More than 100 young people stormed a TransCanada office in Houston, Texas on January 7 as part of a Tar Sands Blockade mass action targeting company offices across the United States. Blockaders streamed into the Houston office, occupying the space with their own hand-crafted “KXL pipe monster.”
Activist Alec Johnson was arrested while refusing to leave the lobby of the Houston office after police ushered protesters outside. A videographer with the Chicago Indymedia Center was also arrested. Four others were arrested in a separate action in Liberty County, Texas for interrupting construction at Keystone XL work sites.
Solidarity actions took place in Michigan, Maine, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and New York, with banks known to have investments in the Alberta tar sands acting as prime targets. In Massachusetts eight student organizers locked themselves inside a TransCanada office, super-gluing their hands together to symbolize how fossil fuel corporations have us locked into to irreversible climate change. The sit-in was organized by Students for a Just and Stable Future, a student coalition also campaigning to divest university endowments from the top 200 fossil fuel companies.
One of those students arrested in Massachusetts was Lisa Purdy, a student organizer with the Brandeis Divestment Campaign Coalition at Brandeis University. Purdy told Campus Progress about her work on divestment back in November, and after she was released from jail we caught up with her again.
“If we want to be building this new economy that’s not based on fossil fuels than we need to be fighting at every level,” Purdy said. “So we have people fighting down in Texas against the actual infrastructure, we have people fighting in the courts, we have people getting arrested at related offices of TransCanada, and we have people working at their universities to divest.”
Purdy said she felt ecstatic after she was released and hopes that her action will inspire similar actions in across New England.
Assistant District Attorney Julie Richard said the state of Massachusetts will seek “considerable restitution for the costs of removing the protesters," but she did not mention what the amount would be, according to the Westborough Daily Voice.
“Right now we’re unaware of the costs we have to pay for the exact decision or actions led to those costs,” Alli Welton—another student working on divestment at Harvard University who was also among those arrested during the Massachusetts action—told Campus Progress. “It would be unfair for the Westborough taxpayers to pay for the attention that TransCanada has drawn because of its ethically dubious actions.”
“We’re dreaming of a day when the law asks TransCanada to pay restitution for the families they’ve uprooted and the resources they’ve damaged and the other impacts of the climate crisis they’ve caused by pushing forward projects like Keystone XL,” Welton added.
Protesters also gathered in Brownsville, Wisconsin, at the offices of Michel’s Corporation—the construction company contracted to build the southern leg of the Keystone XL across Texas.
What's next for the Keystone XL?
Despite the years of mass protest against the tar sands project, former Bush and Clinton cabinet officials have said they expect President Obama to soon rubber stamp the pipeline.
Former Environmental Protection Agency Head Lisa Jackson is expected to resign this month and a strong rumor perists that the departure is due to her opposition to the Obama administration's plans to approve the Keystone XL.
“She was going to stay on until November or December,” a Jackson insider told the New York Post. “But this changed it. She will not be the EPA head when Obama supports it [Keystone] getting built.”
President Obama denied the original construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline in January of 2012 when TransCanada proposed the 1,700-mile pipeline as a single project. Since then, the corporation has split the pipeline into two halves and reapplied for a permit for the northern section.
Jackson’s spokeswoman, Victoria Rivas-Vazquez, pointed back to the original announcement regarding the resignation, claiming Jaskson wanted to “pursue new challenges, time with her family and new opportunities. She said “the idea that her decision was made based on anything else is entirely false.”
The White House refused to comment on Jackson's perceived reasons for leaving. Spokesman Clark Stevens told The Post that the “State Department’s assessment (of Keystone) is ongoing and any speculation would be premature.”
While the EPA is not responsible for the pipeline review process, it is one of many federal agencies that have advised the Obama administration on the project. The State Department, the agency that is responsible for the pipeline review, has clashed in the past with the EPA over earlier drafts of the pipeline’s Environmental Impact Statement, which the EPA said didn’t address the impacts on air and water quality among many other issues. The EPA, while under Jackson’s helm, has continued to raise serious concerns about the pipeline.
Though questions concerning the reason for Jackson’s resignation still loom, environmentalists are elated over the nomination of John Kerry for Secretary of State to replace Hillary Clinton. While Clinton has been criticized for having close ties to Paul Elliot, a top TransCanada lobbyist and former deputy director her presidential campaign, John Kerry has been known as a vocal climate hawk.
In October 2011, Kerry, the head of the US Senate's foreign relations committee, vowed to use his influence to thoroughly examine the environmental impact of Keystone XL.
But no matter who is charged with helm-holding at the State Department or the EPA—or whether or not the president approves the project—the Tar Sands Blockade movement has proved that something grand and game-changing needs to happen.
Despite mass public outcry, mass symbolic protest actions, legislative battles and now even some high-ranking resignations, it's direct action that's ultimately needed to stop a toxic project that has been deemed “game over” for the planet by NASA’s top climate scientist.
And that’s the idea that’s really catching on with young people across the nation who are using militant, nonviolent tactics, like locking themselves to dirty energy infrastructure in an effort to spread the message that we can’t afford to continue down an unsustainable path for our climate.
The Tar Sands Blockade movement vows to continue obstructing construction on the pipeline in the event that President Obama indeed gives the project a green light.