From Ann Arbor to DC: A Big “No” to Building Keystone

By Juliana Roth on February 25, 2013

“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it,” President Obama said to the public as he swore in for a second term last fall.

Forward on Climate is an environmental activist group which wishes to see such a promise realized.  This past weekend, they organized a protest in the hopes of pushing Obama into action. They gathered–along with almost 50,000 others–in Washington D.C. and brought national attention to the serious risks and environmental costs that would come from allowing the Keystone XL Pipeline to be completed.

The Keystone pipeline project does have its selling points.  It would create thousands of jobs, deepen the ties with Canada, and increase American access to crude oil.  However, its dissenters view the pipeline construction as a move away from increasing reliance on clean energy, and insist they produce negligible benefits, especially when the long-term environmental effects are taken into consideration.  For instance, in addition to the international consensus that burning crude oil accelerates climate change, they also worry that the negligence witnessed with the BP oil spill will only be repeated with the Keystone project, perhaps on a larger scale.

Just how much progress this protest and other environmentalist efforts will inspire in Washington D.C. remains to be seen.  Obama’s decision on the pipeline has been postponed since 2011.  The president’s final position is expected in the coming weeks, though Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman has approved an alternative route though his state.  Since Nebraska doesn’t cross the Canadian border, the Keystone XL oil pipeline doesn’t require approval from the State Department and President Obama.  Were Obama to decide in favor of the project, environmentalists foresee the US being on the long, hard path towards sustainable energy a while longer.

The University of Michigan students shared some of the concerns with Forward on Climate. Members of the Environmental Issues Commission, along with other environmentally conscious-minded students at Michigan spent 19 hours on the road this weekend to show their support against the Keystone Pipeline project.

Michigan sophomore Maris Harmon, a member of the Environmental Issues Commission, said she felt the pressure in the crowd gathered in D.C. as she noticed people holding up what looked like a spine in efforts to make a statement that Obama should have a spine and reject the pipeline.

“When I heard about the Keystone Pipeline and how horrifyingly destructive it would be to our environment, our peoples, and our efforts to reduce the rapidly growing reality of climate change, I knew I had to do something,” Harmon said.

Harmon added that students, despite feeling powerless, should stand active in the issues that matter to them.

Michigan sophomore Rachel Szczytko, enrolled in Michigan’s Program in the Environment, reminded students that activism is a way to support the community.

“It is only through active citizen support” Szczytko said, “that our government will be forced to make a decision.”

Juliana Roth is a sophomore at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

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