WASHINGTON — Thousands of people are expected to mass at the White House on Sunday to send an environmental message to President Obama: Say no to a proposed pipeline that would import highly polluting oil from Canada.
It's likely to be the biggest environmental protest in Washington in a long time. Protest organizers, speaking at a news conference Friday, said the event is meant to show the president that they're passionate about cleaner energy and want Obama to take their side in the controversy over the pipeline and the source of the heavy crude oil, the tar sands of Alberta, Canada.
"We really, really believe in him," Maura Cowley, a leader of the Energy Action Coalition, a youth environmental movement, said of Obama. "But we're watching this very carefully because it's a symbol of President Obama's commitment to clean energy."
The environmentalists warn that they won't be able to turn out large numbers of voters for Obama in 2012 if he grants the pipeline permit.
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"You win elections not because your hardcore supporters turn out, but because they get excited about what you're doing and they bring all their friends with them," said author Bill McKibben, who helped organize civil disobedience against the pipeline this summer. "In a sense, that's what's on offer here."
Obama should simply deny the permit, McKibben said, or at least order a fresh environmental review and delay a decision.
The proposed 1,661-mile-long pipeline from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast requires a presidential permit because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border.
TransCanada Corp., the company that wants to build the pipeline, has argued that its construction has economic and energy-security benefits. A study written for the company said that 20,000 construction and manufacturing jobs would be created for two years.
Opponents want the president to stop the pipeline because of the risks of spills and of impact on global warming from tapping Canada's vast oil sands. The thick crude from the oil sands produces more heat-trapping carbon-dioxide emissions than regular oil because of the extra energy required in extracting and processing it.
TransCanada expects a decision on the permit by the end of the year, company spokesman Terry Cunha said Friday.