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By Candice Bernd
October 11, 2011
Caption : Students and climate activists rallied and stayed overnight to gain access to the last public hearing on the Keystone XL pipeline.      

Students and climate activists occupied the area outside the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC, for more than 12 hours late last week to oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline in a climate-inspired #Occupy protest.

The group of young organizers had gathered outside around 8 p.m. last Thursday night for #OccupyStateDept. The participants were working to reserve their spot in line for the last State Department hearing on the Keystone XL Pipeline before the agency determines whether the project is in the nations’ best interest—and they weren’t allowed to sleep.

TransCanada’s controversial $7 billion Keystone XL Pipeline would transport 700,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the Texas area, a 1,700 mile trip. The refinement of the tar sands produces up to twice as much green house gases as regular crude.

The students and activists staked out the spot overnight to ensure they would have a chance to testify during the hearings, or at least pass on their spot to experts the following morning. The occupation, named to echo other #Occupy movements across the country, was a planned tactic and strategy created in the aftermath of other State Department hearings across the country where corporate interests paid line-sitters to gain unequal access to speaking privileges.

(More #Occupy Coverage from Campus Progress.)

“We didn’t want to have to show up at the State Department in the middle of the night, but it’s the only way to make your voice heard right now,” said Maura Cowley, the co-director of Energy Action Coalition.

During the hearing, bleary-eyed members of Energy Action Coalition and other organizations spoke passionately about the negative impacts the pipeline would have on a large part of the country. Many addressed the idea of creating green jobs by building a sustainable infrastructure instead of creating dirty jobs through the pipeline; others asked why the State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement of the Keystone XL project was flawed.

“Every day I wake up and work for a vision in this country of a 100 percent clean energy economy that will create jobs for my generation when my generation is facing the largest unemployment since the Great Depression,” Energy Action Coalition member Ethan Nuss said during the State Department hearing on Friday.

Nuss stood in line for more than 14 hours to testify, and he also participated in the two-week long Tar Sands sit-in at the White House in August.

“When the U.S. military itself talks about global climate change being the single greatest threat to our national security, even above that of terrorism, we simply cannot allow this [pipeline] to happen,” Nuss said.

The majority of those who spoke during the hearing Friday were against the Keystone XL project, and everyone from local mayors, tribal leaders, former pipeline inspectors, retired generals, doctors, ranchers, and union members contributed to the ongoing list of reasons why the pipeline is not in the country’s best interest.

And the more subtle issue of possible State Department corruption reared its ugly head at the hearings. Erich Pica, the president of Friends of the Earth, testified at length about the group’s most recent findings.

E-mails and 300 pages worth of other documents received by Friends of the Earth through a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that one of the top TransCanada lobbyists, Paul Elliot, may have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act by lobbying for the company before he was registered. Elliot was the former deputy director of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Friends of the Earth has requested that the Department of Justice formally investigate whether Elliot used his political connections to lobby for the pipeline and if he violated the Registration Act.

 “Secretary Clinton and the State Department very early on tipped the scales in TransCanada’s favor,” Pica testified. “In October, Secretary Clinton said she was inclined to approve this pipeline. She was inclined to approve it before comments here today and around the country were heard. That is an imbalanced process.”

Pica testified that State Department officials’ e-mails showed that they were coaching and “rooting for TransCanada and the lobbyist that they hired, namely Paul Elliot, to get this pipeline approved.”

Friends of the Earth has filed a lawsuit in Nebraska over the clearing of endangered species in an area slated for the pipeline’s construction. The State Department has allowed the moving of the endangered species before the permit for the pipeline has been approved. Pica submitted the more than 300-page lawsuit to the court reporter for the public record.

(More on Challenging the Tar Sands)

Outside the hearing, environmental organizers from, alongside a host of other green groups, set up a giant inflatable Earth and miniature wind mills in front of the Ronald Reagan Building.

Bill McKibben, the founder of, spoke to Campus Progress about the possible State Department corruption.

“It demonstrates what a lot of us had feared all along, that this process was rigged and fixed from the beginning,” McKibben said. “The State Department has been cheerleading for this thing instead of evaluating it, and that’s slaughter. … I realize that corporate power is always going to be there and be strong and we have to fight it and all of that, but if the very process we have for fighting it is rigged and fixed then it’s just, I mean, that’s just beyond wrong.”

McKibben also spoke about the #Occupy movements, including the recent occupation of Washington, DC, to protesters at the climate rally.

“Occupy DC and the people who have been camped out behind us overnight are doing an amazing job,” McKibben told the crowd. “I hope that some of you will join them as the days and weeks go on.”

He invited protesters to join the next Tar Sands Action planned for Nov. 6 when organizers plan to form a human circle around the perimeter of the White House.

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