NASA’s Hansen Arrested Outside White House at Pipeline Protest

James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, was arrested outside the White House as he joined protesters in urging President Barack Obama to reject TransCanada Corp.’s $7 billion pipeline.

Before he was taken into custody today, Hansen took a megaphone and implored Obama to act “for the sake of your children and grandchildren.”

“If Obama chooses the dirty needle it will confirm that the president was just green-washing all along,” Hansen, 70, who took a vacation day from his job at the New York based institute to participate in the protest, said in an e-mailed statement.

A State Department report last week said that the pipeline across six U.S. states to carry oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast has low environmental risks provided TransCanada complies with U.S. law and follows recommended safeguards. A final decision will be made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this year, based on whether the project is in the U.S. national interest.

Environmentalists oppose the project, citing greenhouse-gas emissions and risks of a spill along the 1,711-mile (4,346-kilometer) route. Alberta oil is separated from sand and clay in a process that uses intense heat, releasing more greenhouse gases than pumping conventional crude.

The protest isn’t the first for Hansen, who was among scientists raising concerns about global warming in testimony to Congress in 1988. He was arrested in 2009 at a West Virginia coal mine, and issued a call in 2008 for executives at oil and coal companies to “be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.”

Hansen was arrested today with 142 other activists. He was released from police custody within a few hours, according to Matt Leonard, a protest organizer.