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By Candice Bernd
November 21, 2012
Caption : As a burgeoning direct action movement takes shape across the country against the Keystone XL pipeline, will the president stay true to his recent remarks on climate change?     

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Twelve activists were arrested during Monday’s mass action against the Keystone XL pipeline in Nacogdoches, Texas. Seven blockaders have been charged with two counts of felonies that the Tar Sands Blockade is calling trumped up charges. Their collective bail has been set at about $160,000.

In the clash with police, 75-year-old Nacogdoches resident Jeanette Singleton was among those pepper sprayed by police.

Lizzy Alvarado, a student who helped launch a tree-sit at the Angelina River in her native Nacogdoches, was strip searched along with another tree blockader when they were taken into custody after being extracted from their platforms Monday. According to the Tar Sands Blockade, Alvarado’s flexicuffs were so tight it brought her to tears as she begged to have them loosened.

Before they were extracted, local police threatened numerous times to cut demonstrators' support lines, which would have caused them to fall from their trees. Police reportedly shook the lines to get the activists to come down.

Activists organized more than 40 actions across the country in solidarity with the Tar Sands Blockade, with upwards of 100 people rallying in Nacogdoches alone. From banner drops in Seattle to teach-ins at Houston oil-refineries, environmentalists are mobilizing against the Keystone XL pipeline.

But with the burgeoning direct action movement taking shape around the country, one question still remains: Will President Obama reject the permit for the pipeline’s northern, cross-border segment from Alberta, Canada? The president has made more nods to climate change in his re-election victory speech and in the first post-election press conference than he has in years.

Despite the president’s renewed interest in the global climate crisis, former members of the Clinton and Bush cabinets have said they expect Obama to rubber-stamp the pipeline soon. During a recent conference call held by an oil-and-gas industry front group, Consumer Energy Alliance, two lobbyists with former ties to the administrations said they expect a green light for the tar sands project.

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. The Tar Sands Blockade revealed that construction had started on the southern leg of the pipeline in August of this year.

As the news of the president’s re-election victory was coming down on Nov. 6, leaders with 350.org were already sending out invitations to the Nov. 18 demonstration against the pipeline to their networks. Just as quickly, they re-grouped to pressure Obama on the issue, as did the pipeline’s supporters who are also turning up the heat on the president to approve the project.

“As the president looks for opportunities to provide a quick boost to the economy and strengthen our energy security, we urged him to approve the full Keystone pipelines as soon as possible,” the American Petroleum Institute said on a Nov. 15 press call.

“I think a lot of national groups have turned their attention to the northern segment in a very strategic way because the president is directly responsible for that segment still," said Tar Sands Blockade Organizer Kim Huynh. "There’s an argument to be made for rejection of that northern segment to be a huge, huge mark on his legacy as someone who has purported to be at the front of the march for progress and the march to slow the rise of the oceans, and make sure we have a healthy and sustainable future.”

The State Department is currently working on yet another draft of the Environmental Impact Statement for the project after the first two drafts proved inadequate with much criticism from the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I don’t feel very hopeful about [the president’s decision on the permit],” said Rowan, a blockader who gave a false name because she risked arrest during Monday’s action in Nacogdoches. “I think it’s good that we are starting to do direct action again, it used to be really popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s in the environmental movement, and I think there’s been a recent upsurge in energy, and that sort of direct public resistance is what I think can help change the conversation nationally…and I think it inspires people.”

No matter what the president decides, the Tar Sands Blockade will push on to stop the pipeline’s southern half—which does not need approval from the White House—and is currently being constructed from Cushing, Okla. to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas.

President Obama is expected to make a final decision on the pipeline’s northern segment early next year.

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