College students, clergy denounce Keystone at State Department

It was just the latest in a series of protests against the proposed pipeline from TransCanada Corp., which would bring a carbon-intensive form of crude oil known as tar sands from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Organizers of the protest said they’ve only begun to fight the project, which is under review at State.

Keystone’s supporters in industry, labor and Congress say the project would enhance energy security by allowing the United States to import oil from a trusted ally. They also contend it would supply thousands of construction jobs.

Left-leaning and environmental groups are pushing President Obama to scrap the pipeline, claiming it would accelerate growth of Canada’s oil sands and, therefore, boost greenhouse gas emissions.

The president has recently spoken out about the pipeline, saying its proponents have overstated the jobs impact. He’s also questioned how much of the oil sands would stay in the United States.

“I’m encouraged by his rhetoric,” Sellers said. “He needs to back that up with action now.”

Sellers, whose group spearheaded Monday’s protest with left-leaning outfits CREDO Mobile and Rainforest Action Network, noted that several other organizations such as climate advocacy group 350.org and the Sierra Club are planning similar demonstrations, including one at TransCanada’s office in Houston.

Claire Pula, a 57-year-old Jersey Shore resident whose region was battered by Superstorm Sandy last fall, said she decided to travel down to Washington after a recent protest against Keystone at the State Department’s Chicago office.

“I was of course anxious about the whole idea of risking arrest. But as soon as I knew that things had already been happening, I wanted to find one close enough to home that I could get to and be able to do that risk myself. And it’s nerve wracking, but it’s important,” Pula told The Hill.

The demonstrations are an outgrowth of commitments the organizers have secured from 60,000 people to risk arrest should State decide that constructing Keystone is in the national interest.

The groups have started training volunteers in 26 cities for the potential action, which would be a “last-ditch effort” to stop Keystone, Elijah Zarlin, campaign manager with CREDO Mobile, told The Hill.

Such a ruling would trigger a 14-day window for Obama to either approve or deny the pipeline. But it’s “anybody’s guess” as to when that might come, Zarlin said.