Six Cornell students were arrested this weekend in Washington, D.C., after protesting the proposed construction of an oil pipeline that would transport oil from Canada’s tar sands to refineries in Texas.
Reed Steberger ’12 and K.C. Alvey ’12 organized more than 40 students from New York State to take part in a mass sit-in in front of the White House on Saturday. Students held signs and engaged in civil disobedience by taking seats on the sidewalk, Alvey said.
According to Steberger, six Cornell students — including himself — were arrested after they refused demands by police to continue walking in the “secured area” in front of the White House.
“You’re required to keep moving on the sidewalk, and we were sitting in,” Steberger said, “I think the most common thing I heard from people [on Saturday] was ‘thank you’ if you were getting arrested.”
After being led to a police station, Steberger said he took the option of paying a $100 fine instead of being charged with a minor infraction, a practice in D.C. for smaller criminal offenses known as “Post and Forfeit.”
The movement’s national organization, Tar Sands Action, stated in a press release that 244 protesters were arrested on Saturday. A total of 1,252 people have been arrested over the course of the two-week sit-in.
The students were protesting the construction of the Keystone Pipeline XL, a 1,700-mile pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico currently planned by TransCanada. The pipeline has an estimated cost of $7 billion and would transport 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day, according to an environmental impact statement by the Department of State.
Because the pipeline crosses America’s border with Canada, TransCanada is required to apply for a Presidential Permit before it can begin construction on the pipeline. The protesters have petitioned President Obama to reject the permit application, citing the devastating consequences the pipeline would have on the environment.
According to Daniel Kessler, a spokesperson for Tar Sands Action, the pipeline would transport oil across aquifers in Nebraska, which provide 30 percent of the nation’s water used for irrigation. A leak in the pipeline could be disastrous, he said.
“The pipelines that we already have in the United States have been more than prone to spill,” Kessler said.
On the opposite side of the debate, supporters of the pipeline emphasize the positive impact the pipeline would have on the economy. The House of Representatives, for instance, passed a bill in July urging the President to expedite his decision in order to increase job growth.
TransCanada’s website states that the project would benefit the American economy by creating more than “20,000 high-wage manufacturing jobs and construction jobs.” The statement is a direct appeal to Obama at a time of stubborn unemployment in America.
Obama’s decision concerning the pipeline, however, has a different significance for many young voters, who will see this as a relevant issue in the upcoming 2012 presidential election, Steberger said.
“The question is not about jobs versus the environment,” Steberger said. “The question is about leadership. Is Obama going to choose to build the economy to protect our future? Or is he going to choose the same old economy that’s been polluting our air and threatening our lives?”