Sierra Club Will Oppose Keystone XL with Civil Disobedience

Jan 23, 2013

Photograph: Glynnis Jones /

How much does the Sierra Club hate the Keystone XL pipeline? They hate it so much that for the first time in the organization’s 120-year history it will engage in a one-time use of civil disobedience (i.e. getting arrested) to stop construction of the pipeline. No details were given of what the action will entail or when it will happen.

Governor Dave Heineman’s approval of a new route for the pipeline through Nebraska was the catalyst for making Keystone XL the Sierra Club’s Alamo. Which might be fitting if they go to Texas to join what Daryl Hannah and her crew have been doing: camping in trees, chaining themselves to machinery, and getting arrested to protest construction of the southern leg of the pipeline.

The Sierra Club’s declaration is misguided. Their goal is to prevent Canadian oil sands from being developed but stopping Keystone XL won’t accomplish that. Canada wants to sell the oil, and existing pipelines are full. The Canadian government is working to persuade the public to back a new pipeline going to Canada’s Pacific coast and there’s talk of using railcars to move oil west from Alberta to be shipped to Asian markets. For Canada, if the oil can’t go south through Keystone XL, it can go west, but it will go somewhere. All that a successful campaign by the Sierra Club and its allies would do is push job creation away from the United States.

By the Sierra Club taking this dramatic step, the question now is “Will anti-energy activists pressure President Obama to reject the pipeline again?” In his inaugural address the President didn’t mention Keystone XL, energy security, or an all-of-the-above energy strategy that he’s mentioned throughout his first term, so it’s hard to gauge what he’ll do on Keystone XL.

However, the Business Roundtable Today Blog reminds us of another speech by the President two years ago where he expressed the important role Canada plays in American energy security [emphasis mine]:

[I] want to announce a new goal, one that is reasonable, one that is achievable, and one that is necessary.

When I was elected to this office, America imported 11 million barrels of oil a day. By a little more than a decade from now, we will have cut that by one-third. That is something that we can achieve. (Applause.) We can cut our oil dependence -- we can cut our oil dependence by a third.

I set this goal knowing that we’re still going to have to import some oil. It will remain an important part of our energy portfolio for quite some time, until we’ve gotten alternative energy strategies fully in force. And when it comes to the oil we import from other nations, obviously we’ve got to look at neighbors like Canada and Mexico that are stable and steady and reliable sources.

The President was right then. Now, he has to choose between bipartisan support for energy security, more jobs, and economic growth or anti-energy zealotry.

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