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Paperwrenching Prisons and Pipelines

By Panagioti - Earth First! Journal, October 28, 2017

AUTHOR’S NOTE: If your the type who likes to cut to the chase, here it goes: There are two open comment periods for Environmental Impacts Statements (EIS) that you should know about. One for the Sabal Trail Pipeline and another for the Letcher County federal prison. So take a few minutes to submit a comment ASAP using those links embedded up there. For those who prefer some background and deeper analysis, read on…


Last year I co-authored “From Prisons to Pipelines” with a former-prisoner and Lakota friend from the Pine Ridge Reservation. We were moved to write by the #NoDAPL and #PrisonStrike grassroots organizing efforts that were sweeping the nation, particularly in ways that hit close to home for us.

Since that was published, a prison in Appalachian East Kentucky and a pipeline through the springlands of North Florida both became hotspots on the unofficial map of eco-resistance. Right now, there are opportunities in both of these efforts to significantly broaden the base of support for these two fights and build the long-term foundation for effective resistance.

“Paperwrenching” an EIS approval is the one of the most effective strategies for securing environmental victories, and it is essential groundwork for campaigns that escalate to direct action (especially for folks who might try to use a necessity defense in court following an action, and want to show documentation of their efforts prior to facing criminal charges).


In spring of 2015, the Prison Ecology Project (PEP) joined a fight with the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) over its EIS for a new federal prison in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky, working with locals in Letcher County and dozens of regional and national organizations to use this prison as a line in the sand against the expansion of the U.S. prison industry. The PEP spawned an offshoot, the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons (FTP), which took a lead role in coordinating grassroots resistance to the plan, including a march on the D.C. offices of the BOP and Department of Justice (DOJ) in June 2016. Since the fight began, the BOP has been forced back to the drawing board twice, having to produce a Revised and Supplemental EIS in attempt to have a legally sufficient approval, and it is still bullshit.

Biologists and experts working with FTP activists and lawyers have torn apart the plan time and again, based on environmental justice concerns related to the mountaintop removal site chosen for the prison, endangered species issues in the nearby Lilley Cornett Woods, and the failure to show the prison is a public need (let alone consideration for alternatives to mass incarceration.) To top it off, over the summer the DOJ, which overseas the BOP, rescinded its request to build the prison. telling Congress that it no longer needs the $444 million allocated for the facility. But Congressmen like U.S. Rep Hal Rogers, who vested interests in land deals and construction contracts, have been using the facade of boosting the local economy as a selling point for years now, and they aren’t going to let go that easy.

The window for EIS comments to the BOP ends tomorrow, Sunday Oct 29 at 12 a.m. midnight. Its less than 24 hours from when this is published, so please send this letter ASAP. The link will also remain open after that deadline as well, as the letter also targets Congress which is still discussing its budget, and is likely to be doing so for another month or more.


In the fall of 2016, Sabal Trail Resistance (STR) kicked off a season of direct action that paralleled environmental litigation against 700 miles of fracked gas pipelines from Central Alabama to South Florida. After some couple dozen protests and blockades, 27 arrests (a majority of which were trumped up felony charges), and the death of a pipeline saboteur at the hands of Florida State law enforcement, the word was out far and wide: despite the regional reputation of hospitality and politeness, the pipeline pushers would not be welcomed with open arms in the Southeastern US.

In the summer of 2017, a panel of federal appellate judges found that the construction of the pipeline had been conducted illegally, as an environmental lawsuit alleged, with an insufficient EIS. Big news. The remedy of the judges was for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was to produce a Supplemental EIS (SEIS) addressing the failures to assess the cradle-to-grave cumulative impacts, namely the pollution caused by burning the gas. The industry responded with a pathetic, measly 9-page SEIS alleging that there were still no major concerns, and ignoring almost entirely the undeniable scheme to export a significant portion of the gas through ports in Florida, thus attempting to dodge the inclusion of massive shipping operations as another cumulative impact.

Comments on this Draft SEIS are do Nov 20, and they can easily be send via this link. For ideas on points you may want to make check out this post from the STR website.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

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