Bringing XL dissent to Washington

February 19, 2014

Zach Zill and Brian Ward report on preparations for a march, rally and mass civil disobedience in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.

ORGANIZERS OF a student/youth-led demonstration are hoping their XL Dissent protest in Washington, D.C., on March 2 will be one of the largest actions so far against the Keystone XL pipeline project that would transport tar sands from Canada to the Gulf Coast of the U.S.

Some 2,000 to 3,000 people will travel from around the country to march from Georgetown University to the White House, according to the predictions of organizers. Speakers featured at the demonstration will represent communities most affected by the pipeline, such as Native Americans and farmers. And once the march gets to the White House, demonstrators will engage in mass civil disobedience.

As Peter Rothberg wrote in the Nation:

The sit-in is expected to be the largest act of civil disobedience by young people in the recent history of the environmental movement, and it will be led by just the demographic that helped propel Obama to the presidency. The protest, known as "XL Dissent," is meant to send a clear signal to President Obama that the base that helped elect him sees Keystone XL as a decision that will define his entire legacy.

Tens of thousands of protesters marching in Washington against the Keysonte XL
Tens of thousands of protesters marching in Washington against the Keysonte XL (John Duffy)

Opponents of the Keystone pipeline have shown again and again what's wrong with the project--from the environmental destruction already underway in the Alberta tar sands, to the threat of toxic pollution from pipeline spills, to the bigger menace of tar sands being exploited and contributing to climate change. Yet the process for giving final approval to Keystone continues to churn forward.

This will be a watershed event for the Obama presidency. Hundreds of thousands of people have participated in actions of all kinds around stopping Keystone, and many maintained the illusion that Obama was on their side. If Obama goes ahead and approves the project, it will deal the biggest blow yet to these illusions.

ON JANUARY 31, the State Department released its final environmental impact review of the Keystone XL pipeline, which claimed that the pipeline won't worsen climate change. The explicit assumption behind this claim is that, with or without Keystone, the Alberta tar sands will be developed, refined and transported to market anyway--something which preeminent climate scientist James Hansen has said would mean "game over" for any attempt to stop global warming.

The State Department announcement was immediately denounced from all ends of the environmental movement, and a flurry of organizing that resulted in dozens of demonstrations on Monday, February 3. Roughly 300 people protested in front of the White House in Washington, D.C.; as many as 400 San Francisco; hundreds in New York City; and thousands more in dozens of cities and towns across the country.

With the release of the environmental review, the State Department has opened up a 90-day period for other federal agencies to weigh in on the Keystone project, as well as for public comment. After this period, the State Department will issue a National Interest Determination--an assessment of whether the constructed pipeline would be in U.S. interests.

Ultimately, Barack Obama will make the final decision, but most people assume he will go along with whatever the State Department recommends. We are thus looking at a potential approval date for the Keystone pipeline of early May 2014.

Keystone has cleared a major hurdle--the time to stop it is running out.

It is worth noting that the process moved forward despite an ongoing internal review by the State Department into the firm contracted to complete the environmental impact assessment--named Environmental Resources Management (ERM). This is because ERM was recently on the payroll of TransCanada, owner of the Keystone XL project--an obvious conflict of interest. The ERM website states that "a substantial portion of our annual revenue comes from projects with mining, oil and gas, and other energy companies."

The fight against Keystone is probably the most prominent environmental struggle in the U.S. today. The ecology movement has put the Obama White House under pressure. As wrote in an editorial:

Before the last 12 months, the Keystone pipeline was assumed by many people to be a "done deal." Now, thanks to the determination of activists across the continent, everyone knows that Obama and his administration are under pressure from widespread and growing opposition.

A crucial national political test is looming for Barack Obama--because we aren't backing down. Among the participants are a new generation of environmental activists who are eager to make connections about the school-to-prison pipeline, indigenous rights, mass incarceration, immigrant rights, racism and gender oppression, and even capitalism itself.

Join us on March 2 in Washington, D.C. and stand up to the oil industry and a government that seems to be compliant with them. Let's fight for a world where people and the earth will come before the profits of companies like TransCanada.

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