Robert Naiman: Why I am protesting the Toxic Tar Sands Pipeline—It’s all up to Obama

Both Joe and I have covered the toxic, sludge-carrying Tar Sands Pipeline protest for a while, and it’s gotten a little press … but only a little.

For some reason, Obama & Co. really want to keep a lid in this, and the access-addicted media seems to be going along. (Have you seen much mainstream coverage? Neither have I. Yet arrests at the White House continue daily.)

Here I wrote about the reasons this is bad from an ecological point of view. This statement by Robert Naiman, an environment professor and holder of the UNESCO Chair in Sustainable Rivers at U. of Washington, explains the political problem:

The key political fact about the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico is this: at the end of the day, the decision of whether to approve the permit for the pipeline or not will be a political decision wholly owned by President Obama.

The final determination on the permit will be based whether approval would be in the “national interest” of the United States. This is an inherently political determination. By denying the permit for the pipeline, President Obama can take a concrete action against climate chaos without securing one Republican vote, without spending one tax dollar, without getting approval from the Tea Party.

If, on the other hand, President Obama were to approve the permit for the pipeline, then he would be acting to promote climate chaos, and this decision could not be blamed on the dispute over the nation’s projected debt in 2021, Republicans or the Tea Party. It would be President Obama, standing alone, breaking a campaign promise to act to protect the climate from chaos induced by human action.

“Obama will be acting to promote climate chaos” — acting alone and unbidden. In a very real sense, the planet is in his hands.

The protesters are attempting to up the ante for Obama. They want to make this Obama’s key green issue prior to his 2012 ad campaign cum pitch for re-election. It appears that Obama really wants this pipeline, and wants the protests to go away, both from the White House and from the news. Who will succeed?

In the meantime, it looks like green voters may be abandoning Obama. Will he step up? It’s game on, folks.

If you care (I hope you do), the Tar Sands Protest website is at You can follow their tweets at @TarSandsAction. More as it develops.


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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