Actress Daryl Hannah, Kennedy clan scion and Taylor Swift's ex-boyfriend Conor Kennedy, 350.org founder Bill McKibben, and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune are some of the famous faces arrested for protesting the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada by tying themselves to the White House gate. Describing it as a "civil disobedience action," the activists aimed to draw attention to the global climate crisis, and the specific environmental impacts of the Keystone Pipeline.
The pipeline, which extends from Alberta, Canada through Nebraska, has been delayed since 2011 pending environmental review, which is currently in the hands of the State Department. A relic of a carbon-heavy economy, this $7 billion pipeline is not only being criticized for being an environmentally damaging project but also for encouraging the extraction of dirty carbon fuel, something President Obama stated that he wants to move away from.
An especially contentious aspect of the Keystone project is that the pipeline would carry oil extracted from the tar sands of Western Canada to refineries in Texas. This type of oil is not only difficult and environmentally hazardous to produce, but it also emits significantly more greenhouse gases than conventional oil. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the President of the Waterkeepers Alliance, said in a statement outlining their message against the pipeline, "It's unfortunate that civil disobedience is the only recourse against a catastrophic and criminal enterprise that will enrich a few while impoverishing the rest of humanity and threatening the future of civilization."
Arrested Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune broke a 120-year record for participating in a civil disobedience on behalf of the Sierra Club, while actress Daryll Hannah has been arrested twice before on the issue of the Keystone Pipeline. Activist Bill McKibben and NASA climate scientist James Hansen were also arrested at this protest that was organized with the specific intent to garner media attention. President Obama, who has blocked a decision on the pipeline twice before handing it over to the State Department, was also confronted with "No Keystone" signs at his State of the Union press tour event for manufacturing in North Carolina.
Canada is the largest supplier of foreign oil to the United States, and the American Petroleum Institute, the major lobbying group for the oil industry, is aggressively pushing for the pipeline's approval through heavy advertising and grass-roots organizing in the communities affected by touting its job-creating angle. They are also going to play off of President Obama's State of the Union emphasis on infrastructure and API President described the project as, "the most thoroughly vetted major infrastructure project in the nation's history."
Secretary of State John Kerry, who has bonafide pro-green energy credentials, has declined from addressing the issue in the press but met with Canadian officials last week, and will be making an announcement about the pipeline soon.
This protest was planned to be a preview of the expected 20,000 people rally this Sunday at the National Mall and it remains to be seen whether these actions will influence the fate of the four year project.