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Top Climate Scientist Arrested in White House Oil Pipeline Protest

Activists Try to Kill Tar Sands Oil Pipeline Project with Civil Disobedience

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Published August 29, 2011

Dr. James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a leading U.S. climate scientist, today joined hundreds of other protestors who have been arrested outside the White House as part of a two-week effort to persuade President Obama to reject TransCanada Corporation’s proposed $7 billion Keystone XL oil pipeline.

The Keystone XL pipeline would carry tar sands oil 1,711 (4,346 kilometers) miles from Alberta, Canada, across six U.S. states, to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Environmentalists Oppose Pipeline
Environmentalists oppose the project for several reasons: separating oil from tar sand requires intense heat that releases far more greenhouse gases than conventional drilling techniques; there is a significant risk of oil spills along the route, which could contaminate drinking water and endanger public health; and most benefits of the pipeline go to a Canadian company, while nearly all the risks must be shouldered by U.S. citizens and communities.

Protestors Speak Out Against Pipeline
In a statement emailed to journalists over the weekend, Hansen, 70, compared Obama approving the Keystone XL pipeline to a junkie rationalizing a heroin habit.

"If Obama chooses the dirty needle it will confirm that Obama was just greenwashing all along, like the other well-oiled coal-fired politicians, with no real intention of solving the addiction," said Hansen, 70, who was arrested along with 142 other environmental activists, including a number of religious leaders from many different faiths.

“Climate change kills the poor first,” said Rose Berger, a Roman Catholic and lead Sojourners organizer for Tar Sands Action, in an advance statement. “The tar sands development, and permitting the Keystone XL pipeline, pulls the trigger on the climate-change pistol already aimed at the heads of the world’s poorest.”

State Department Report Falls Short
A U.S. State Department report issued on Friday claims that the pipeline would have few environmental risks so long as TransCanada complies with U.S. law and follows recommended safeguards.

But environmental groups say no federal safeguards exist for the safe transport of tar sands crude oil, called bitumen, which is one of the dirtiest and most dangerous forms of oil.

p>In addition, environmentalists say the State Department report fails to examine threats to the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides drinking water for millions of Americans, and the Sandhills of South Dakota, despite numerous requests from U.S. senators. Environmentalists say the report also ignores the adverse health effects of toxic pollution from tar sands refineries—cancer, asthma, and heavy metal poisoning—on millions of people in the cities where they are located.

Environmental Groups Take Aim at Pipeline
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune called the State Department report “an insult to anyone who expects government to work for the interests of the American people.”

“Americans don't want a 2,000 mile-long toxic crude oil pipeline running through our heartland for the benefit of a foreign oil corporation and they don’t want another oil spill,” Brune said. “TransCanada's proposed tar sands pipeline would threaten our most productive farmlands and the drinking water of millions of Americans. It would expose more Americans to cancer-causing carcinogens, and open the gates on the biggest source of carbon pollution in the northern hemisphere.”

What Comes Next for Keystone XL Pipeline Project?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will make a final decision about the pipeline later this year, based on whether she believes the project serves the U.S. national interest, but ultimately responsibility for the pipeline project lies with President Obama. Meanwhile, environmental activists are determined to stop the pipeline.

“The mathematics are simple but the stakes are incredibly high—the United States has nothing to gain from Keystone XL, and everything to lose,” Brune said. “American innovation and technology are poised to deliver clean and safe energy solutions to power our economy, but we need corporate polluters like TransCanada to get out of our way.”

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