All Against the HaulA coalition campaign fighting Tar Sands expansion
2011 saw some big wins in the fight to transition to a sustainable energy economy. One notable campaign was led by All Against the Haul, a four-state coalition focused on stopping the construction of a permanent industrial corridor for the transportation of oversized mining and construction equipment to the Alberta Tar Sands through four U.S. states: Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.
In July 2011 the campaign won a temporary injunction, preventing the project from proceeding due to unfulfilled requirements with respect to environmental protection.
The campaign’s organizers attribute their success to many factors. Says WDN member Suzie Estep, “We used a multipronged simultaneous assault on many fronts; the courts, our supporters (and our) political capital, grassroots organizing, and the press.”
They even managed the publication of a fast-response book by two famous outdoor writers, David James Duncan and Rick Bass, and direct negotiations with Exxon Mobil/imperial Oil.
Multiple pipeline accidents in the previous two years (including one on the Yellowstone River just prior to the decision) were also likely factors in building opposition to the project.
All Against the Haul was started after a Women Donors Network (WDN) trip to Montana in June of 2010, in which WDN members were exposed to compelling stories from Native communities about the devastating impact of the Tar Sands on their livelihoods. Native communities are being poisoned by the by-products of the tar sands strip-mining and live in fear of accidents that contaminate land that species they depend on – such as fish, deer, elk and caribou – need to survive and thrive.
WDN’s Earth Circle, which focuses on environmental issues, raised about $40,000 in critical seed funding to start the campaign, which included legal, public education and grassroots organizing strategies.
With about $225,000 total, All Against the Haul raised awareness about the project in the areas affected and through a website, radio ads and innovative use of social media. They hired lawyers who filed lawsuits challenging the project, and engaged federal legislators to be advocates against the project.
The genius of the campaign may have been their early realization that success was going to depend on mobilizing a broad constituency and not just the “usual suspects.” Given the tough economic times, they were going to need a powerful campaign to counter the oil industry’s claims about the jobs potentially created by the project.
The campaign reached out to ranchers, tourist organizations, truckers, Native American communities as well as those concerned about the environment, ending up with more than 70 coalition partners. The unity built among disparate interests was critical to beating such powerful opponents.
The turning point in the campaign happened with the presentation of an engineering report to the Federal Highway Administration in Washington DC. Senator Jon Tester’s Chief of Staff arranged a meeting between WDN member Trish Weber and the engineering department at the FHA, and she presented the report. This meeting resulted in an email to the Montana Department of Transportation expressing the Senator’s concerns about the methods used to determine that transporting the loads over Montana bridges was safe.
Currently, All Against the Haul is awaiting a final decision from the courts, but Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer has publicly stated that Exxon/imperial will not be transporting mega loads on the state’s two-lane highways.
All Against the Haul was formed to cut off this “tentacle” of the monster they call the tar sands. They supported the fight against the XL Pipeline project, (which was recently denied a permit to build without additional environmental study). Eyes are now turned to Canada and the pipeline that is planned there, and All Against the Haul is collaborating with Honor the Earth to help the First Nations of Canada fight for their rights to protect their homeland.
The lesson All Against the Haul took from this campaign, according to Estep, is that “you can do anything, as long as you want to do it badly enough.”