Climate

Activists Rally Across The U.S., Calling On White House To Reject Keystone XL

CREDIT: Katie Valentine

Protesters gather outside of the White House to deliver anti-Keystone XL petitions on Tuesday, January 13, 2015.

Anti-pipeline activists held rallies in states across the U.S. Tuesday, calling on the president to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

Activists gathered in cities and towns in nearly every U.S. state Tuesday as part of a coast to coast anti-Keystone XL event organized by multiple environmental organizations, including 350.org, CREDO, and the Indigenous Environmental Network.

In Washington, D.C., a group of about 35 people gathered in front of the White House to deliver anti-Keystone XL petitions with more that 500,000 signatures to the president. A White House Council on Environmental Quality staff member accepted the petitions from the group, an act that Deirdre Shelly, a 350.org member who helped organize the rally, found encouraging.

“She mingled, she spoke with students, she spoke with Greg, who’s our indigenous ally,” Shelly told ThinkProgress. “It does show that we sort of have the White House’s ear, and we were thrilled that she came out at all. Just knowing that she has any influence on the decision and that she saw and mingled and spoke with people on the ground means a lot.”

Lynn Parsons, a Bethesda, MD native who works at an environmental organization, holds a sign at the anti-Keystone XL rally on Tuesday, January 13, 2015.

Lynn Parsons, a Bethesda, MD native who works at an environmental organization, holds a sign at the anti-Keystone XL rally on Tuesday, January 13, 2015.

CREDIT: Katie Valentine

The final decision on Keystone XL rests with President Obama, who is expected to decide after the State Department determines whether or not the pipeline is in the country’s national interest. If approved, Keystone XL would total 1,179 miles and could carry up to 830,000 barrels of oil from Canada’s tar sands regions to refineries in the Gulf Coast and Midwest each day. A study last year found that the pipeline could result in four times more greenhouse gas emissions than the current State Department estimate, and President Obama has said that he would only approve Keystone XL if the project wouldn’t “significantly exacerbate” the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.

The White House said last week that the president would veto pro-Keystone legislation that was passed by the House of Representatives on Friday.

Also on Friday, the Nebraska Supreme Court issued a ruling that served to uphold Keystone XL’s current route through the state. The Nebraska case, which hinged on the claims of three Nebraska landowners who alleged that the way TransCanada had gone about getting approval for the pipeline’s route through Nebraska violated the state’s constitution, had previously provided one more hurdle for the pipeline. Now, that hurdle is removed, though the lawyers representing the landowners said this week that they weren’t “finished fighting” the pipeline.

Shelly, who’s a senior at American University involved with the campus’s divestment campaign, said that though the decision wasn’t the best outcome for anti-pipeline activists, she wasn’t losing hope.

Clayton Thomas-Muller, an activist with Canada's Idle No More movement, sings at the anti-Keystone XL rally on Tuesday, January 13, 2015.

Clayton Thomas-Muller, an activist with Canada’s Idle No More movement, sings at the anti-Keystone XL rally on Tuesday, January 13, 2015.

CREDIT: Katie Valentine

“Obama has been saying for months, ‘I’m going to wait for the Nebraska decision to come down to make my decision,’ so we’ve just been waiting for that,” she said. “Now, with that decision out of the way, he finally has all the room he needs to veto.”

Greg Grey Cloud, a member of the Crow Creek Sioux tribe in South Dakota who attended the rally, told ThinkProgress that he didn’t think TransCanada was respecting his tribe’s treaty rights. Grey Cloud is also worried about the effect Keystone XL will have on South Dakota tribes if it’s allowed to be built. He’s the co-founder of Wica Agli — or “Bringing Back Men” — an organization that seeks to educate native men about sexual assault and domestic violence. He said he was worried that, if Keystone XL is approved, the same sorts of sexual assaults that have occurred in the Bakken oil fields will happen along the pipeline route, as workers are brought in to construct the pipeline.

Other rally attendants worried about the environmental and climate impacts of the pipeline. Lynn Parsons, who lives in Bethesda, MD and works at a conservation organization, said she came to the rally because she wanted to show the White House that there are “plenty of people” in the U.S. who don’t think the pipeline is in the nation’s interest. Gina Coplon-Newfield, Director of the Future Fleet and Electric Vehicles Initiative at the Sierra Club, said the pipeline would be a “disaster” for the climate and for anyone living along the pipeline’s route.