WASHINGTON — Thousands of protesters encircled the White House Sunday in a show of numbers intended to persuade President Obama to stop a proposed oil pipeline from being built.
The Keystone XL pipeline would stretch 1,661 miles from Alberta, Canada, through Kansas to Texas' Gulf Coast, and requires presidential approval because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border.
The demonstrators said their protest, one year to the day before next year's election, was a warning to Obama: If he allows the pipeline, much of his base would be less inclined to work hard for his re-election.
Protesters first heard from prominent environmentalists, a preacher, a Nobel laureate, and a movie star, and then gathered to hold hands in a ring that stretched in front of the White House and several blocks down sidestreets before joining behind the White House lawn. Organizers estimated that the crowd exceeded 10,000 people.
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"You can't occupy the White House, but you can surround it," said environmentalist and protest organizer Bill McKibben, in a reference to the Occupy Wall Street movement.
With the failure of climate change legislation on Capitol Hill last year, environmentalists have made stopping the Keystone pipeline their major focus in recent months. They want the president to reject the pipeline because of the risks of spills and what they say is the likely impact on global warming from tapping Canada's 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 to extract and process it.
Leah Delaney, a junior and environmental studies major at the University of Vermont, was one of many college students who traveled to Washington for the protest.
"We're part of the generation that's in charge of the future and as a 20-year-old student, I can't imagine being part of the generation that lets the Earth down," she said.
Obama wasn't at the White House during most of the protest. He spent much of Sunday golfing in Virginia. He said last week that he will wait for a State Department report that is expected by year-end before deciding on the pipeline.