Keystone activists to protest oil, Congress ties

WASHINGTON Mon Jan 23, 2012 6:40pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A coalition of environmental groups plans to stage a rally against "Big Oil's corruption" on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, hours before President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to Congress.

Days after the White House handed them a victory by halting the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline, environmental activists are stepping up attacks on U.S. lawmakers seen as too close to oil and gas companies.

A coalition of green groups promises hundreds of protesters

dressed as referees who will "blow the whistle" on lawmakers who have received campaign contributions from oil companies. The coalition did not give names or party affiliation of the lawmakers they would target.

The rally is organized by groups including, which staged large protests against the Keystone pipeline, including one that encircled the White House late last year to protest the project that would sharply boost oil production from Canada's energy-intensive tar sands.

The Obama administration last week rejected TransCanada's pipeline after Congress inserted language in tax legislation requiring a decision on the project by the end of February. Obama had previously delayed making a decision until after the November 2012 elections.

Bill McKibben, founder of, said the groups hope to keep environmental issues at the forefront of national conversations leading up to the elections.

"Look, I'm a Patriots fan, but if Bill Belichick was caught paying off the refs for the Super Bowl I'd be outraged and so would everyone else," McKibben said, referring to the head coach of the National Football League team. The New England Patriots will play the New York Giants in the league championship next month.

"So why, really, is it okay that congressmen take huge sums from companies and then vote on their interests?" he said in an email.

Environmentalists oppose the Keystone project because of the high greenhouse gas emissions from processing Alberta's tar sands and because the pipeline could threaten a Nebraska aquifer that is a major source of drinking water.

Environmental groups threatened to sit out the election if Obama approved the pipeline, adding to pressure on the Democratic president who faces a tough election in a struggling economy.

Republicans, who say the project would create jobs, see Keystone as a major election issue and have vowed to take further legislative steps to force approval of the project. The House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee will discuss Keystone in a hearing on Wednesday.

Obama's re-election campaign released its first ad of 2012, challenging criticism of his energy record.

Jamie Henn, communications director for, said Keystone galvanized environmental activists. The groups, which also include the National Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace and others, believe they can draw attention to other environmental issues during the campaign.

Protesting oil industry influence on Congress taps into election issues such as Occupy Wall Street protest movement's anger at perceived special treatment of corporations, concern about government subsidies and other spending, and controversy over "Super PACs" spending large amounts of money on electoral campaigns, Henn said.

"We've got some reports that people are buying referee outfits in districts too ... so I wouldn't be surprised to see some penalty flags get thrown at some members of Congress' offices," Henn said.

(Reporting By Emily Stephenson; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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Comments (2)
WarrenT wrote:
If they deploy the western Keystone pipeline, it could supply the West Coast of the United States with the oil that it desperately needs. This would not appeal to the denizens of the East Coast who would’ve gotten some oil if Keystone plugged into Texas for refining and in turn go down the Big Inch or by tanker to the East Coast.

Jan 23, 2012 7:46pm EST  --  Report as abuse
JoSCh0001 wrote:
The fiscal argument against Keystone XL isn’t east coast vs. west coast, this isn’t a 90′s rap battle. The argument is that the refineries in Texas can export the oil without significant US tariffs due to trade agreements like NAFTA. It’s not like this oil isn’t already flowing into the US, the XL extension will simply divert oil now supplying Midwest refineries so it can be sold at higher prices to the Gulf Coast and export markets. Another instance of big corporations playing high risk high reward games where the American public takes on all the risk and the private companies get all the reward. Well, not all the reward, there would be a thousand temporary construction jobs through the plains states, but most of those jobs would probably be given to illegals since that is another good way to maximize profits.

Jan 24, 2012 7:35am EST  --  Report as abuse
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