About 10,000 opponents of a proposed pipeline for carrying oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast surrounded the White House on Sunday — exactly a year before the 2012 election — seeking to pressure President Barack Obama to reject the project.
If approved, the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, to be built by Calgary-based TransCanada Corp., would carry crude from the tar sands region in Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas, passing through six states.
Supporters such as oil industry groups and some labor unions say the pipeline would reduce U.S. reliance on oil from the volatile Mideast and create 20,000 jobs in a U.S. economy that desperately needs the boost.
Environmental groups despise the project and call it a needlessly risky method of producing dirty energy. They say the pipeline could leak, endangering drinking water. They say extracting the thick crude from tar sands is itself a greenhouse-gas producing, wasteful process. And they say the promise of jobs is a false one, claiming it would produce only about 6,000 temporary jobs.
On Sunday, the protesters heard speeches from faith leaders and environmental activists before making a circle around the White House that organizers estimated was three rows deep.
“This is a turnaround,” John Adams, co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview. “We’ve been in the dark ages for the last year, with the change in the Congress. Now we’ve just come out and we put on this demonstration … so this is a big change, a big change.”
Anger is guaranteed
The Keystone decision poses a political dilemma for Obama, with an approaching election that likely will hinge on the economy. He will inevitably anger one of his constituencies – either the unions supporting the project or environmentalists and others opposing it.
The Obama administration must issue a permit to approve Keystone because it would cross the U.S.-Canada border. Though Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said she’s “inclined” to approve the project, the final verdict rests with Obama, who recently said he will wait until after the State Department finishes its review of the proposal.
Obama was playing golf Sunday, and the White House did not issue a statement on the protest.
Environmentalists were furious when Obama gave up on cap-and-trade climate legislation after Republicans blocked a bill in 2010. He upset them even more after deciding in September to shelve tougher ozone standards until 2013.
They have warned they won’t support Obama in 2012 as enthusiastically as they did in 2008, and some Democratic contributors have said they could hold back campaign donations if he approves the project.
“We’re going to work to make sure that Americans across the country … have a voice, and that the president will stand up with us,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the San Francisco-based Sierra Club. “We’ll stand behind him when he rejects this pipeline.”
No arrests this time
Present were some Democrats who protested outside an Obama fundraiser in San Francisco on Oct. 25, including Susie Tompkins Buell, a founder of apparel company Esprit Holdings and a prominent Democratic donor. “The president is listening … and he should,” she said.
More than 1,200 pipeline opponents have been arrested in White House protests since August. Police were on hand Sunday, but Sgt. David Schlosser, National Park Service police spokesman, said he wasn’t aware of any arrests.
Former Texas state Rep. Joseph Nixon, R-Houston, visiting Washington on a business trip, ridiculed the protesters: “It’s absolutely hilarious that they’re protesting a pipeline bringing a needed petroleum product into the states for refining, where we refine cleaner, better than anyone else in the world.”