More than 100 Keystone XL pipeline critics protested outside the State Department for the first time today, arguing that the government’s analysis of the project is biased and flawed.
The protestors were among 70,000 people who pledged online to conduct civil disobedience to stop the $5.3 billion pipeline by TransCanada Corp. (TRP), according to the environmental group Credo, which organized the demonstration against the project from the oil sands of Alberta to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.
The complaints focused in part on ERM Group Inc., the contractor hired by the State Department for an environmental impact statement, and its work on a joint venture that included TransCanada as a partner.
“The State Department just got caught in bed with big oil in their environmental assessment,” John Sellers, founder of one of the groups protesting, the Other 98%, said in an interview at the protest site today.
Outside the State Department headquarters, police set up gates to prevent the collection of 60 grandparents, gardeners and students who were prepared to be arrested from blocking the doors. The demonstrators had set a plan with police to block the doors and get arrested, Sellers said. Instead, with the gates in place, they remained in front of the building and chanted for an hour. Then they marched off without any police intervention.
The State Department is conducting an environmental review of the project, which will incorporate more than 1.2 million public comments, Marie Harf, a State Department spokesman, said at today’s briefing, held after the protesters left. No date has been set for releasing the final report, she said.
“We are doing this in a rigorous, transparent and efficient manner,” Harf said. “It’s just a process that takes a little while to incorporate all of the public comments.” The department must then determine that the project is in the nation’s interest before the pipeline is built.
President Barack Obama has the final say, and before today the protests focused on the president, raising the issue at political appearances, fundraisers and on the sidewalk outside the White House.
The protestors today singled out Obama, who is on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and not Kerry, who is in Bogota, Colombia.
“More and more, we think Obama’s getting the message,” Elijah Zarlin, campaign manager for Credo Action, the activist network funded by a mobile telephone company, said in an interview. “We know the president is the ultimate decider.”
The State Department inspector general’s office is studying the conflict-of-interest complaints against ERM. Environmental groups criticized a draft analysis released in March that found Alberta’s oil sands would be developed with or without Keystone, meaning the project would have little impact on the climate.
Friends of the Earth and The Checks and Balances Project, a watchdog group, allege the London-based ERM didn’t disclose a financial tie to TransCanada through its venture with Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) in Irving, Texas, called the Alaska Pipeline Project. The project, under way since 2009, is developing a natural gas pipeline.
Keystone critics, energized by Obama’s pledge for federal action on climate speech, were further emboldened by comments in a July 30 speech in Chattanooga, Tennessee, dismissing the pipeline as a job creator, an argument made by Republican supporters. Once completed, the project will create only about 50 permanent jobs, Obama said.
“Hey, Obama, liked your speech,” the activists shouted today. “Now it’s time to practice what you preached.”
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