Activists arrested at White House protesting Keystone pipeline
February 14, 2013 in Activism
When President Obama spoke about climate change in the State of the Union address Tuesday night, he failed to mention the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which aims to transport heavy crude oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast and which needs his approval for a construction permit.
But that controversial project — which ranks as one of the top climate decisions the president will have to make this year — took center stage Wednesday as 48 activists engaged in civil disobedience at the gates of the White House.
“Whether it’s convenient or not for our politicians, this is the test,” McKibben said in an interview before being arrested, adding that Wednesday’s protest and a climate rally slated to take place Sunday in Washington were designed “just to keep this in front of people’s minds. . . . This is the first environmental issue that’s brought Americans into the streets in many, many years.”
The State Department, which has jurisdiction over the permitting decision, will release a draft environmental impact assessment of the project within weeks. The department issued a final environmental review of Keystone XL in fall 2011, but Obama rejected TransCanada’s permit application a year ago on the grounds that a congressionally mandated deadline did not afford the administration sufficient time to weigh the costs and benefits of the project.
Responding to objections that the original pipeline route would jeopardize Nebraska’s environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region, TransCanada has rerouted the proposed extension through Nebraska. The state’s governor has approved the new route, and that is part of what is under review at the State Department.
In the interim, the Obama administration has helped speed construction of the project’s southern leg, which runs from Cushing, Okla., to Port Arthur, Tex., by approving the necessary federal permits there.
But these modifications have failed to satisfy Nebraskans such as Randy Thompson, who took part in the White House protest. Thompson, whose family’s property would have been affected by the original pipeline route, said he remains concerned not only about the project’s impact on climate but also about the spills it could cause.
“The reroute does not take care of all of the environmental problems,” Thompson said, adding that the new route affects many of the same topographical features as the Sand Hills. “It’s just not designated that way on the map.”