WASHINGTON, DC, February 13, 2013 (ENS) – Today, 48 prominent environmental, civil rights, and community leaders from across the country demonstrated at the White House demanding that President Barack Obama reject TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and address the climate crisis.
After attaching themselves to the fence in front of the White House, blocking a main thoroughfare and refusing to move when asked by police, the activists were arrested and transported to Anacostia for processing by the U.S. Park Police Department.
In his State of the Union Address last night, President Obama pledged to take executive action to curb climate change and asked Congress to pass market-based measures to curb U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
TransCanada proposes to construct the 1,179-mile Keystone XL Pipeline from the tar sands of northern Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska.
The ultimate decision rests with President Obama, who must issue a Presidential Permit for the pipeline to cross the Canada-U.S. border. The President denied the pipeline a permit in January 2012 but allowed Transcanada to reapply.
Obama was not at the White House during the demonstration; he was speaking about strengthening American manufacturing at a factory in Asheville, North Carolina.
Among those involved in the civil disobedience were Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of Waterkeeper Alliance; Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club; Julian Bond, former president of the civil rights organization NAACP; Nebraska rancher Randy Thompson; Andre Carothers, Board Chair of the Rainforest Action Network; actress Daryl Hannah and NASA scientist James Hansen.
Hansen has said, “The Keystone pipeline spells game over for the climate. If we don’t act, this massive 1700-mile pipeline would allow some of the world’s dirtiest oil to travel from Canada’s tar sands through America’s heartland – jeopardizing our water, our air, and our climate.”
The activists argue that if approved, the Keystone XL pipeline would send future greenhouse gas emissions skyrocketing by triggering a growth boom in the tar sands industry in Canada.
Also on the protest line was Bill McKibben, founder of the climate action organization 350.org. The group takes its name from scientists’ statement that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide, CO2, in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity. The atmospheric concentration of CO2 reached 391 ppm in October 2012.
“We really shouldn’t have to be put on handcuffs to stop Keystone XL,” said McKibben today. “Our nation’s leading climate scientists have told us it’s dangerous folly, and all the recent Nobel Peace laureates have urged us to set a different kind of example for the world, so the choice should be obvious.”
“But given the amount of money on the other side, we’ve had to spend our bodies, and we’ll probably have to spend them again,” he said.
“The threat to our planet’s climate is both grave and urgent,” said Bond. “Although President Obama has declared his own determination to act, much that is within his power to accomplish remains undone, and the decision to allow the construction of a pipeline to carry millions of barrels of the most-polluting oil on Earth from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf Coast of the U.S. is in his hands.”
“I am proud today to stand before my fellow citizens and declare, ‘I am willing to go to jail to stop this wrong,'” Bond said. “The environmental crisis we face today demands nothing less.”
“For the first time in the Sierra Club’s 120-year history, we have joined the ranks of visionaries of the past and present to engage in civil disobedience, knowing that the issue at hand is so critical, it compels the strongest defensible action,” said Brune.
“We cannot afford to allow the production, transport, export and burning of the dirtiest oil on Earth via the Keystone XL pipeline,” Brune said. “President Obama must deny the pipeline and take decisive steps to address climate disruption, the most significant issue of our time.”
Said Thompson, a cattle buyer who is the face of the Nebraska anti-pipeline campaign Stand with Randy, “I feel very strongly that this pipeline represents an assault on the individual property rights of American citizens.”
“There is something inherently wrong about the idea of American landowners being forced to subsidize the private enterprise of a foreign corporation with land that their families have earned through generations of hard work and determination,” Thompson said.
“Secondly,” said Thompson, “I feel that the KXL presents a real threat to some of our nation’s most valuable natural resources, especially our rivers, streams and underground aquifers. These are priceless American assets that no amount of oil money, foreign or otherwise, could ever replace.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that this tar sands pipeline will boost annual U.S. carbon pollution emissions by up to 27.6 million metric tons – the impact of adding nearly six million cars on the road.
The demonstrators point to new research by Oil Change International showing that the EPA underestimates the impact of tar sands by some 13 percent, because the tar sands yield more petroleum coke than conventional crude oil, and petcoke is more carbon-intensive than coal.
Many organizations that did not send representatives to the demonstration are dead set against the Keystone XL pipeline as well.
This week, National Nurses United issued a statement against the Keystone XL pipeline, citing public health concerns. The 185,000 member organization said, “NNU is particularly concerned about the impact of climate change in hastening the spread of infectious disease, waterborne and food borne pathogens, and air pollution which already lead to significant health problems across the U.S.”
The role the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would have on air pollution, climate change, and risk of spills, like the one in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, all contributed to their position, said the NNU.
McKibben wrote in an op-ed this week, “Keystone is the only environmental issue that has drawn large numbers of activists into the streets across the country in many years. It spawned the largest civil disobedience action in 30 years in this country, when 1,253 people went to jail in opposition in the summer of 2011. It gave rise to the biggest one-day communications push in congressional history, when 800,000 Americans flooded D.C. offices with emails and faxes.”
The next Keystone XL protest is set for February 17. To date, 30,000 Americans have signed up to participate in this “Forward on Climate” rally asking President Obama to reject the pipeline.
The demonstrators are pressing the Obama Administration not just to reject the pipeline, but also for more comprehensive action to stem climate change.
Carothers said, “To be clear, putting an end to the Keystone XL pipeline is just our first demand. When I say this is the year for climate action, I mean it. This is the year to push to limit carbon pollution from our nation’s dirty power plants, move beyond coal and natural gas, and fire up our clean energy economy.”
“As we’ve seen with the Keystone pipeline,” he said, “it takes strategic, powerful grassroots opposition from all sides, spanning from First Nations in Alberta to farmers in Nebraska – from loud online actions to the 40+ of us at the White House here today.”