On Feb. 17, thousands of protesters gathered in the National Mall to urge President Obama to reject the Keystone Pipeline and honor his inaugural pledge to fight climate change. Among the speakers were Bill McKibben, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Van Jones. Other celebrities at the rally were actresses Evangeline Lilly and Rosario Dawson and hedge fund manager Tom Steyer. Protestors also marched around the White House, chanting “Keystone pipeline? Shut it down.”
Organizers of the Forward on Climate rally estimated that 35,000 to 50,000 people from 30 states took part in what was said to be the biggest climate rally in U.S. history. Police did not verify the crowd size. There were also dozens of smaller rallies across the country, in cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, and St. Louis.
In January 2012, Obama had rejected the original 1700-mile Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Port Arthur, TX, citing the need for environmental review. Governor Dave Heineman of Nebraska had also rejected the original pipeline, saying it would have gone through environmentally sensitive areas, including aquifers. The pipeline’s developer, TransCanada, then broke the project into two parts. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the 485-mile southern section, which would extend from Cushing, OK to the Gulf Coast.
The 1179-mile northern section would extend from Alberta to Steele City, NE. President Obama has not yet approved it. Governor Heineman gave his approval to the rerouted northern section last month, saying it would avoid ecologically sensitive areas and bring jobs. Since then, Obama has faced increasing pressure to approve the project. TransCanada’s president, Russ Girling, went to Washington earlier this month to personally lobby for the billion-dollar project. Many business and labor groups also support the pipeline, saying it would create jobs and lead to energy independence. Opponents of the pipeline, however, point out that most of the resultant oil will be exported to other countries.
Opponents of the pipeline, including the rally’s major organizers, 350.org, the Sierra Club, and the Hip-Hop Caucus, argue that the pipeline would be a “carbon bomb” and thus exacerbate climate change. Some climate scientists maintain that oil extracted from tar sands is dirtier than conventional oil. Jim Murphy, the senior counsel of the National Wildlife Federation, said, “Keystone XL is the key to opening up the expansion of the tar sands industry. By rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, we can keep this toxic oil in the ground.”
The International Energy Agency had recently warned that the global climate could increase by 4°C (7.2° F) before the end of this century. Already, summers with a sea ice-free arctic are only a few years away, according to scientists. That will have permanent affects on weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere.
Safety is another concern. One speaker, Chief Jackie Thomas of the frog clan at Saik’uz in British Columbia, said “Oil will spill; it always does.” TransCanada’s first Keystone pipeline to the Midwest had over a dozen leaks and spills during just its first year.