Texas oil magnate sits out pipeline vote after protests

Dakota Access Pipeline protest in Austin (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)
Dakota Access Pipeline protest in Austin (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Environmental advocates blasted a Gov. Abbott appointee over a “conflict of interest” on a small pipeline vote in east Texas.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission called in extra game wardens and state troopers as shouting protesters interrupted their Austin public meeting several times. Protesters had their sights on Commissioner Kelcy Warren, the oil magnate behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, who recused himself from a smaller pipeline vote Thursday afternoon.

The issue at hand at the Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting was approving a petro-chemical pipeline easement through JD Murphree Wildlife Management Area near Port Arthur. The vote was tabled after Warren and Commissioner Ana Galo both said they had too many ties to the vote.

Protesters chanted all morning, drawing a connection between this vote in Texas and the fight over the nearly $4 billion Dakota Access Pipeline. In North Dakota, the supporters of the Standing Rock Native American Reservation hold up construction of a oil pipeline going from North Dakota to other parts of the Midwest. The city of Bismarck was able to get the project moved earlier this year because water contamination concerns.

Warren is the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the company currently in a stand-off between the federal government and Native American supporters.

He has also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Gov. Greg Abbott, who appointed him to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in 2015. The Governor’s Office did not return a request for comment on the “conflict of interest.”

“We can’t trust this commission as long as Kelcy Warren is sitting here at this dais,” Dr. Tane Ward from the Sierra Club told commissioners during the public comment period.

Several times people openly taunted Warren as speaker after speaker came to say it was a conflict of interest for him to vote on any pipeline. After a brief recess, Commissioner Galo came back and said her ranch had recent dealings with a business associated with the company asking for the easement. Then Commissioner Warren told the audience, “From what I’ve heard here today, I believe it would be appropriate for me to recuse myself also.”

Warren agreed to meet with a tribal leader to address other issues in connection to the pipeline in North Dakota. The Texas proposal will be re-worked and possibly brought up again later. “Work on the language of the proposal and then if we can make it work at our next scheduled commission meeting then we can put it on the agenda then,” said Josh Havens, the communication director of the Parks and Wildlife Commission.

Commissioner Warren declined to speak to us through a spokesperson. Warren’s company is also behind the Trans-Pecos pipeline in the Big Bend region.

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