Twenty people braved a 10 below zero wind chill outside the Gallatin County Courthouse on Monday night to add their voices to those attending at least 200 similar events across the nation protesting the Keystone XL pipeline.
The “No KXL” nationwide protest was organized over the weekend via social media by CREDO, the Rainforest Action Network and the Sierra Club to ask President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.
Sixteen additional environmental groups, including the local organizations of Montana Women For and the Citizen’s Climate Alliance, endorsed it.
Other rallies in Montana were held in Livingston, Helena, Missoula, Kalispell and Whitefish.
The protest was prompted by the State Department’s release of its Final Environmental Impact Statement on the pipeline project on Friday.
The EIS did not approve or disapprove the project, leaving the decision up to the president. Publication of the EIS starts the clock ticking toward a deadline for the decision.
A previous EIS released in 2011 came out more in favor of the pipeline and prompted nationwide demonstrations that resulted in a total of 2,100 arrests.
Monday night’s demonstration was more peaceful as several of those assembled stepped forward to explain why they had felt compelled to come out on a bitter winter’s night.
Almost all carried handmade signs bearing slogans such as “Less pollution is the best solution.”
Lisa Prugh stood with her black standard poodle, Abby, bearing the sign, “Poodles against the pipeline.”
The protest was billed as a candlelight vigil, but the wind that whipped up the courthouse steps would not take pity on a fragile flame.
So Hilary Parkinson listened with her candle unlit.
“As a member of planet Earth, I have a responsibility to the next generation to the Earth,” Parkinson said. “If we can put a man on the moon, we should be able to reduce our carbon emissions – it’s just a matter of will.”
Obama has said that his main consideration for approving or rejecting the pipeline is whether Keystone XL will add significantly to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
The EIS concluded that the pipeline’s addition to carbon emissions would be comparatively small.
The U.S. already produces around 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide just by burning petroleum. Production and combustion of the 830,000 barrels a day of crude oil flowing through the Keystone XL would add 147 to 168 million tons annually.
Environmentalists argue that’s too much, especially since most of the oil would be coming from the tar sands of Canada.
Oil companies are basically strip-mining the tar sands area of Alberta to extract silty deposits that contain small amounts of crude bitumen.
Extracting tar sands and turning bitumen into crude oil uses vast amounts of energy and water, and causes significant air and water pollution and three times the greenhouse gases of conventional crude production.
It affects the lands near a number of Canadian tribes, including the Cree and Chippewa, who have reported a rise in the incidents of cancer and a decrease in native wildlife. The tribes responded by forming Idle No More, an indigenous people’s movement to bolster treaty rights.
Many tribes in the U.S. have joined with the Canadian tribes to oppose the pipeline and tar sands development.
That’s why Krystal Two Bulls stepped forward to talk to those assembled on the courthouse steps. Two Bulls is a member of the Oglala Sioux from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota but is working in Bozeman.
“I’ve seen first-hand what the pipeline can do,” Two Bulls said. “I’m just here to stand in support with these people and with Idle No More.”
Montana’s congressional contingent has supported the Keystone XL pipeline, mainly for the jobs it would create.
The EIS noted that building the pipeline would support approximately 42,100 direct and indirect jobs and contribute roughly $3.4 billion to the economy. Two years later, the pipeline would support 50 jobs.
The pipeline would come down from north central Montana past Glasgow, the eastern end of Fort Peck Reservoir, Circle and Baker before heading into South Dakota.
It’s opposed by many private landowners in its path.