Star power pushing back against Keystone pipeline

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David Suzuki addresses a wind energy conference at St. Lawrence College on Thursday. Suzuki is among the celebrity protesters urging Americans to get arrested at an upcoming Washington rally against the Keystone pipline project. Photo by Michael Lea/The Kingston Whig-Standard

Washington - A group of prominent North American environmentalists and progressives - including Danny Glover and David Suzuki - are urging opponents of TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL pipeline to get arrested this summer in protests at the White House against the project.

But Suzuki and other Canadians involved in the planned acts of civil disobedience have indicated they won't risk being among those who might end up in handcuffs for fear they might lose the ability to travel to the U.S.

In an open letter released Thursday, 11 high-profile Canadian and American activists said they will organize daily demonstrations at the White House this August aimed at persuading President Barack Obama to deny Calgary-based TransCanada's permit application to construct the 2,700-kilometre, $7-billion pipeline.

"We don't have the money to compete with those corporations (backing Keystone XL), but we do have our bodies, and beginning in mid August many of us will use them," the letter writers say.

"This won't be a one-shot day of action. We plan for it to continue for several weeks, 'til the administration understands we won't go away."

The protests, they tell supporters, will "quite possibly get you arrested."

The signatories to the letter include Glover, the actor and a longtime supporter of liberal causes, environmentalist authors Bill McKibben and Wendell Berry, Suzuki, Canadian writer Naomi Klein and Maude Barlow, chairwoman of the Council of Canadians.

The group has planned the acts of civil disobedience starting in August - during "the hottest and stickiest weeks" of the Washington summer - because that's when the U.S. State Department is likely to begin final deliberations over whether Keystone XL is in America's national interest. The department has promised a ruling by year's end.

The State Department has jurisdiction to decide on Keystone XL, which would carry up to 900,000 barrels of oilsands crude per day from northern Alberta to Port Arthur, Tex., because the pipeline crosses an international boundary.

The pipeline has been a source of division within the Obama administration and on Capitol Hill. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently criticized the State Department's early environmental assessments of the pipeline's impact as weak.

House Republicans who support Keystone XL, meanwhile, are pressing the Obama administration for a speedier decision. On Thursday, the Republican-controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee voted to advance legislation that would require a decision on Keystone XL by Nov. 1.

"Big win for consumers. Just voted in committee for new pipeline to bring Canadian oil to the U.S. - Passed with bipartisan support!" California Republican congresswoman Mary Bono Mack wrote on Twitter.

In the letter opposing Keystone XL, the liberal luminaries say they want the White House protests to be conducted "in dignified fashion" and urge participants to "come dressed as if for a business meeting."

They also warn against violence. "One thing we don't want is a smash up: if you can't control your passions, this action is not for you," the letter says.

The activists call the Keystone XL project "a horror" that would light a "fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent."

The anti-Keystone XL group intends to "each day, march on the White House, risking arrest with our trespass."

But there's a catch - the Canadians involved say they won't break the law for fear of being banned from future travel to the United States.

"Not all of us can actually get arrested - half the signatories to this letter live in Canada, and might well find our entry into the U.S. barred," the letter says.

Instead, "we will be making plans for sympathy demonstrations outside Canadian consulates in the U.S., and U.S. consulates in Canada - the decision-makers need to know they're being watched."

In an interview, Barlow said she plans to be in Washington for the anti-Keystone XL actions.

"No, I won't get arrested," Barlow said. "This is a very private and personal decision that people need to make ... I do a great deal of work in the United States, and I would be barred."

Keystone XL is "bad all around, in our opinion," Barlow added, "and so we are going to support Americans who are very, very concerned and very sure this is one way they can bring this issue to the forefront in the United States."

The State Department is preparing a final environmental impact study on Keystone XL, which will be followed by a 90-day national interest determination.

Opposition to Keystone XL has been most intense in Nebraska, where landowners fear a major leak could cause significant damage to the vast Ogallala Aquifer, a major groundwater source, and the eco-sensitive Sand Hills.

U.S. environmentalists have come to view the looming Keystone XL decision as something of a test for Obama, who campaigned in 2008 as a champion of green causes. Since winning election, Obama has boosted investments in clean-energy initiatives but has been unable pass comprehensive climate change legislation.

McKibben, in a recent blog, wrote that approval of Keystone XL would "ensure forever Obama's legacy as a full-on Carbon President."

Earlier this week, former U.S. vice-president Al Gore blasted Obama in a Rolling Stone magazine essay for having "failed" to use his bully pulpit to convince Americans of "the magnitude of the climate crisis."

In the letter urging protests at the White House, Glover, Suzuki and the other authors urged activists to wear an Obama campaign button from 2008.

"We very much still want to believe in the promise of that young Senator who told us that with his election the 'rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet start to heal,'" they write.




Organizations: TransCanada Corp., U.S. State Department, North American U.S. Environmental Protection Agency House Energy and Commerce Committee Rolling Stone magazine

Geographic location: United States, California, Washington Northern Alberta Port Arthur, Tex. Capitol Hill Canada Nebraska Sand Hills

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