Activists threaten massive protests against Keystone

Environmentalists opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline are pledging to turn up the heat on President Barack Obama by risking arrest through acts of civil disobedience at fundraisers, political meetings and federal agency offices.

The planned protests go beyond activists chaining themselves to construction equipment in the pipeline’s path and are designed to build political pressure as Obama nears a final decision on the project.

They also illustrate the political challenge facing Obama, who risks alienating at least one key Democratic base — environmentalists or labor unions — no matter what he decides.

Becky Bond, the political director of the progressive group CREDO, which is organizing the threatened protests, says environmentalists will hold Obama accountable.

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“We see it as being incumbent upon us as citizens to send a message that the president cannot ignore,” Bond told reporters on a conference call. If the State Department determines Keystone XL is in the national interest, it will unleash the “biggest burst of peaceful civil disobedience in modern history,” Bond said.

Some 60,000 people have signed a “pledge of resistance” saying they will risk arrest to fight the pipeline, and Bond said she expected 10s of thousands more to sign up this summer.

On the other side of the issue, members of the building and construction trades unions are planning to hold a “rally for jobs and infrastructure” to push for Keystone XL approval on Wednesday near the White House.

Also Wednesday, Canada’s natural resources minister, Joe Oliver, is expected to tout the pipeline during a speech on the U.S.-Canada energy relationship at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Despite the flurry of action this week, a final decision is likely many months away, as the State Department sifts through hundreds of thousands ofpublic comments on its latest environmental assessment of the project. Those comments were due to the State Department on Monday, after administration officials declined requests to extend the deadline.

Environmentalists on Monday claimed pipeline opponents had filed more than a million comments against the project.

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Conservationists insist that the diluted bitumen that would be carried by Keystone XL has proven harder to clean up than alternatives. The recent spill from Exxon Mobil’s Pegasus Pipeline in a residential community in Mayflower, Ark., highlights the risks, they say.

Environmentalists also argue that Keystone XL would ensure a market for bitumen harvested from Alberta’s oil sands through more energy-intensive techniques than some alternatives, potentially hiking the fossil fuel’s carbon footprint.

But the State Department’s environmental review concluded that Canada’s oil sands will be developed even if Keystone XL is blocked.