Environmental demonstration on Feb. 17, 2013 in Washington, D.C. protested the proposed XL Keystone pipeline and other issues. Thousands gathered to call for reversal of governmental policy on climate change., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Keystone XL pipeline takes centre stage at Washington protest
Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Washington to demand President Barack Obama stop the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada.
By: Mitch Potter Washington Bureau, Published on Sun Feb 17 2013
WASHINGTON—Canada’s carbon-intensive oilsands industry was the guest of dishonour in Washington on Sunday, where the largest in a series of nationwide climate rallies demanded President Barack Obama call a halt to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
Though precise numbers were in dispute — organizers claimed upwards of 50,000 supporters, with other media assessments suggesting half as many — activists appeared to have met their target of achieving the country’s largest-ever climate rally.
But there was no disputing TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline was the anti-star of the Forward On Climate protests, which included companion rallies in more than 20 U.S. cities from here to San Francisco.
“Keystone XL is the flashpoint,” said Carl Whiting of Madison, Wis., who marched in a Grim Reaper costume. “I recognize that it’s clearly not enough to just to stop a single pipeline from Canada. But it will be a huge first step.”
Whiting’s words were echoed in chants, placards and speeches in front of the Washington Monument, where a series of speakers including Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, connected the climate dots between oilsands and Superstorm Sandy.
Brune, a native of the Jersey Shore, made news a few days earlier, becoming the first leader in the group’s 120-year history to be arrested in an act of civil disobedience after tying himself to the White House gates.
On Sunday, Brune railed anew on Keystone XL, describing the destruction of his childhood home when Sandy made landfall in late October and pointing to the Alberta oilsands as a corresponding cause.
“President Obama, you hold a pen with the executive power of hope in your hands,” Brune told the rally. “Write down these words: ‘I reject the Keystone XL pipeline.’ ”
By mid-afternoon, protesters enwrapped three sides of the White House, many live-streaming their own broadcasts online. But the raucous chants for dialogue — “Hey, Obama, come on out, we’ve got some (expletive) to talk about” — fell on deaf ears, with the president on a long-weekend golfing holiday five states south.
Canadian officials, together with the oil industry, are scrambling to neutralize the renewed tensions over the pipeline, insisting the oilsands carbon impact is overblown, pointing out labour and state proponents of the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline, and quietly lobbying Congress to bring more individual lawmakers onside.
Yet the re-emergence of Keystone XL as a litmus test for Obama’s inaugural pledge to act on climate change comes, in part, because the president doesn’t need Congress to act. The long-delayed decision on whether to proceed belongs solely to the White House, with the call not expected until April at the earliest.
Among those who travelled to Sunday’s rally was a delegation from the Ottawa-based Council of Canadians. They’ve been here before for similar demonstrations, but Sunday’s, they said, showed the issue is gaining fresh traction.
“I think the biggest difference is that President Obama doesn’t have to win another election,” said Council of Canadians spokesman Brent Patterson.
“Obama’s pledge to act on climate change, together with the turnout today, makes all of the Canadian government lobbying efforts ring hollow. This pressure is rising and Keystone is at the heart of it.”
A minority of green activists in the U.S. argue the all-or-nothing fixation on Keystone XL is a risky endeavour, as it leaves Obama with few options. As The Atlantic argued earlier this week, the strategy appears to emulate “Republicans’ first-term obduracy against Obama,” effectively saying no to everything.
Yet there was little sign Sunday that activists intended to balance the stop-the-pipeline rallying cry against calls for other measures, such as stricter rules on power-plant emissions. Though anti-fracking and anti-coal messages were evident, it was Keystone XL that served as the overwhelming mantra of the day.
That message extended to Tom Steyer, a San Francisco billionaire and easily the wealthiest single voice in attendance at the Washington rally, who warned that completion of the pipeline will serve narrow interests at the expense of the carbon-infused climate.
“The Keystone pipeline is not a good investment,” Steyer told protesters. “The time for business-as-usual has passed.”