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    Posted March 18, 2014 by
    District of Columbia
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Student voices in journalism

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    XL Dissent - The Responsible Protest


    In a city where marches and protests have drawn hundreds of thousands of people, this month’s XL Dissent protest was a comparative speck on the political landscape. So why would a 19-year-old student from Brandeis University spend a weekend traveling to Washington D.C. with the intent of getting arrested?


    Because Martin Hamilton, who will be majoring in Peace and Justice Studies, felt it was his “responsibility” to act.


    “I could afford the fine and will suffer no long term consequences of my arrest,” Hamilton said in an email. “I don't see it as productive for me to pass up opportunities to make a difference because I would feel morally superior doing something different.”


    More than 1200 protesters marched from Georgetown University, where President Barack Obama delivered a 2013 climate speech, to Lafayette Park where a rally was held in front of the White house to tell the president that climate change wasn’t the “change” youth of America hoped for when they voted for him.


    “We're willing to go further,” Hamilton said. “Every person I talked to last weekend was ready to do more, to keeping fighting this fight and finding better, stronger ways take on the fossil fuel industry.”


    XL Dissent – Why it matters


    The Keystone XL is the northern portion of a TransCanada pipeline that will have the ability to transport more than 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil every day from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas. That’s more oil than the Exxon Valdez was able to carry. The projected path will travel from Canada, through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma on its way to Texas. The proposed path takes it underneath portions of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers as well as the Ogallala aquifer.


    Tar sands oil isn’t like the oil Jed Clampett found in the Beverly Hillbillies. It isn’t pumped from the ground—it’s mined. According to Oil Shale and Tar Sands Programmatic EIS, it takes nearly two tons of tar sands to produce one barrel of oil, which means about 1.6 million tons of the sandy, clay and oil mixture will need to be extracted from open pit mines and processed on a daily basis to meet the Keystone XL’s capacity.


    Opponents of the pipeline say tar sands oil extraction, production and use poses a greater risk to the environment and to climate change than conventional oil. 


    Because it’s thicker and heavier, tar sands oil is more difficult to clean up when there is a spill. Residents along the Kalamazoo River, where a tar sands pipeline belonging to Enbridge, Inc. leaked into the river in 2010, are still dealing with the effects nearly four years later. The EPA permits for dredging operations to remove the heavy oil from the riverbed expire in Nov. 2014. TransCanada and Enbridge have recently announced a Joint Industry Partnership to improve pipeline safety.



    Hamilton joined nearly 400 others participating in XL Dissent who were arrested in front of the White House to protest the Keystone XL pipeline.


    “I still stand behind XL Dissent and my participation in it,” Hamilton said. “I do believe that the action had a positive impact.”


    Obama is expected to make a decision about the pipeline in the next couple of months, but even the President might not have the final say about TransCanada’s Keystone XL.


    So far, the Canadian corporation has invested more than $2 billion into the project. Russ Girling, TransCanada's president and chief executive officer, predicted in a recent interview in Houston that the pipeline will be built. And thanks to Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement, better known as NAFTA, he could be right.


    Chapter 11 allows corporations to directly sue trade partner governments for legal restrictions they deem are “tantamount to expropriation” of goods. They can also file a claim on the basis of unfair regulations that cut profits. Refusal to allow the Keystone XL could lead to a lengthy and costly battle since Canadian tar sands oil is already flowing through pipelines in the United States. Canadian corporations have submitted claimes against the United States about a dozen times in the 20 years since NAFTA took effect.


    The unlimited liability claims can make it difficult for governments to protect their citizens from environmental perils without the risk of lawsuits from foreign corporations. Even though the U.S. prevailed against Methanex Corp. when California regulated MTBE, a gasoline additive that contaminated ground and surface water throughout the state, the $970 million claim raises questions as to the potential cost to the taxpayers if Obama denies the pipeline and TransCanada should file suit.


    A recent ABC News poll indicates nearly two thirds of respondents believe the Keystone XL should be built even though nearly half believe the pipeline poses a significant risk to the environment. Students like Hamilton zip tied themselves to the White House fence because they feel the pipeline is not worth the environmental risk.


    “I think that the fact that nearly 400 young people feel so strongly about this issue, and feel the situation is so desperate that we are willing to take this kind of action needs to make people reconsider the importance of the Keystone XL fight, and the climate justice movement as a whole,” Hamilton said.

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