Big Bend Residents Fighting Trans-Pecos Pipeline Feel ‘Left Behind’ by Candidates

Anti-pipeline voters in the Big Bend region say a Trump presidency would be disastrous for the region.

Anti-pipeline voters in the Big Bend region say a Trump presidency would be disastrous for the region.

Big Bend, trans pecos
Big Bend residents who’ve been fighting the Trans-Pecos pipeline say there are no good options in this year’s presidential race.  Joe McGowan/Flickr/Creative Commons

Earlier this month Greenpeace reported that Donald Trump has invested between $500,000 and $1 million in Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the company constructing the controversial Trans-Pecos pipeline in the Big Bend region in West Texas. CEO Kelcy Warren has also given at least $103,000 directly to the Trump campaign.

The news comes as anti-pipeline activists, who have been fighting a bitter battle against ETP, face a difficult choice on November 8: Vote for Donald Trump, who has a stake in ETP and has claimed climate change is a hoax “created by and for the Chinese,” or pick Hillary Clinton, who has flip-flopped on the Keystone XL pipeline and promoted fracking in developing countries during her time in the Obama administration.

“We feel left behind,” said Alyce Santoro, co-founder of Defend Big Bend, a grassroots environmental group. “We feel like there are no candidates that will represent us.”

It’s a sentiment that many voters across the country have voiced in an often bizarre and contentious election. Still, opponents of the Trans Pecos pipeline who spoke to the Observer said Trump’s connection with Energy Transfer Partners have further convinced them that he is not the right candidate for president.

“I will be voting Democratically this time, because I couldn’t stand if Trump was president,” said Ginny Brotherton, an Alpine resident who said she has voted for a variety of candidates irrespective of their party affiliation.

Brotherton, who voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries, said she found Trump’s statements about minorities particularly disturbing. His ties with ETP and its CEO, however, served to reaffirm her decision to not vote for Trump, she said.

Many Big Bend voters who have been organizing against the Trans-Pecos pipeline have taken an “anyone-but-Trump” approach and say the dismal chances of an independent candidate winning the election are driving them to vote Democrat — reluctantly.

“A lot of people are not sure about Clinton because she has her finger in the oil and gas piggy jar and she’s pushing natural gas, too,” said Glover, co-founder of Defend Big Bend.

In the March presidential primaries, Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric opposing oil and gas drilling helped capture Brewster County, through which a section of the pipeline is routed. Sanders won in the county with a five-point lead over Clinton, one of only a handful of Texas counties won by Sanders.

Brotherton said she “was huge with Bernie.” His stance against the Keystone pipeline and the North Dakota Access Pipeline shored up her vote, she said.

But when Sanders failed to become the Democratic nominee, she considered and then rejected Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who has echoed some of Sanders’ positions on climate change and the environment.

“If there are enough people that we could get Stein as president, I would consider it,” Brotherton said. “I think it would be detrimental if we voted for Stein and Trump became president.”

Trump’s shadow has also loomed large over the congressional race in Big Bend between Pete Gallego and Republican incumbent Will Hurd. The swing district has gone back and forth between Republican and Democratic control for the last eight years and in 2014 Hurd won the seat by fewer than 2,500 votes. Gallego has hammered Hurd on his association with Trump and for waiting till after an Access Hollywood video of Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women surfaced to disavow him and ask him to “step aside for a true conservative to beat Hillary Clinton.”

Hurd has also not denounced the Trans-Pecos pipeline outright, saying he supports energy projects as long as residents’ property rights are upheld. That has led Big Bend residents such as Brotherton to support Gallego.

“Those who live here understand the fragility of the area and beauty of the area. We really passionately love it here,” Brotherton said, and if elected Gallego would protect it, she said.

However, for staunch environmentalists who list protecting the Big Bend as a top priority, Gallego’s opposition to the Trans-Pecos pipeline hasn’t gone far enough.

“Even Pete has not come out strongly against the pipeline,” Santoro said. “He tempers his statement by saying he’s pro-oil-and-gas.”

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Naveena Sadasivam is a staff writer covering the environment, energy and climate change at Grist. She previously covered environmental issues at the Texas Observer, InsideClimate News and ProPublica. At ProPublica, she was part of a team that reported on the water woes of the West, a project that was a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist for national reporting. She has a degree in chemical engineering and a master’s in environmental and science reporting from New York University and was a 2017 Ida B. Wells fellow at Type Investigations. You can contact her at [email protected] and follow her work on Twitter.

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