Dozens of protesters, including environmental activist Bill McKibben, were arrested and jailed in Washington DC this weekend while protesting a plan by the company TransCanada to build the controversial XL pipeline that would carry oil from the Alberta tar sands 1,700 miles to Texas. Activists are concerned about the pipeline’s potentially disastrous environmental impact.
The initial arrests are part of a planned two-week action to raise awareness of the pipeline project and prevent its construction. President Obama has the authority to sign off on, or reject, the proposed pipeline; Congress has no say in the matter. The State Department will issue a final environmental report at the end of this month, and the President then has 90 days to decide whether the project will move forward.
Activist Jane Hamsher was arrested on Saturday; she was released later that evening, and described the unpleasant conditions on FireDogLake:
“All 65 of us were crammed into four 6 x 8 holding cells (we measured) with a toilet at the end. I was held with other women who took part in the demonstration. … The park police took all our jackets and sweaters away, which left a bunch of women in spaghetti straps. They said they were worried we’d hang ourselves if they let us keep them. Then they cranked up the air conditioning so everyone was really cold.
We asked for something warm so they brought us 3 yellow styrofoam sheets. They said that was all they had. So we ripped them in two and rotated them with two women sharing them at a time, but when someone had to pee, we all turned our backs and used the sheets as sort of a wall so they’d have some privacy.”
McKibben and some 50 other protesters are being held until a hearing on 2pm Monday. The Tar Sands protest is scheduled to last for two weeks; over 2,000 people have signed up to protest and risk being arrested. There is speculation that the police are trying to deter the protest so that it does not detract from the dedication of the new Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, scheduled for August 28.
McKibben released a statement from jail on the Tar Sands Action website, saying in part, “I’m looking forward to seeing everybody over the next 2 weeks. It has been a little hot here in central cell block, but not as hot as it will be if we don’t stop this project. People here have been in good spirits, and there has been a great deal of learning. We are thinking ahead to this weekend to share stories about Dr King and freedom movement.”
The proposed pipeline would originate in Alberta, where open-pit mining is used for extraction, and bisect the U.S., cutting across rich farmland, down to the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to concerns over environmental pollution, the greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands are 40% higher than from regular oil. As campaign leader Bill McKibben noted in a recent editorial:
“We have, not surprisingly, concerns about potential spills and environmental degradation from construction of the pipeline. But those tar sands are also the second-largest pool of carbon in the atmosphere, behind only the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. If we tap into them in a big way, NASA climatologist James Hansen explained in a paper issued this summer, the emissions would mean it’s “essentially game over” for the climate.”
Proponents of the pipeline claim it will provide a huge boon in energy independence from the Middle East in favor of our politically stable partner to the north and that jobs would be created as energy prices are held down.
Despite the jobs that might be created by building the pipeline, NPR reports that two major unions, the Transport Workers Union and the Amalgamated Transit Union, oppose the pipeline construction, citing the potential for grave damage to the environment and human health.
Visit the Tar Sands Action website to sign a petition to President Obama or, if you’re feeling feisty, to volunteer to participate in the August protests.
Photo: Police officer prepares to arrest Pipeline protestors on Saturday by TarSandsAction via Flickr,