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Elizabeth Shope’s Blog

Thousands Rally Against Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline in 280 Vigils Across U.S.

Elizabeth Shope

Posted February 4, 2014 in Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming

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Yesterday, NRDC staff and supporters joined in candlelight vigils across the country calling on President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The 280 vigils in almost all 50 states were flash-organized over the weekend as a response to the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, supported by CREDO, Sierra Club, 350.org, the Hip Hop Caucus, Energy Action Coalition, NRDC, and many other organizations and individuals.

This latest environmental review – for the first time – sets the stage for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, showing that the pipeline could make a significant impact on climate change by causing an increase in tar sands production. Thus, as both Robert Redford and NRDC President Frances Beinecke write, Keystone XL fails the climate test set for the pipeline by President Obama. The outpouring of public mobilization across the country in almost every state once again shows how deep the concerns about Keystone XL are in America. Once people learn about what tar sands is, they don’t want it crossing their homes and communities and they know there are cleaner choices for American jobs and energy than this dirty energy project.

As we move into the “National Interest Determination” phase of the decision-making for Keystone XL, the process that begins with the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement and includes 90 days of time for other agencies to weigh in with the State Department and 30 days for the public to comment (after which point there is no deadline for a decision), it is more important than ever for President Obama and Secretary Kerry to hear our voices. Being complicit in expanding tar sands production is not in our national interest – it’s bad for our climate, it puts land and water at risk of near-impossible to clean up pipeline spills, it increases refinery pollution in areas that are already heavily polluted, and is having devastating impacts to communities and wildlife downstream from mining and drilling operations in Alberta.

The outpouring of energy in opposing Keystone XL was inspirational, though not surprising – as the climate-wrecking pipeline has garnered tremendous opposition for years, with over 1,200 people getting arrested in front of the White House in sit-ins in August 2011 protesting the pipeline; over 10,000 people rallying and encircling the White House in November 2011; thousands coming back to Washington, DC to rally in November 2012; over 40,000 people braving sub-freezing temperatures in Washington, DC in February 2013 to call on President Obama to move Forward on Climate, and events in all 50 states this past September 2013 calling on President Obama to Draw the Line and say no to Keystone XL.

Washington, DC Vigil

In Washington, DC, a giant inflatable pipeline backed the scene, with letters written on it spelling out “PIPELINE PRESIDENT OR CLIMATE CHAMPION? NO KXL.” A number of people addressed the crowd of a couple hundred people, who turned out despite near-freezing temperatures. Reverend Yearwood energized the crowd with his remarks, telling us, “we are now fighting for existence,” and that this isn’t just about saying no to Keystone XL but about saying yes to humanity. “This is our lunch counter moment,” he said. League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski encouraged people to weigh in with the State Department over the next 30 days during the public comment portion of the National Interest Determination period for Keystone XL, and let Secretary and President Obama know that Keystone XL is not in our national interest, as it unlocks the tar sands. He led us into a “Save the planet, stop the pipeline chant” – one of many chants from the evening. Other speakers included Maura Cowley, Director of the Energy Action Coalition, an American University student, and a staff member who shared a message from Bernie Sanders.  

Video by Rocky Kistner, NRDC

Some of my colleagues have shared pictures and event reports with me from last night’s vigils that were too great not to share.

From NRDC’s Rob Friedman, who attended the New York City vigil:  

Over 200 New Yorkers braved the cold and slush in Union Square last night to demonstrate loud and clear that people power will ultimately defeat this pipeline. It was a truly special night, featuring chants, song and words of encouragement from 350’s Bill McKibben as well as Idle No More’s Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation. Clayton fired up the crowd saying that “This black snake pipeline will not cross our sacred lands,” and that we “have a sacred responsibility to fight” this project. For several hours as our fingers and toes froze, we sang, we chanted and we were cold but we were together to say No KXL!

New York NoKXL 1 Credit Rob Friedman NRDC.jpgPhoto Credit: Rob Friedman, NRDC

From NRDC’s Pierre Delforge, who organized and attended the Palo Alto vigil:

150 local activists participated in a protest vigil at Lytton Plaza, Palo Alto. They called on President Obama to reject the controversial Keystone XL pipeline following the release of the State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. Participants of all ages held candles and signs. Several speakers explained why the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a symbol of our addiction to fossil fuels, and called on President Obama to put his climate rhetoric in action by rejecting the pipeline. San Jose-based singer and songwriter Deborah Levoy, as well as the Raging Grannies, led the audience through songs. The event wrapped up with a dozen audience members, including a middle school student and Stanford students, expressing how they felt about the pipeline.

Palo Alto No KXL 1 Credit Pierre Delforge.jpgPhoto Credit: Bijan Mottahedeh

From NRDC’s Josh Mogerman, who attended the Chicago vigil:

Despite bone-chilling temperatures and winds that whipped hard enough to eliminate the candle-light portion of the vigil, 250+ hearty souls ventured to Chicago’s federal plaza to make their concerns about Keystone XL and the dirty array of projects that have made the Chicago region ground zero for the tar sands invasion of the US. The crowd listened to speakers before warming up with a raucous march around federal offices in the Loop. No frostbite was reported…

Chicago NoKXL 1 Credit Josh Mogerman NRDC.jpg

Photo Credit: Josh Mogerman, NRDC

From NRDC's Jackie Prange, who attended the San Francisco vigil:

Hundreds gathered outside the State Department's office in San Francisco last night to demand rejection of Keystone XL and dirty tar sands. After some spirited chants and speakers, the entire crowd joined together to sing Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer.” 

San Francisco NoKXL 1 Credit Thom Woodard.jpg

Photo Credit: Thom Woodard

Santa Monica vigil

In what may have been the best weather vigil in the country coordinated by volunteer activist Suzi Orozco-Neu, with a gorgeous beach sunset as a backdrop, scores of people including many NRDC supporters gathered and heard rousing speeches from and participated in chants led by NRDC founding director John Adams, along with NRDC’s Joel Reynolds and Bob Deans. Don’t be fooled by the coats – our friends in Los Angeles seem to think that a high of 60 degrees counts as polar vortex.

Santa Monica NoKXL 19 Credit Laura Kleinhenz Docuvitae.jpgPhoto Credit: Laura Kleinhenz / Docuvitae

If you didn’t get a chance to make it out last night, you can make your voice heard at www.stoptar.org, and see even more photos from the vigils from NRDC and others

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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