Green groups rally on climate, urge Obama to reject Keystone pipeline

Environmental groups gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Sunday and marched on the White House for a climate change rally largely aimed at pressuring President Obama to reject the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

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Organizers said 35,000 activists attended the rally, where speakers portrayed the battle over the pipeline as a struggle between grassroots green groups and deep-pocketed special interests.

“They’ve got the lobbyists. They’ve got the super-PACs. They made the campaign contributions. They’ve got this town in their pockets — they have got the situation under control. And then you show up. And then we show up. And we change the game,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told the crowd not long before it marched on the White House.

Obama will decide whether the project goes forward because it crosses national boundaries.


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The pipeline would bring fossil fuels from Canadian tar sands fields to the Gulf Coast. Environmentalists are painting Obama’s upcoming decision as the litmus test for whether he plans to make good on recent comments about tackling climate change.

Activists at Sunday’s rally said approving the pipeline would taint Obama’s record on climate change. They said they hoped the demonstration would give the president the will to nix Keystone, even when a majority of both the House and the Senate want it built.

“His heart is there. The question is can we change the politics enough so he can do what he knows is right. And I believe that he will,” Van Jones, a former Obama adviser, told The Hill.



Courtesy of Shadia Fayne Wood | Project Survival Media | 350.org

The politics surrounding the project are formidable.

Blocking Keystone would play into Republican assertions that the president is scuttling a project that could enhance energy security and create thousands of jobs to appease environmental supporters. They have pressed the White House to green-light the pipeline.

Oil-and-gas groups, such as the American Petroleum Institute, have helped lead a lobbying effort to get Keystone built.

Canada also has tried to sway the administration into approving the pipeline, as it would benefit that nation's oil sands industry.

Obama also has his own base to consider, as several union groups are eager for the jobs Keystone would bring to their members. The AFL-CIO’s building and construction trades division has endorsed the pipeline, and that department’s leader expects the full labor federation to lend its support.

But there is no time to delay when it comes to climate change, Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) international program, told The Hill.

“There is no deal to be done,” she said. “We need to do everything we can on every front.”

That is why NRDC and other green groups also want Obama to pursue more stringent carbon emissions standards.

The environmental community is pushing the White House to set emissions standards for existing power plants to build on proposed rules in Obama's first term that effectively barred construction of new coal-fired power plants.



Courtesy of Joshua Lopez | Project Survival Media | 350.org

Greens also want Obama to forge ahead with clean-energy research and deployment on federal lands, measures to boost energy efficiency in homes, buildings and manufacturing and efforts to make coastal towns and cities more storm resilient.

The green groups are focusing their pressure on Obama because of gloomy prospects for passing climate bills this Congress. Republicans will not accept fees on carbon emissions — the same goes for some conservative Democrats.

In an interview with The Hill, Whitehouse said killing Keystone and pushing ahead with stronger regulations could jolt polluting industries into working on climate legislation.

“That’s what’s going to bring them to the table very quickly,” Whitehouse said. “And as soon as the polluters want it, then obviously the Republicans are right there with them.”