Tag Archives: Oklahoma

Liberal justices condemn death penalty in lethal-injection case

Rancor over America’s use of capital punishment erupted at the U.S Supreme Court on June 29, the final day of its annual session, as four justices read dueling opinions aloud and two suggested the outright abolition of the death penalty.

Justice Stephen Breyer, speaking for himself and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said the safeguards that accompanied the 1976 high-court reinstatement of the death penalty have failed. Breyer said more than 100 death row convicts had been exonerated in recent decades and some innocent people had been wrongly put to death.

One example he cited: Henry Lee McCollum, who was exonerated by DNA evidence last year after 30 years on North Carolina’s death row.

“We believe it highly likely that the death penalty now violates the Constitution,” Breyer said.

Not since 1994 and the retirement of Justice Harry Blackmun, whom Breyer succeeded, have any of the nine sitting justices found capital punishment entirely unconstitutional. Blackmun declared his view just before he retired. Earlier, only Justices William Brennan, who served 1956-1990, and Thurgood Marshall, 1967-1991, consistently opposed the death penalty.

The sentiment of liberals Breyer and Ginsburg, who said the ultimate punishment may disproportionately affect defendants based on race and the state in which they live, is unlikely to change the majority view on the nine-justice bench. Yet it provided a dramatic high-point to the court’s already-momentous term and sparked reaction from both sides of the national death-penalty debate.

The conservative wing prevailed as the court ruled 5-4 that Oklahoma’s lethal injection mix did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Three condemned inmates had challenged the first drug of a standard three-drug protocol, a sedative called midazolam. They said it failed to achieve the level of unconsciousness required for the subsequent injection of two drugs that paralyze an inmate and stop his heart and are known to cause burning pain.

Speaking for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said the inmates failed to prove the ineffectiveness of midazolam or to offer alternative methods that might entail less pain.

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who spoke next, criticized the court’s conservatives for endorsing “the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake.”

Sotomayor said the majority had wrongly added a new hurdle to death-sentence challenges, requiring proof of an alternative. A “barbarous” method, she said, does not become less so because it is the only method available.

After Breyer spoke, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia simply could not resist dissenting from Breyer’s dissent.

Scalia invoked the liberals’ win in last week’s gay marriage case and said the death penalty, unlike same-sex marriage, has been permitted under the Constitution for centuries.

Court backs lethal injection in Oklahoma death penalty case

The U.S. Supreme Court on June 29 dealt a setback to opponents of the death penalty, endorsing Oklahoma’s method of lethal injection.

June 29 marked the conclusion of the court’s 2014-2015 term.

In two big rulings last week, the justices made gay marriage legal nationwide and rejected a conservative challenge to a key element of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

On June 29, the court ruled 5-4, with its five conservatives in the majority, that a drug used by Oklahoma as part of its lethal injection procedure does not violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The ruling was a loss for three convicted murders on the state’s death row, Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole. They had objected to the use of a sedative called midazolam, saying it cannot achieve the level of unconsciousness required for surgery, making it unsuitable for executions.

The three-drug process used by Oklahoma prison officials has been under scrutiny since the April 2014 botched execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett. He could be seen twisting on the gurney after death chamber staff failed to place the intravenous line properly.

The case did not address the constitutionality of the death penalty in general, but it brought fresh attention to the ongoing debate over whether the death penalty should continue in the United States. The main question before the nine justices was whether the use of midazolam violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the first time indicated they believe the death penalty is unconstitutional.

“We believe it highly likely that the death penalty now violates the Eighth Amendment,” Breyer said in a statement he read from the bench.

Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia called Breyer’s arguments full of “internal contradictions” and “gobbledy-gook.”

State to state activists campaign against ex-gay therapy

Advocates for LGBT youth succeeded in March in thwarting a campaign in Oklahoma to give statutory protection to those who practice so-called “ex-gay” therapy on minors. 

No major medical or mental health associations endorse the therapy, which is dangerous and characterized by some leading health professionals as child abuse.

Republican state Rep. Sally Kern introduced the Oklahoma bill, intending to legitimize conversion therapy and provide state sanction for the practice denounced by the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association. Kern’s bill was the first of its kind and a direct response to the movement to outlaw “ex-gay” therapy for minors in other states.

“It’s not often that we can say defeating a piece of legislation actually saved lives, but with HB 1598, that is exactly what happened,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, a statewide LGBT civil rights group.

The bill died without reaching a vote in the House.

Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, said, “Stopping this bill was an incredibly important victory for LGBT youth in Oklahoma. So-called ‘conversion therapy’ uses fear and shame, telling young people that the only way to find love or acceptance is to change the very nature of why they are. Psychological abuse has no place in therapy, no matter the intention.”

HRC and the National Center for Lesbian Rights are working with state LGBT civil rights groups to advance legislation banning “ex-gay” therapy for minors. California was the first state to enact such legislation, followed by New Jersey and the District of Columbia, where a ban went into effect this year.

This year, efforts to pass legislation against “ex-gay” therapy are underway in the states surrounding Wisconsin — Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois — and also Virginia, Colorado and Texas.

“Time and again we see the psychological wreckage of so-called conversion therapy and it has to stop,” said Chuck Smith of the statewide group Equality Texas. “Even one-time champions of this dangerous technique have changed their minds as the evidence piles up that such ‘therapy’ doesn’t work and, worse, is dangerous.”

#BornPerfect

The National Center for Lesbian Rights based in San Francisco is campaigning to end conversion therapy — so-called “ex-gay” therapy — with a strategy that includes advancing legislation and public education.

The campaign is called #BornPerfect.

To get involved, go online to nclrights.org.

— Lisa Neff

Judge dismisses suit over Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument

A federal judge earlier this week dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a privately funded Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma Capitol.

The lawsuit filed by a New Jersey-based nonprofit group, American Atheists Inc., and two of its members in January 2014 alleged the monument violated the First Amendment’s prohibition of government sanctioning of a specific religion, as well as other constitutional rights. U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron ruled that the group lacked legal standing to file the lawsuit.

An attorney for the group, Eric O. Husby of Tampa, Florida, said he disagrees with the ruling but that no decision has been made to appeal.

Cauthron’s decision was hailed by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, whose office defended the monument.

“The historical relevance of the Ten Commandments and the role it played in the founding of our nation cannot be disputed,” Pruitt said in a statement.

It’s the second time that Pruitt’s office has successfully defended the monument against constitutional challenges. In September, Oklahoma County District Judge Thomas Prince ruled that the monument does not violate the state constitution and can remain. The ruling has been appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The original 6-foot-tall granite monument was erected in 2012 after a bill authorizing it was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature. That monument was destroyed in October when a car drove across the Capitol lawn and crashed into it. A replica was installed in January.

Since the monument’s placement on the Capitol grounds, other groups have asked to erect their own monuments, including a satanic group, a Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Oklahoma governor: no executions without new rules

New procedures to improve Oklahoma’s execution process must be implemented before the state resumes putting prisoners to death by lethal injection, Gov. Mary Fallin said after investigators presented their findings about an April case in which the inmate writhed and moaned on the gurney.

In its report released Sept. 4 about the troubled April 29 execution of Clayton Lockett  —  who was declared dead 43 minutes after his execution began  —  the state Department of Public Safety made 11 recommendations include more training for medical personnel and having additional supplies of lethal drugs and equipment on hand.

Corrections Director Robert Patton is reviewing the guidelines, Fallin said, adding that she expects the department to implement them before executions resume. Three executions have been set for November and December, the first on Nov. 13.

The governor said she still believes the death penalty is a just punishment for those guilty of the most heinous crimes, but that the state must make sure it’s carried out effectively.

“If I am assured as governor that those protocols are in place … then we can look forward to returning to executions. But until all of those protocols have been put in place, we won’t be having executions,” Fallin said.

Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie said Patton had no immediate comment. But Michael Thompson, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, echoed Fallin.

“The last thing we want to do is rush this and have an issue come up where we’re not prepared for an execution,” Thompson said.

Fallin said the report verified what authorities had believed: “There were significant complications establishing an IV line in Clayton Lockett.” The report blamed Lockett’s flawed lethal injection on poor placement of intravenous lines. The medical team could not find suitable veins in Lockett’s arms, legs, neck and feet, leading them to insert it in his groin, the report said.

Out of modesty, no one monitored the intravenous line, a job that is the normal duty of Oklahoma State Penitentiary Warden Anita Trammel, who decided to cover Lockett’s body  —  and the IV  —  with a sheet. When it became apparent the execution wasn’t progressing normally, the execution team pulled back the sheet and noticed a swelling larger than a golf ball near the injection site.

“Those involved with the execution stated that they could have noticed the problem earlier if they had been monitoring the insertion site during that time,” lead investigator Capt. Jason Holt said.

Oklahoma also used the sedative midazolam for the first time in Lockett’s execution, but Thompson said all three drugs  —  midazolam, vercuronium bromide and potassium chloride  —  worked as planned.

Midazolam was also used in lengthy attempts to execute an Ohio inmate in January and an Arizona prisoner last month. Each time, witnesses said the inmates appeared to gasp after their executions began and labored for air before being pronounced dead.

Thompson said no single person was to blame for the problems in the execution and no charges are being considered, leading critics to charge that the report does not address accountability.

“It protects the chain of command,” said Assistant Federal Public Defender Dale Baich, an attorney who represents 21 death row inmates who have sued the state Department of Corrections to block their executions.

“Once the execution was clearly going wrong, it should have been stopped, but it wasn’t,” Baich said in a statement. “Whoever allowed the execution to continue needs to be held accountable.”

Patton, who had halted the execution, had said Lockett died of a heart attack, but autopsy results released last week said he died from the drugs.

Lockett had been convicted of shooting Stephanie Nieman, 19, with a sawed — off shotgun and watching as two accomplices buried her alive in 1999.

U.S. appeals court rules for marriage equality in Oklahoma case

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit on July 18 upheld the decision from U.S. District Judge Terence Kern that Oklahoma’s constitutional amendment barring marriage for same-sex couples violates the U.S. Constitution.

“Today’s decision means that my husband and I can travel ‘home’ and know that our family will be treated with the same fairness and dignity as any other married couple,” said Don Howerton a board member of Marriage Equality USA as he cheered the ruling. “Oklahoma is a big part of who I am — I was born and raised there, went to the University of Oklahoma, and have many friends and family there.” 

The 2-1 decision from the panel was written by Judge Carlos Lucero, who was appointed by President George W. Bush. The judges ruled, “State bans on the licensing of same-sex marriage significantly burden the fundamental right to marry.”

Earlier this summer, the same panel of judges ruled for marriage equality in a case from Utah, Kitchen v. Herbert, which is on track to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Oklahoma can either request a review before the full bench of the Tenth Circuit, it can appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court or it can follow the ruling.

The Oklahoma case involves two couples — Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin and Gay Phillips and Susan Barton — who in November 2004 sued the state for enforcing an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution that prohibits the state from performing or recognizing marriages between same-sex couples. The suit also initially challenged the federal Defense of Marriage Act but the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key sections of that law last summer.

The federal district court ruled in favor of the couples in mid-January. Soon after that, the state appealed.

The plaintiffs in Bishop v. Smith are represented by attorneys from Holladay & Chilton PLLC, Jennings Cook & Teague PC, Studebaker & Worley PLLC, and Phillip Craig Bailey.

Responding to the news, Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign, said, “For years, the plaintiffs in this case and their attorneys have argued on behalf of equality and justice in the court room. Today’s victory brings us ever closer to the day when all committed and loving gay and lesbian couples have the right to marry the person they love, regardless of what state they call home.”

He added, “There’s no question that the U.S. Supreme Court must take up the issue to decide once and for all whether or not states can continue to treat committed and loving gay and lesbian couples as second class citizens.”

There are more than 70 court cases challenging marriage bans across the country. Cases from 11 states are currently pending before five federal appeals court. Since the Supreme Court’s historic marriage rulings last year, there have been 17 consecutive federal court decisions that bans on marriage equality are unconstitutional.

Cases pending before federal appeals courts:

• Bostic v. Schaefer, Virginia [Arguments at the Fourth Circuit heard May 13]

• DeLeon v. Perry, Texas [Argument date at the Fifth Circuit not set]

• Tanco v. Haslam, Tennessee [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for Aug. 6]

• Bourke vs. Beshear, Kentucky [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for Aug. 6]

• Obergefell v. Kasich, Ohio [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for Aug. 6]

• Henry v. Himes, Ohio [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for Aug. 6]

• DeBoer v. Snyder, Michigan [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for Aug. 6]

• Wolf v. Walker, Wisconsin [Arguments at the Seventh Circuit set for Aug. 13]

• Baskin v. Bogan, Indiana [Arguments at the Seventh Circuit set for Aug. 13]

• Sevcik v. Sandoval, Nevada [Argument at the Ninth Circuit set for Sept. 8

• Latta v. Otter, Idaho [Argument at the Ninth Circuit set for Sept. 8]

• Jackson v. Abercrombie, Hawaii [Argument at the Ninth Circuit set for Sept. 8]

Cases petitioned to the U.S. Supreme Court:

• Kitchen v. Herbert, Utah [Tenth Circuit struck down marriage ban June 25]

Oklahoma marriage equality case goes before U.S. appeals court

Lawyers for two Oklahoma women and the county clerk who would not give them a marriage license go before a federal appeals court with a familiar question for the judges: Did the state’s voters single out gay people for unfair treatment when they defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman?

The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard similar issues in a Utah case last week, giving Oklahoma lawyers a preview of what questions they might face.

“Essentially, (the cases) are not that different,” said Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Byron Babione, who is representing Tulsa County Clerk Sally Howe Smith. “Both of them involve challenges to state marriage amendments that were passed by an overwhelming majority of the people.”

Babione said Smith’s legal team was encouraged by hard questions posed by the 10th Circuit judges last week, saying they seemed tailored to the argument that a state’s residents have the right to define marriage how they see fit.

But lawyers for Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin might look to questions posed by U.S. Circuit Judge Jerome A. Holmes, who asked whether Utah’s same-sex marriage ban was similar to Virginia’s former ban on interracial marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down that ban 47 years ago.

Holmes also said, however, that gay marriages are a new concept for courts to address and that perhaps it is best to defer to the democratic process unless there is a compelling reason to step in.

U.S. District Judge Terence Kern of Tulsa ruled in January that Oklahoma’s ban violated the equal protection clause in the U.S. Constitution. He immediately stayed his ruling, preventing any same-sex marriages from taking place while the ruling was appealed. In contrast, more than 1,000 gay couples in Utah married before the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to issue a stay.

Kern rejected an attempt by another couple, Susan Barton and Gay Phillips, to have their California marriage recognized in Oklahoma. Kern said Barton and Phillips sued the wrong person.

The Utah and Oklahoma cases are very similar: both involve bans on same-sex marriage passed by a majority of voters in 2004 – 76 percent in Oklahoma and 66 percent in Utah – and both bans were struck down by federal judges within a month of one another in December and January. The legal arguments for and against the ban are also similar.

Baldwin said her lawyer attended last week’s arguments and believes it went well.

“I think we were struck by how, frankly, it’s the same old arguments they’ve been using all along that have been so unsuccessful,” said Baldwin. “They make it sound as though there are a limited number of marriage licenses and if they start handing out marriage licenses willy-nilly to same-sex couples who can’t have a child, then what is that going to do to procreation? Well, it’s not going to do anything to procreation. People who still want to have children will still have children.”

It’s not clear when the three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit will issue its rulings. The judges will likely issue separate rulings, but they may come on the same day. The losing sides could appeal to the full 10th Circuit Court of Appeals or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Appeals court hears arguments today in Utah marriage equality case

With its recent string of high-profile victories in federal court, the gay marriage movement is hoping to build momentum to help it attain its long-held goal: A Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

But first they must convince federal appellate courts of the merits of their case.

That quest begins today (April 10) in Denver and continues next week when a three-judge panel will hear arguments on whether they should uphold separate rulings by two federal judges that threw out same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma.

They do so, however, in a climate far different than 2004, when voters overwhelmingly approved the prohibitions in both states.

After the U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that a law forbidding the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional, eight federal judges in all have struck down state bans on gay marriage or on the recognition of same-sex marriages from other states.

As the panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals considers the Utah case today (April 10), experts say pressure is on the judges at a time when polls show a majority of Americans backing same-sex unions.

“The challenge for conservative judge would be: Do you want to be the only court of appeals that upholds discrimination that the country is rapidly galloping to renounce?” William Eskridge, a law professor at Yale University, said. “The handwriting is on the wall.”

Opponents say that shouldn’t factor into the judges’ calculations.

“There are strong political factors that seem to be driving these district court decisions,” said Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., adding that expectations that the Supreme Court will ultimately find that gays have the right to marry may also feed into it.

“It’s not the job of lower courts to predict where the Supreme Court will go,” he said.

Despite the legal momentum, attorneys say it is distinctly possible the 10th Circuit could rule against gay marriage backers and argue the issue is best settled at the ballot box.

“It’s an institutional argument that we’ve seen at the Supreme Court and we’ve seen in state litigation,” Douglas NeJaime, a law professor at the University of California-Irvine, said. “If the court wanted to not say something about the merits, but uphold the ban, they could go that direction.”

The three judges picked randomly to hear the case, and next week’s appeal of the ruling that struck down an Oklahoma gay marriage ban, include two Republicans and one Democrat.

One of the Republicans, Jerome A. Holmes, appointed by President George W. Bush, initially voted against staying the trial court’s ruling, which allowed more than 1,000 gay couples to wed in Utah in December before the Supreme Court stepped in and stayed the initial ruling.

The other two judges are Carlos F. Lucero, appointed by President Bill Clinton, and Paul J. Kelly, Jr., appointed by President George H.W. Bush.

Kenneth Upton, an attorney with the Lambda Legal Defense Fund who watches the 10th Circuit carefully, said the panel is a perfect representation of a court that is generally moderate and centrist.

“If you wanted to pick a panel where you could do a straw poll of the judiciary, this is a pretty good sample,” Upton said.

It will likely be months before the panel issues a ruling, which will become law in the six states in its jurisdiction unless it is stayed. Those states are Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming. New Mexico’s Supreme Court has already legalized gay marriage in that state.

Even if the panel upholds the lower court’s decision, the argument will only be settled when it moves one more level up to the Supreme Court. The high court could get a case either from the 10th circuit or one of the at least four other appeals courts scheduled to consider the issue.

Still, both sides say the stakes are high today.

“Having a victory from the 10th Circuit would be electrifying,” said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is representing the plaintiffs in the Utah case. “It would be extremely encouraging and help continue the incredible momentum.”

Jim Campbell, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents religious organizations, said: “The stakes are whether the people can continue to define marriage as between a man and a woman.”

Lawyers for Utah and several other organizations that have filed briefs supporting the state’s side argue the ban should stand because the state has a right to promote marriage between a man and a woman, which is optimal for childrearing.

The plaintiffs and gay rights proponents counter there is little data backing up the state’s case on parenting and that the ban improperly deprives gay couples of the right to marriage.

The Supreme Court sounded skeptical of the childrearing argument in its ruling last year, noting that gay couples raise children who are harmed by their parents’ marriages not being recognized. The state Wednesday night filed papers distancing itself from a study it cited that purported to show children of heterosexual parents did better than children of gay ones.

Underscoring the political pressure in the case, a pro-gay marriage group began airing ads supporting same-sex weddings in Colorado, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. About 200 gay marriage supporters Wednesday night held a rally outside the Denver courthouse where the hearing will occur.

The gay marriage movement is moving so quickly that several new lawsuits challenging state same-sex marriage bans are filed each month. The latest came Wednesday in North Carolina.

Andrew Koppelman, a law professor at Northwestern University, said that societal change has made the final outcome inevitable.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in this case, but it’s clear that the same-sex marriage movement has won,” Koppelman said. “Federal judges know that. You bring these cases before them, and they don’t want to say `No.'”

Tenth Circuit set to hear Utah, Oklahoma marriage cases this month

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit on April 10 will hear arguments in the appeal of a federal ruling overturning Utah’s constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage.

The arguments will be heard by a three-judge panel.

Then, on April 17, the Tenth Circuit will hear arguments on a federal ruling overturning Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The three judges who will hear the Utah case are Paul Kelly Jr, who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush and confirmed in 1992, Carlos Lucero, who was nominated by President Bill Clinton and confirmed in 1995 and Jerome Holmes, who was nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed in 2006.

Holmes was one of two judges who denied the state of Utah’s request for a stay after the district court judge ruled against the marriage ban.

The Human Rights Campaign, in its latest tally of marriage equality lawsuits, says there are at least 55 cases pending in 28 states — including in Wisconsin — and Puerto Rico. There are 250 plaintiffs challenging the anti-gay laws.

There are seven other cases at the federal appeals court level and they are challenging bans in Nevada, Texas, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan.

The only states with anti-gay marriage laws not facing lawsuits are Alaska, Georgia, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Save the dates from HRC: 

• Kitchen v. Herbert, Utah, Tenth Circuit: April 10
• Bishop v. Smith, Oklahoma, Tenth Circuit: April 17
• Bostic v. Schaefer, Virginia, Fourth Circuit: May 13
• The first filings in Love v. Beshear (Kentucky) and Tanco v. Haslam (Tennessee), both in the sixth circuit, are due on May 7. Oral arguments have not been set yet.

Southern section of controversial Keystone XL pipeline opens

TransCanada began delivering oil from a hub in Cushing, Okla., to customers in Nederland, Texas, early Jan. 22. The company expects to complete a smaller pipeline that will transport oil from Nederland to refineries near Houston later this year.

The $2.3 billion pipeline from Cushing to Texas is the Gulf Coast — or southern portion — of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

The longer Keystone XL, which would transport heavy tar sands crude from Canada and oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale, requires a permit from the Obama administration because it crosses an international border. That $5.4 billion segment has not yet been approved. The president fast-tracked the shorter, southern portion of the pipeline with the hope of relieving a bottleneck in Oklahoma.

The pipeline has been mired in controversy. Opponents and landowners argue that tar sands oil is heavier and dirtier than other forms of crude, meaning that any spill would be harder to clean up and that the refining process will be dirtier.

TransCanada, determined to push ahead with the larger pipeline project, touted the thousands of jobs created by the construction of the Gulf Coast portion, and countered opponents’ claims that the tar sands are dirty and could increase global greenhouse gas emissions — a concern Barack Obama has also mentioned.

“It will be the safest pipeline in the U.S. to date,” Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer, said, adding that this project “is good for America and good for Americans.” He said it is a modern pipeline that is better built than any other in U.S. history.

“This is the same kind of benefit the Keystone XL will deliver,” he added.

But landowners and residents in Texas and in areas that would be traversed by Keystone said their fight is not over.

Texas landowner Julia Trigg Crawford has been fighting the construction of the pipeline across her family’s farm. She argues that Calgary-based TransCanada did not have the right to take her land through eminent domain, and her case is currently in the Texas Supreme Court.

Furious that the pipeline now snakes under her land, Crawford vowed in a conference call with the press to walk her farm daily looking for leaks or other problems.

“It’s a very sad day for me,” Crawford said.

Crawford met with other pipeline opponents earlier this month and officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to discuss a variety of problems the agency found while the pipeline was being built. The agency has said the pipeline is safe and that all problems have been resolved.

But Crawford said that when she asked whether an agency inspector had looked at the portion of pipeline on her property, the agency was unable to answer her question. At the moment, she said, it appears that only TransCanada’s inspectors have been on her land, which is “like me owning a restaurant and having the health department inspector on my payroll.”

Jane Kleeb, of Bold Nebraska, a group that has opposed the Keystone pipeline, said the Gulf Coast segment presented a “huge risk” to people along the route noting problems flagged by the federal pipeline regulator during construction.

“Citizens are watching this pipeline like a hawk,” Kleeb vowed.

As are environmental groups such as the Sierra Club. The group’s executive director, Michael Brune, issued a statement on Jan. 22 that read in part, “At a time when America is making huge strides on wind and solar power, this dangerous and unnecessary tar sands pipeline is a step backward when we should be moving forward on clean energy.”

Brune added, “The Corps of Engineers allowed TransCanada to cross thousands of waterways and wetlands without adequate review or safety precautions. Emergency responders are ill-prepared for tar sands pipeline failures like those that devastated Mayflower, AR, and Kalamazoo, MI. And the export of this tar sands crude overseas means that along with more carbon pollution and more poisoned air and water, Americans will see higher gas prices.

“Tar sands is more corrosive, more toxic, and more difficult to clean up than conventional crude. Coupled with lax oversight and TransCanada’s dismal safety record, this pipeline spells bad news for farmers and families whose land, health, and safety were forfeited so that oil companies can reach export markets with their deadly product. The Sierra Club will fight hard to protect the families who are now at risk, and turn the Obama administration’s shortsighted dirty energy policy around.”

Bill McKibben of 350.org, one of the organizations that has rallied coast-to-coast opposition to the pipeline, said, “A shameful day —and a reminder that the Obama administration has boasted too often about how many pipelines they’ve built, how much land they’ve opened to drilling and mining. Expediting KXL south was not the mark of a president who really ‘gets’ climate change.”