Keystone XL pipeline takes centre stage at Washington protest – by Mitch Potter (Toronto Star – February 18, 2013)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Washington to demand President Barack Obama stop the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada.

WASHINGTON—Canada’s carbon-intensive oilsands industry was the guest of dishonour in Washington on Sunday, where the largest in a series of nationwide climate rallies demanded President Barack Obama call a halt to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Though precise numbers were in dispute — organizers claimed upwards of 50,000 supporters, with other media assessments suggesting half as many — activists appeared to have met their target of achieving the country’s largest-ever climate rally.

But there was no disputing TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline was the anti-star of the Forward On Climate protests, which included companion rallies in more than 20 U.S. cities from here to San Francisco.

“Keystone XL is the flashpoint,” said Carl Whiting of Madison, Wis., who marched in a Grim Reaper costume. “I recognize that it’s clearly not enough to just to stop a single pipeline from Canada. But it will be a huge first step.”

Whiting’s words were echoed in chants, placards and speeches in front of the Washington Monument, where a series of speakers including Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, connected the climate dots between oilsands and Superstorm Sandy.

Brune, a native of the Jersey Shore, made news a few days earlier, becoming the first leader in the group’s 120-year history to be arrested in an act of civil disobedience after tying himself to the White House gates.

On Sunday, Brune railed anew on Keystone XL, describing the destruction of his childhood home when Sandy made landfall in late October and pointing to the Alberta oilsands as a corresponding cause.

“President Obama, you hold a pen with the executive power of hope in your hands,” Brune told the rally. “Write down these words: ‘I reject the Keystone XL pipeline.’ ”

By mid-afternoon, protesters enwrapped three sides of the White House, many live-streaming their own broadcasts online. But the raucous chants for dialogue — “Hey, Obama, come on out, we’ve got some (expletive) to talk about” — fell on deaf ears, with the president on a long-weekend golfing holiday five states south.

Canadian officials, together with the oil industry, are scrambling to neutralize the renewed tensions over the pipeline, insisting the oilsands carbon impact is overblown, pointing out labour and state proponents of the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline, and quietly lobbying Congress to bring more individual lawmakers onside.

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