About 100 environmentalists held a vigil outside of the U.S. State Department's Chicago regional office on Monday evening to demand that President Barack Obama reject the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.
The activists held candles in one hand and signs reading "Stop KXL" and "KXL = Climate Change" in the other.
"We believe that building more pipelines is not the way to energy security, to energy independence or to the clean energy future that we need for our climate, but also for our economy," said Kady McFadden, an organizer with the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign in Illinois. "We're here to urge President Obama to say, 'No. Absolutely no' to the Keystone XL Pipeline."
At least 200 similar events were held across the country on Monday, with the protesters calling on Obama to turn down TransCanada Corp.'s proposed pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada through the United States to the Gulf Coast of Texas. Organizations behind the Monday protests included CREDO, Rainforest Action Network, the Sierra Club and 350.org, among others.
In a blow to environmentalists, the State Department's final environmental assessment, which does not take a position on whether or not the pipeline should be approved, said that the project would likely not have a huge influence on climate change.
The State Department's report also added that approval or denial "of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed [Keystone XL pipeline], remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the U.S."
The pipeline, first proposed in 2008, would move 830,000 barrels of oil each day.
Debra Michaud of Tar Sands Free Midwest pointed out that tar sands oil is the "dirtiest transportation fuel on the planet."
"It's 22 percent more carbon-intensive than conventional oil," she stressed at Monday's protest.
McFadden and others at the Chicago protest also questioned the conclusions made in the State Department's environmental review.
"It's pretty clear that this is going to have catastrophic climate impacts, and we're really listening to the scientists on this one instead of some of these folks who are involved in creating the report," she said. "We're just not sure if they are unbiased like the scientific community is, in which case the scientific community is overwhelmingly clear that this would just be game over."
The project needs a "presidential permit" from the State Department because the pipeline would run across the U.S. border from Canada. The permit review process, which centers "on whether the proposed project serves the national interest", starts a 30-day public comment period on the State Department's final environmental assessment on February 5. Eight federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Energy and Homeland Security, also have 90 days to submit their comments. After that, it is up to the president to make a decision on the pipeline's permit. There is no required date for Obama to issue that decision, however.
"At the end of the day, this is President Obama's call. This is going to be his climate legacy, and he knows it," McFadden said. "The Obama administration has a lot to do on climate, but at the end of the day, this is really going to be a barometer test if he's serious about taking action, the action that we need, to stop climate change."
Michaud added that in order to halt runaway climate change, all tar sands infrastructure in the country needs to stop.
"This includes the Keystone, which passes through particularly environmentally sensitive regions, and it includes the multitude of other tar sands pipelines that are being constructed in the U.S. at this moment," she said.
New jobs that are expected to come with the proposed Keystone pipeline are a key reason why supporters, including many Republican lawmakers, are calling for its approval. Proponents of the project also say it will help make American more energy independent.
But McFadden took that latter argument to task, noting that, "This is a pipeline across America, and not necessarily for America."
"Any sort of claims about how it's going to affect our energy supply are just really unfounded," she added.
Meanwhile, a group of some 76,000 people across the country have also signed a pledge of resistance to enact civil disobedience if Obama does approve the pipeline, explained Dylan Amlin, a leader with the IIRON Student Network. Click through for Progress Illinois' coverage of the KXL Pledge of Resistance Campaign.
"That's what's really inspiring. People are really willing to put their comfort on the line, and I think that's what this movement needs," Amlin said.
UPDATE 2/4/14 (8:18 p.m.): U.S. Senators who support the Keystone XL Pipeline are considering ways to set a deadline for President Barack Obama to make a decision on the project, The Hill reported Tuesday. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) said lawmakers could possibly introduce a measure that would set a target date for a decision on the pipeline. According to Hoeven, more than 55 Senators have said they would vote in favor of such legislation. Hoeven also floated the idea of tying the pipeline's approval to the debt ceiling, but Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE,2) said that option is not something House lawmakers are currently discussing.