McKibben, Ruffalo, Keystone XL protestors encircle White House



Thousands of protesters, including environmentalist Bill McKibben and actor Mark Ruffalo, encircled the White House to voice their opposition to TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline

No one expected it to get this big. Yesterday, a whole lot of people gathered in Washington, DC, and encircled the White House to protest Keystone XL, a 1,700-mile oil pipeline that, if approved by President Obama, would run from Alberta’s Tar Sands to Texas. Event organizers estimated that 12,000 protesters showed up. That number may be swollen, but not by much; there was a large enough crowd to create a shoulder-to-shoulder ring of people three-to-five rows deep on the four streets surrounding the big house. The action was the culmination of a two-month grassroots campaign organized by an activist coalition, Tar Sands Action, that includes groups like 350.orgRainforest Action Network, and Tim DeChristopher’s Peaceful Uprising. The public leader of the anti-Keystone campaign is author and Outside contributorBill McKibben.
One sign read, “BARACK, GRAB YOUR BALLS.” Another, “I WISH MY BOYFRIEND WAS AS DIRTY AS THE TAR SANDS.” A staffer from the Center of Biological Diversity rocked an impressive polar bear costume. There was a guy in a full fly-fishing getup. But the overall feeling was serious and urgent. This wasn’t a tie-dye and drum-circle affair. Many in the crowd were college students, yes, but there were also a lot of elderly and middle-aged people wearing ties and marching with their children. Some of the demonstrators organized for the President in 2008. Much of the talk focused on debunking TransCanada’s claims that the pipeline will create a lot of jobs. “The only study that wasn’t funded by TransCanada shows that this will kill as many jobs as it creates,” McKibben yelled. The crowd screamed back. The president of the Hip Hop Caucus, Reverend Lennox Yearwood, Jr, yelled, “This is not a game! This cannot go forward!” The crowd screamed louder. Then it circled the White House. I walked around the ring, which was thick with people. On E Street, which sits behind the White House, I passed Louie Psihoyos, director of the Academy Award winning documentary The Cove, who was also circling the protest with a camera, wearing a wide smile. McKibben made a lap of the circle, shaking hands and pumping his fist.
So what’s next? The ball’s still in Obama’s court. The State Department is expected to make its recommendation to him by the end of the year. Keystone supporters point to fact that we still consume a lot of oil and the prospect of new jobs. Detractors scoff at those job projections. A particularly questionable TransCanada study suggesting that the pipeline would create 250,000 jobs included positions for dancers and speech therapists, as the Washington Post reports. (It’s unclear how a crude pipeline will subsidize the arts.) Then there are the increased emissions, the fact that some of that oil will be shipped to foreign markets in Mexico and Venezuela, and the risks of spills—the pipeline would run through the massive Ogallala aquifer. TransCanada’s handling of the mess has been less than slick, too; the company is already suing landowners in Texas and Nebraska under eminent domain.
Now there’s speculation that Obama could delay the decision until after next year’s election. But TransCanada executive chief Russ Girling hassaid that a delay could seriously hinder the pipeline by forcing American refineries to sign contracts with other fuel sources. If Obama wants Keystone to go ahead he has to say so, and soon. What the protesters showed yesterday is that doing so will be politically difficult, to say the least.
1 Politico reported after this article was originally publishedthat the inspector general’s office agreed to do a special review of whether the State department’s analysis of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project was done properly.