The Sierra Club abandoned 120 years of precedent and let its leaders defy police in a protest against the Keystone XL pipeline outside the White House today.
In the group’s first sanctioned act of civil disobedience, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune joined more than 40 demonstrators on Pennsylvania Avenue in a bid to stop the TransCanada Corp. project, which President Barack Obama’s administration is reviewing.
Brune and 47 activists including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., civil rights leader Julian Bond and actress Daryl Hannah were arrested approximately an hour after arriving near the White House’s north lawn.
The protest is part of what the San Francsico-based group called necessary action to persuade Obama to reject TransCanada’s application to build a 1,661-mile (2,673-kilometer) pipeline from the oil sands of Alberta to the U.S. Gulf coast.
“Keystone is so key in part because the president gets to make the decision and in part because it’s just so big,” Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, which has led the opposition, said in an interview. If Obama rejects it, “it will be the first time a world leader has blocked a big project because of its climate impact.” McKibben was one of the 48 arrested protesters.
The demonstration today is a precursor to a rally led by the Sierra Club and 350.org near the Washington Monument on Feb. 17. Organizers have said it will be the biggest in history — a forecast that worries their opponents.
Sean McGarvey, president of the Building & Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO labor federation, joined the American Petroleum Institute today in support of Keystone. The labor federation, whose headquarters are near Lafayette Park, is sending employees home early on Feb. 15 before the three-day U.S. holiday, he said.
“We expect hundreds of thousands of people” to protest the pipeline,” McGarvey said.