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In D.C., Activists Protest Keystone Pipeline


It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Coming up, that's a lot of pay stubs, the 100th anniversary of the income tax. Then a Three-Minute Fiction standout. And later, he may be faster than a speeding bullet, but can Superman outrace this controversy?

But first, tens of thousands of college students and environmental activists marched around the White House today.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Hey, Obama, we don't want no climate drama. Hey.

LYDEN: They're calling on President Obama to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline. It's a controversial project to transport oil from Canada across the country to refineries at the Gulf. They're also asking him to take other serious steps to cut greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

NPR environment correspondent Elizabeth Shogren went to the rally, and she joins us to talk about it. Thanks for coming in, Elizabeth.


LYDEN: You know, Elizabeth, in his inaugural address, President Obama said that he would respond to climate change. He said that a failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. So why the protest?

SHOGREN: Well, what they want him to do is to backup this rhetoric with actual action. And what they really want is for him and for the State Department to reject this pipeline. The reason is because this pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Canada. It takes a lot more energy to produce this oil and so it has a bigger greenhouse gas footprint.

LYDEN: So who organized the rally?

SHOGREN: The Sierra Club and a group called That group's leader, Bill McKibben, told the crowd that he had waited 25 years to see a demonstration like this.

BILL MCKIBBEN: It is all of you, you are the antibodies kicking in as the planet tries to fight its fever.

LYDEN: So who came to the protest, and what did this protest tell you about why people came and where we are in the movement?

SHOGREN: Well, there were busloads of college kids from lots of different places - from the Midwest, from the South, from the Northeast. And they came because they wanted to show the president that they care. One of them is Will Jones. He's a student at Eastern Michigan University, and he traveled overnight on a bus. He told me that he remembers when a pipeline carrying this tar sands oil burst in Michigan spewing this oil over 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River. It was the most expensive onshore cleanup. And two years later, in fact, they're still cleaning up this oil. He says that he wants the president to make good on his promises.

WILL JONES: I think he understands that I think now is the time for everybody to just kind of man up a little bit and make it official, you know? That's what he's in office to do, so let's see some action.

SHOGREN: I also met with families with young children. They brought the young children there, even though it was cold. One of them, Heather Clark. She brought her kids wrapped up in a sleeping bag - two toddlers. And she said that she had first learned about climate change when she was in seventh grade.

HEATHER CLARK: Although in the back of my mind, I thought it might never happen, but events like Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Katrina and everything that I've been reading lately says it's happening. And if we don't do something really, really soon, we're going to all be in a state where we're not going to recognize the planet where we live.

LYDEN: You know, Elizabeth, as you know, organizers are calling this one of the biggest rallies on climate change in recent memory. Do you think that the president has heard them, and is this going to put more pressure on him to act?

SHOGREN: Well, we don't know if this is going to put pressure on the president to act. He has said that climate change is a top priority for him. He told the country during his State of the Union that he would tell his Cabinet to come up with ways to significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from our country. But there's a lot of pressure on the other side too.

There's a benefit from this oil that comes from Canada. That means that oil won't be coming from the Middle East. And there are lots of reasons why the president wants to have oil from a friendly nation instead of from someplace far away. And I think that there are a lot of things that he's weighing. There are a lot of things that our new Secretary of State Kerry will be weighing when they're making this decision.

LYDEN: And we should note the president wasn't actually in town today?

SHOGREN: No. In fact, he was in Florida, and so he didn't literally hear the people marching around his house.

LYDEN: All right. Thank you very much for coming in and sharing that with us. NPR's environment correspondent Elizabeth Shogren.

SHOGREN: Thank you, Jacki. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.