Environmentalists protest Keystone XL pipeline

Local rally coincides with largest climate demonstration in U.S. history

February 18, 2013

Roughly 200 Chicagoans rallied in Grant Park Sunday to call on President Barack Obama to reject the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project and take action on climate change, an issue he prioritized for his second term but which remains politically problematic.

The crowd, convened by the Chicago Youth Climate Coalition, demonstrated in solidarity with thousands of protestors gathered at the Washington Monument in the nation’s capital for what is believed to be the largest climate rally in U.S. history.

The proposed XL extension would complete a pipeline from Canada’s Athabasca oil sands in Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. Climate scientist James Hansen has said the carbon dioxide emissions from the vast tar sands reserves would mean "game over for the climate."

Proponents of the $7 billion pipeline tout its property tax benefits and construction jobs, and dismiss or downplay its environmental impacts.

Obama delayed his administration’s decision on the issue last year, citing disputes over the 1,700-mile pipeline’s path, but Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman approved a revised route in January.

Protesters in Chicago marched from Grant Park to the Federal Building at 77 W. Jackson Blvd., home to the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional offices. Climate advocates view the EPA as the most likely vehicle for action on the issue given that Republicans in Congress have continually stymied legislation intended to curb carbon emissions. Thanks to a series of court rulings, the EPA has considerable power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) sent a statement to the protesters in Chicago, thanking them for their advocacy. Schakowsky serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“There should be no doubt that all of us need to get bolder and louder in the call for action,” read Schakowsky’s statement.  “Climate change is happening, and its consequences are dire.”

Dozens of protesters, including James Hansen, were arrested at the White House Wednesday in the first act of civil disobedience ever organized by the 120-year-old environmental group Sierra Club.

In Chicago, support for the youth-led rally was not limited to students and environmental groups.

Mike Sinner, a 52-year-old employee of Weiss Memorial Hospital, lives in the West Ridge neighborhood. Toting a “Resist KXL” sign and walking a bike he said had logged 111,000 miles, Sinner likened the present day climate action movement to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

“As you get older you know that in most issues there is no moral black and white,” he said. “But some issues are black and white. Today we’re saying to President Obama that we have his back if he does the right thing and rejects the pipeline.”

A cancer survivor, Sinner said he is hopeful. Despite Obama’s bullishness on fossil fuels like natural gas, Sinner said he was heartened by the President’s call to “act before it’s too late” during the 2013 State of the Union Address.

“I think if we don’t have hope," Sinner said, "then we’re in trouble."