Berger Says, ‘Woe to TransCanada’s CEO Russ Stirling’

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As we celebrate the final defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline, I’ll repost some of the spiritual power that led to this day.

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[Originally published on June 20, 2013]

I shared the stage today with religious leaders, environmental leaders, and financier Tom Steyer at the “Stop Keystone” press conference to kickoff a social-media campaign aimed at President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

At the end Ron Stief actually poured out tarsands sludge collected in Mayflower, Ark. It stinks and it sticks!

Above, left to right, Andrew Nazdin (former Obama staffer), Judy Alba (National Nurses Union), myself at the podium, Tom Steyer (NextGeneration), and Van Jones (Rebuild the Dream and Green For All).

In the line up of speakers I was asked to follow Rev. Lennox Yearwood (HipHop Caucus), the hip hop high priest of Jesus and justice. Yikes. But I just said that his preaching had done a fine job of converting the stand from a podium to a pulpit. (smile). Below are my remarks:

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My name is Rose Marie Berger. I’ve spent more than 25 years with Sojourners here in Washington, D.C., a Christian organization whose mission is to proclaim the biblical call to social justice. I stand here today as a Catholic who works primarily with evangelicals. I stand here today as a woman of faith who believes in the wonder-working power of God.

Little did I know that the summers I spent traveling between Magnolia, Ark, and Denison, Texas, along Highway 82 would become a flashpoint in my adult life for fighting tar sands extraction and its distribution through the Keystone XL pipeline.

Not only has Arkansas seen a 200,000-gallon spill of tarsands oil (mined by TransCanada from the Alberta tarsands) into the suburban neighborhood of Mayflower this March, but just off Highway 82, outside Paris, Texas, Julia Trigg Crawford is fighting TransCanada for her family’s livelihood. Her 600-acre farm has been in her family for more than 60 years. Now TransCanada plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline through her property. When TransCanada asked if she wanted to sell she said no. After that, TransCanada decided to take it. And today, even with an active court case appealing the eminent domain process, TransCanada is on her land ripping it apart with bulldozers.

What does the bible have to say about a fight like this? Well, the prophet Isaiah is pretty clear. “Woe to you who join house to house and land to land. Woe to you who steal from the widow. You who do these things are rebels against God, you are the companions of theives. You love to use bribes. You chase after personal gain. You do not defend the orphan, nor make any hearing for the widow’s plea.” (in Isaiah 5)

So today I want to appeal directly to Russ Girling, CEO of TransCanada. Mr. Girling said at a United Way fundraiser last year, that the future “depends on our collective ability to address issues such as poverty.” That’s true. And that’s at the heart of faith. That also must be at the heart of Mr. Girling’s decisions about his company. Because further opening up the Alberta tar sands, stealing American farms, piping tarsands oil through the Keystone pipeline, shipping it to foreign countries with higly inefficient burning capacities is a disaster for the world’s poor. Remember: Climate change kills the poor first. Mr. Girling, you have the power to turn away from climate sin and instead turn your company toward the dignified labor of creation care and protecting the global poor.

There is only one religious question worthy of our great traditions: How do we restore the world that God intended for us? Care for creation and life—all life—is our fundamental task as people of faith. And the only question that serves as an effective measure for the very short time we have left is this: Does the Keystone XL pipeline move us closer to fossil fuel independence? Not foreign fuel independence, but fossil fuel independence. If the answer is no, then we must reject it.

Today I appeal to Mr. Girling and President Obama to come on over to the winning side! I put before them both the challenge from Deuteronomy: Today I set before you life or death. Choose life! that you and your descendants may live.–Rose Marie Berger

Other that were present included: Heather White (Environmental Working Group), Senator Timothy Wirth, Gene Karpinski (League of Conservation Voters), Leslie Fields (Sierra Club), Ellen McNulty (National Wildlife Federation), Patrick Carolan (Franciscan Action Network), Susan Casey-Lefkowitz (Natural Resources Defense Council), Marianne Comfort (Sisters of Mercy of the Americas), Susan Shown Harjo (Morning Star Institute) and Ron Stief (United Church of Christ). Thanks to Mari Castellanos for punting my way and to Ron Stief for drawing me in.

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