About 70 people took part in the first of 15 days of sit-ins on the sidewalk in front of the White House fence to pressure President Obama to deny a permit for the massive new Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. “As environmentalists this is the one clean test we are ever going to get of Obama’s real commitment to climate issues,” says sit-in spokesman and author Bill McKibben.

Earlier CSW posts:

In support of protest at the White House to call for veto of Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline

Letter from scientists calling on Obama to block the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline

Tar Sands Action home page

70 People Arrested in Opening Day of Tar Sands Action

Statement on First Day’s Police Arrests

New York Times / Greenwire, August 19: “Protest Makes Canada-To-U.S. Pipeline Project Newest Front in Climate Clash”

By ELANA SCHOR of Greenwire

In the year since a cap-and-trade climate bill failed on Capitol Hill, a funny thing happened — gradually but unmistakably — to the U.S.-Canada pipeline project known as Keystone XL: It became the global warming fight’s new guise.

Keystone XL’s ascension from little-known commodity to fodder for a marquee bout between industry groups and environmentalists is set to start its last leg tomorrow, as green advocates converge on the White House for a two-week demonstration against the $7 billion proposal. For conservationists, the pipeline push back marks a new evolution in their battle to curb carbon emissions as well as a potential moment of unity following the brutal political defeats of 2010.

“The climate bill stuff was messy in every way — the bill was messy, the politics were messy, relations in the environmental community about it were messy,” climate activist and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben, a lead organizer of the White House protest, said in an interview. “The end result was pure cowardice on the part of Congress. … In this case, things are much less ambiguous.” …

In fact, the more than 2,000 protesters who have signed up to join this month’s White House civil disobedience tend to view oil sands fuel as a special case. Federal climatologist-turned-climate activist James Hansen helped plant the seeds for the protest in a June column that warned of an irreversible effect on the Earth’s climate if “unconventional fossil fuels” such as Canadian bitumen are extracted and burned in addition to conventional crude reserves.

“Phasing out emissions from coal is itself an enormous challenge,” Hansen wrote. “However, if the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is essentially game over.” …

As McKibben described it, the event is geared not at protesting Obama’s environmental record but at stiffening his spine to reject a permit for the pipeline.

UK Guardian, August 19: “Massive Protest at White House Against Alberta Tar Sands Pipeline – Campaigners say the two-week protest will be the biggest green civil disobedience in a generation”

By Suzanne Goldenberg

…It also puts Obama on the spot to make good on his promises as a presidential candidate in 2008 to act on climate change.

Congress failed to act on the main plank of Obama’s green agenda – climate change legislation – and pressure from Tea Party activists has forced the Environmental Protection Agency to delay or weaken regulations on dealing with climate change.

This time though, Obama has freedom of action – or at least that is McKibben’s hope.  Obama must personally sign off on the pipeline, if it is to go ahead. “We think we may have a chance because for once Obama gets to make the call himself. He has to sign – or not sign – the permit,” McKibben said.

“As environmentalists this is the one clean test we are ever going to get of Obama’s real commitment to climate issues.”

Wall Street Journal, August 20: “Dozens Arrested at Protest Of Oil Pipeline”

… Among those arrested was Gus Speth, former chair of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality under President Jimmy Carter and co-founder of the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council.

In an interview, Mr. Speth said the pipeline would be used to transport a type of crude oil—known as tar-sands oil—that would encourage a continued reliance on fossil fuels and emit harmful pollution into the air.

“If we hook up the Alberta tar sands to America’s insatiable lust of gasoline, I worry that you can just kiss the planet good-bye,” he said before his arrest.

Mr. Speth and other protestors said the Obama administration’s handling of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal would be one of the most important environmental decisions of the president’s current term. …

The Globe and Mail (Canada), August 20: “Dozens arrested outside White House in Keystone pipeline protests”