Pipeline protesters gather in downtown Waco

Protesters gather in front of Rep. Bill Flores's Waco office in downtown, on Austin Avenue. Photo credit: Rylee Seavers

By Rylee Seavers | Staff Writer

Wacoans gathered downtown to protest recent executive action to continue construction on the Keystone XL and Dakota Access (DAPL) pipelines. Protesters gathered outside the Waco office of Rep. Bill Flores to show their disapproval of the executive action.

About 20 protesters stood at the street corner in front of 400 Austin Ave., where Flores’s Waco office is located. They displayed signs with sayings such as “Stand with Standing Rock” and “People over pipelines” to show their disapproval of the Keystone XL and DAPL. The protesters waved at commuters, and some drivers honked to show their approval. Local law enforcement officials were present, but the protest was nonviolent.

“We can’t destroy land, and especially not someone’s sacred land,” Waco resident and protest attendee Alyssa Ramirez said, referring to recent protests of DAPL in Standing Rock, N.D.

Construction of DAPL was halted on Dec. 4, 2016, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after extensive protests from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, according to a Standing Rock Sioux Tribe press release.

Flores said DAPL does not cross any sacred grounds and that the pipeline will be buried three times deeper than existing pipelines that cross under Lake Oahe. According to the Dakota Access Pipeline Facts website, there are currently seven other pipelines that cross Lake Oahe in the vicinity of the DAPL site.

Protesters made their own posters and signs. Photo credit: Rylee Seavers

“[Flores] is not acting in a way that is reflecting the values or wants of his constituents,” Abilene senior Rebecca Farrar, protest organizer, said.

Farrar said she believes the construction of pipelines would only provide temporary jobs for Americans, and that long-term jobs are more likely to be found in the clean energy industry. Farrar also said construction on DAPL poses significant environmental risks and shows a disregard for the treatment that Native American groups, particularly the Sioux tribe, received from the U.S. government.

“There are only certain ways to transport any liquid or gaseous product,” Flores said. “You can do it by truck, you can do it by rail or you can do it by pipeline, and if you look at the safety statistics for those three methods, you’ll find out that pipelines are by far the safest and most environmentally friendly solution.”

Flores also said that when opponents of pipelines present statistics regarding safety, they fail to show the safety records of alternatives to pipelines.

Protesters also expressed concern over a press release from Flores’s office, which stated that the congressman approves of President Donald Trump’s executive action regarding the pipelines and that the Obama administration was catering to “radical special interest groups” by halting construction on DAPL and Keystone XL.

“What I was referring to was environmental groups, like Greenpeace,” Flores said. “When I say radical, they also [bring up] a bunch of red herring excuses that this pipeline is going to cause environmental problems and that it’s going to go across tribal lands… which it does not. [That] was all false.”

Flores said his comments were misinterpreted to be referring to Native Americans, and the congressman apologized that they had been interpreted as such.

Protesters also said they favored clean energy solutions over pipelines on the grounds that clean energy does not have environmental repercussions and would create more jobs for American workers.

“If people want long term jobs, I think we need to move forward with clean energy,” Farrar said.

Flores said he is a supporter of clean energy solutions. He said he does not think that current clean energy solutions are efficient. Flores is the largest residential producer of solar energy in Brazos County, but he said his solar installation will never pay itself off. He believes it is irresponsible to push for clean energy solutions that are not economically responsible.

In addition to concerns regarding DAPL, protesters also expressed concern about executive action on the border wall and immigration. Flores expressed willingness to talk to concerned citizens about immigration issues. He also complimented the protesters on exercising their right to express their concerns to their elected officials.