchmark resource development event.”

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Come chipmunks and land defenders marked the occasion by greeting all of those dignitaries, officials and corporate tools to boos & hisses as they arrived at the company’s processing plant.

“We will continue to stand against all tar sands mining in the region,” one chipmunk stated.

A message to MCW and their potential investors: you are investing in death, and we will not allow your project to move forward.

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Faces of the grassroots climate movement: rowdy and rowdier

Marches around the country this week show ideological diversity among a new cohort of activists.

by Cally Carswell

(This article has been re-posted from High Country News)

Protesters march toward U.S. Oil Sands’ test pit, on the East Tavaputs Plateau in Utah’s Book Cliffs. The company is moving toward opening the first commercial tar sands mine in the U.S., and began clearing a site for a processing facility down the road this summer.

Last Sunday, under a pocket of blue sky, some 30 people spilled out of vehicles onto Seep Ridge Road, a wide thoroughfare that traverses a remote spine of eastern Utah’s Book Cliffs, and is in the process of being paved. Many in the group wore hats or wrapped their heads with scarves, then tied bandanas over their noses and mouths. They looked tough, hard-edged, but not without a sense of humor. One woman carried a shepherd’s cane, one man wore a clown mask, and another played tunes like “This Land is Our Land” on a saxophone. The wind whipped them energetically.

The guises were defenses not against the weather, but against the cops and a security camera trained on a test pit for what could soon become the first commercial tar sands mine in the U.S. Tar sands contain an unconventional crude called bitumen, that with a great deal of water and energy can be extracted from sand and rock, and refined into fuel. The industry is big business in Alberta, Canada, and one of the most carbon-intense fossil fuels. U.S. environmentalists have fiercely opposed the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport Canadian tar sands crude to U.S. refineries, in a bid to influence further development to the north. Less known, and less opposed nationally, is the push to develop Utah’s own tar sands deposits.

The protesters were here to say “no” to the development, because as one explained earlier in the day, “These days, if you’re not saying ‘no,’ you’re saying ‘yes’.” It felt good to say “no,” another told me, and to do so publicly.

After all, the politer approaches to solving the climate crisis, the attempts by big environmental groups to work inside the halls of Congress, to compromise, and to wield science to compel action, had failed. It was time, the protesters believed, to confront the problem at its source – carbon spewing projects like this one – and to do so loudly. A few among them unfurled a banner declaring “Together and Everywhere We Rise Up for Climate Justice.” The group began to march toward the test pit. Continue reading

Five Land Defenders Arrested at Utah Tar Sands Protest

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BREAKING: Five Land defenders were arrested yesterday morning at the construction site of US Oil Sands’ tar sands strip-mine in Utah. The Canadian company’s 32,000 acre lease-holding are on state-managed land in the Book Cliffs, on the East Tavaputs Plateau, though the land is traditional Ute land, and lays within Indian country, with sections of the tar sands project straddling the boundary of the Uintah & Ouray Reservation.

Currently, the land defenders (including the media team) are being held on Class A Trespassing charges, with a total bail estimated at $10,500.

One of those arrested is a trans woman, and at this time we are unsure if she is being held in solitary, or if she is being housed with the male population. Neither situation is acceptable, we are extremely concerned about the dangers she may be facing.

We will provide updates and media here as they become available.

Donate to the land defenders’ legal support fund using this secure link or with the form below:

 

Shutting down the Uintah Basin Energy Summit: “A message to all of you short-sighted killers”

“Disorderly Conduct” by Sidhe, a message to US Oil Sands and other killers

 

 

On Sept. 4th, Utah Tar Sands Resistance interrupted the 2014 Uintah Basin Energy Summit, a yearly conference where tar sands and oil shale speculators are exalted and anyone “not excited” about the destruction of the Book Cliffs is shut out and silenced.

Land defender Sidhe had planned to share her entire poem with the 700 conference goers, but police–already aware of the conference organizers’ insecurities and impatience–would not cede a moment to their dissenters. Sidhe was booked into the Uintah County Jail on suspicion of “disorderly conduct,” an exceedingly fitting charge police could level against the tar sands speculators destroying the planet who were in the room, but alas, the police work for the capitalists, not the people.

“Disorderly Conduct” by Sidhe

A message to all of you short-sighted killers
What kind of world will you leave behind for your children
When you’ve squeezed every last drop of life from the land
With your greed and your murder you’ve wrought with your plans

I’d like to remind you your money means nothing
When the water’s been blackened and the creatures are starving
You toy with a force you do not understand
Your chemicals won’t wash all that blood off your hands

First Nations fight cancer up in Athabasca
Your oil trains are time bombs impending disaster
Your pipelines will leak and your cesspools will sprawl
And your babies are left with the brunt of it all

What of the animals caught in the tar?
What of the forests left clear cut and scarred?
What of those atrocities I didn’t witness?
Like Serafino in Columbia sending assassins
To murder union organizers who stood up and spoke out
In the back of my mind I can still hear them shout
I am made of this land you are made of the same
The planet is dying and you are to blame

Are you proud of yourselves? Look at what you’ve become
Heartless machines, so frigid and numb
So reluctant to think that you may just be wrong
That you hear the dissent and you send in the guns.

WE’RE SUING COPS AND A TAR SANDS REFINERY!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Journalist sues Utah tar sands refinery for illegal “terrorism” police detention

SALT LAKE CITY—An award-winning independent journalist filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Tesoro and the Salt Lake City Police Department for illegally detaining him and accusing him of terrorism for taking photographs of a refinery.

Jesse Fruhwirth posted a video on the Internet (see below) of December 16, 2013, when an ice storm and power outage prompted a major pollution event at Tesoro’s tar sands refinery in the Rose Park neighborhood.

“I was in bed reading and through my window suddenly I could see that the night sky was ablaze as if all of Rose Park was on fire,” says Fruhwirth. “Only the refinery was on fire, but I knew that such huge flare offs were extra dangerous events for babies, old people and sick people and I thought it was important to film the fire that might severely sicken or kill some of my neighbors that night.”

Fruhwirth also filmed the interaction he had with a police officer who ordered him to stop filming. In the video, Salt Lake officer Yvette Zayas tells Fruhwirth that she detained him for taking pictures of “critical infrastructure,” that she would refer her report to a “Joint Terrorism Task Force” to protect “homeland security.”

Zayas is simultaneously a paid employee of Tesoro and SLCPD, but that night she was working directly on Tesoro’s payroll.

Zayas nevertheless was wearing her city-issued police uniform, carrying her city firearm, driving the city’s squad car, and accessing the public dispatch system. The Rent-a-Real-Cop program, Fruhwirth says, is blatant corporate welfare and has been gaining more critics as harmful corporations like Tesoro and controversial political organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council have hired real city police to work exclusively for them.

“Police are given virtually perfect immunity to arrest and sometimes even to kill people supposedly because cops work for the public interest to ‘keep the peace,’” Fruhwirth says. “So it’s incredibly dangerous and dishonest for the city to rent policing power to powerful corporations so that cops completely ignore the refinery’s deadly crimes and meanwhile shut down the law-abiding journalists trying to expose them.”

The civil rights lawsuit filed in federal district court Wednesday (attached) names as defendants police chief Chris Burbank, mayor Ralph Becker, Tesoro as well as Zayas.

Others have faced similar intimidation. Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment’s Dr. Brian Moench faced off with officer Zayas at Tesoro as well. “The exact same thing happened to me back in July [2013],” he says.

Fruhwirth aims for a ruling declaring such detentions illegal as well as exposure of the Rent-a-Real-Cop program. But he also hopes to bring attention to the story that enticed him to film the refinery in the first place.

“Tesoro’s use of tar sands as a feed stock brings some of the poisons killing multitudes of indigenous people in Alberta down to Rose Park, a neighborhood that’s home to many people of color and recent immigrants,” Fruhwirth says. “It’s a journalist’s obligation to document an especially poisonous night, at an especially poisonous facility that uses especially poisonous products like tar sands. It’s classic environmental racism and it’s killing my neighbors and Athabascans alike.”

Fruhwirth was twice a finalist for the Reporter of the Year by the Utah Society of Professional Journalists and has worked to expose police murders and police brutality.

He is represented by Stewart Gollan of the Utah Legal Clinic.

To read the complaint, click here.

 

Ditching the Big Greens: Uprooting The Liberal Climate Agenda

Uprooting The Liberal Climate Agenda

by SCOTT PARKIN

“You can’t hate the roots of a tree and not hate the tree.”

― Malcolm X

Somewhere between the Bay Area’s environmental non-profit bubble and multi-million climate march planning in New York City, 21 people in the Utah desert took action to shut down the first tar sands mine in the United States.

They’d been part of a larger encampment on the eastern plateau, where local organizers educated over 80 student climate activists about the Utah tar sands as well as trainings on organizing, direct action and anti-oppression. Utah tar sands fighters have spent the summer living in the area as a constant protest against Canadian-based company U.S. Oil Sands’ extraction efforts on the plateau. Every night, black bears raided the camp looking for food and every day local and state police agencies harassed the camp with veiled threats and innuendo derived through Facebook stalking. Despite the harassment and surveillance by the state, actions happen. This particular arrest action gained lots of national media attention and a number of larger environmental organizations put out statements of support of the activists. It also included a number of escalated felony charges on some of the activists.

Utah tar sands fighters living on the ground on the plateau, in Moab and in Salt Lake City live and breathe the campaign against the Utah Tar Sands. They strategize and organize it the same way that Appalachian mountain defenders organize the struggle against mountaintop removal coal mining. They live it the same way that the Tar Sands Blockade lived the campaign against the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline in east Texas and Oklahoma. In all of these campaigns, it’s been an alliance of unpaid radical organizers working with local landowners and community members fighting to save homes, forests, water supplies and more. Furthermore, these campaigns have defined risk and sacrifice.

In Appalachia, after numerous actions on strip mine sites, coal companies filed lawsuits against those participating in civil disobedience actions. West Virginia law enforcement imposed huge bails to further deter actions on mine sites. In Texas, TransCanada sued numerous individuals and three grassroots organizations for over $20 million after the same sort of action. The Canadian oil giant also compiled dossiers on noted organizers and briefed local and federal law enforcement agencies with possible crimes and charges for stopping work on its work sites. Texas law enforcement obliged TransCanada’s hard work with felony charges and violent brutalization of peaceful protestors.

In each of these campaigns, bold and effective organizing against oil, gas and coal companies has created moments to stop egregious practices and projects at the points of destruction only to be abandoned or ignored by the larger environmental establishment. In the wake of that abandonment, hundreds of Appalachian Mountains have been leveled while oil flows through the Keystone XL pipeline from Cushing, OK to the Gulf Coast, and ground is now broken on the first tar sands mine in the United States.

The liberal reform agenda of the environmental establishment continues to dominate the climate movement. Organizations sitting on millions of dollars in resources and thousands of staff are now engaged in a massive “Get Out The Vote” style operation to turn out tens of thousands to marches before the September 23rd United Nations’ Climate Summit in New York. Their hope is to impact the summit framed as U.N. Secretary General Bai-Ki Moon’s dialogue with global politicians on climate change in the lead up to the 2015 climate talks. Civil society’s demands include passing meaningful climate legislation and signing binding agreements on carbon regulation.

History continues to repeat itself as the environmental establishment had similar demands in Copenhagen at the 2009 climate talks. After spending millions of their donors’ dollars and thousands of hours of staff time, successes included an email campaign that got President Obama to travel to Denmark and personally witness the failure of those climate talks. Almost simultaneously, legislation to regulate carbon emissions failed in the U.S. Congress as well. After outspending the climate liberals 10 to 1, the political will of Big Oil and Big Coal remained unbreakable. Meanwhile, these same companies continue to drill, mine, frack, pollute, poison, build pipelines and burn coal in neighborhoods and communities from coast to coast.

However, there is recent precedent for movements to effectively confront power-holders that moves beyond traditional liberal solutions of compromise and polite advocacy with grassroots organizing, direct action and meaningful solidarity with communities seeking clean and just solutions to pollution and exploitation.

In 1999, the North American anti-corporate globalization movement partnered with peoples’ movements in the Global South to literally end business as usual at the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Seattle. A grassroots spirit dedicated in solidarity with anti-austerity, human rights and environmental movements around the world spread like wildfire. Rooted in direct action, direct democracy and anti-capitalism of movements both in the U.S. and abroad, the global justice movement had been built over decades to stop the privatization of labor, environmental and human rights protections across the globe. The Seattle shutdown happened in defiance of Democratic politicians, Big Labor and other large organizations dedicated to reaching agreements with Corporate America in the WTO talks.

In 2011, after decades of pickets and strikes, of budget cuts, layoffs and evictions, the movement for economic justice in the United States rose to a new level as Occupy Wall Street began to occupy parks and public spaces across the nation. This happened after decades of politicians creating policies that benefited the rich and powerful while harming poor and working people. These occupations against the power of the “1%” created such a dramatic tension that the Dept. of Homeland Security coordinated a massive crackdown that ended many Occupy camps.

Throughout the Global South, they fight back against the polluters and the profiteers as well. In states across India, residents living near coal plants regularly engage in direct action and street fighting against authorities defending the right of corporations to poison their communities. In China’s Hainan and Guandong provinces, tens of thousands have taken to the streets in resistance to coal polluting their air and water. In 2011, Bolivia passed the rights of mother earth into law in defiance of companies in western democracies profiting from destroying the planet for financial gains.

While the liberal climate agenda is rooted in compromise with policy-makers and playing nice with corporations, a radical climate agenda must take the small disparate pieces of the existing climate movement and grow them exponentially to become a fierce counterbalance to the fossil fuel industry. It must include strategies that create an environment so toxic for the climate pollution industry, its executives, its politicians and the financial institutions that back them that business as usual becomes impossible. Furthermore, this agenda must be rooted in principles of justice and ecological sanity as well. Lastly, it must be willing to take risks, do jail time and say what doesn’t want to be heard by friends and enemies alike.

People are hungry to do more than send emails to President Obama asking him, once again, to do the right thing or march in a permitted march. Real change won’t come from professional activists rooted in the existing political and economic system; it’ll come from a mobilization of people willing to engage in risk and sacrifice.

Scott Parkin is a climate organizer working with Rising Tide North America. You can follow him on Twitter at @sparki1969

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