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June 23, 2014

Woman on trial for chaining herself to construction equipment

NORMAN — Nearly a year and a half after a Norman woman chained herself to construction equipment to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline, her day in court for a trespassing charge is set for Wednesday.

Elisabeth Leja, 75, stayed chained to the TransCanada equipment until authorities came and cut the cable lock she used Feb. 4, 2013 in Okfuskee County. She was arrested and charged with trespassing, but is going to trial over the matter.

“I feel an obligation to do anything I can to make the people of Oklahoma aware of the immanent dangers of global warming,” Leja said.

The retired high school math teacher said she has a good life, few responsibilities and is in good health, but doesn’t want the young members of her family to grow up in a world like she did — a world with changing weather patterns, more spills, higher property taxes and higher cancer rates.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I am not afraid of too many things, but I am scared to death of the rise in global warming,” she said. “I am against the tar sands pipelines, as I am against all fossil fuel extraction.”

Leja said tar sands consist of a mixture of crude bitumen and are found approximately in the center of the province of Alberta in Canada, covering 54,000 square miles — an area the size of the state of Florida. The area has been mined since 1967, but was not found profitable to extract at the time. Innovative methods have been developed since that time, she said.

“People who live downwind of Alberta’s oil and tars sands operations are getting blood cancer, lymphatic cancer and soft tissue cancers,” Leja said.

Citing studies done by researchers from the University of California Irvine and the University of Michigan, she said there were levels of carcinogenic air pollutants found and the levels were 51 times as great upwind. Alberta’s Cancer Board study also said that rates were up 30 percent, she added.

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