A top state official is blasting protesters who oppose a massive new pipeline in East Texas as "eco-anarchists" and part of the "environmental lunatic fringe."
The comments of State Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson come as protests intensify against the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project, part of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
If you've heard of the controversial Keystone XL — from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico — then you might think President Barack Obama put the whole project on hold. But 485 miles of it are being built right now in East Texas.
"I'd like to think that other Texans, when they see me doing this and others doing it, are inspired to take action in a similar way,” said a masked, unnamed protester who was living in a tree in an effort to stop the construction.
He is one of dozens attempting to physically block the progress of a $2.3 billion construction behemoth. It's the first leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline, owned by a company called TransCanada. Eventually, it will carry tar sands oil from Canada to Houston-area refineries.
But it has to go through East Texas first.
"The intention of this sit-in is to slow TransCanada from continuing the process of putting that pipe in the ground for as long as I possibly can,” the protester said from his treetop perch.
Also trying to halt the massive trench digging are protesters including actress Daryl Hannah. She jumped in front of a shovel and was arrested last week.
In a statement, Texas Land Commissioner Patterson ripped Hannah, saying she's getting "more press than she's received since she played a mermaid in a movie a couple decades ago."
Patterson also said TransCanada has "treated Texas land owners with integrity and respect.”
Protesters like Ron Seifert with the Tar Sands Blockade, disagree. "We're growing and amplifying the story that TransCanada has defrauded people here," he said. "They're trespassing on our land — not the other way around."
TransCanada maintains it has the legal right to build its pipeline, and has paid landowners to dig up 50 foot wide strips of their land.
But now, some of those East Texas land owners wish they'd held out.
"This is not just about my land. It's about all of our country. It needs to be stopped,” said property owner Eleanor Fairchild in a YouTube video posted by the protesters.
While pipeline opponents say the line will leak and spoil East Texas lakes and rivers, TransCanada says this is the most highly regulated and safest pipeline ever — and they promise it will be built.
"While yes, they can tie up a piece of equipment for some number of hours, that equipment moves on, because there's plenty of work to be done,” said TransCanada spokesman David Dodson.
Sometimes, the protesters move on, too. Shortly after interviewing the masked man in the tree, he was gone.
Turns out the landowner cut a deal with TransCanada to limit damage in the nature preserve. The pipeline's path was moved 30 feet underground.
But with a bitterly contested pipeline nearly 500 miles long, this likely won't be the last news conference called from the treetops.