CHICAGO — The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline is about to spill protesters onto the streets of Chicago.
With the intent to focus attention on the issue in the hometown of President Barack Obama, dozens of protesters are targeting the Metcalfe Federal Building, 77 W. Jackson Blvd., for a civil-disobedience protest Monday morning.
Yet the larger target is Chicago as Obama's hometown, according to Elijah Zarlin, senior campaign manager for CREDO, a progressive group spearheading the protests. He said he expects between 50 and 100 people "sitting in and risking arrest" at the building.
"These are Obama supporters," Zarlin said. "These are the people who helped get him elected — once or twice.
"We're looking forward to sending a powerful message to the president about the need to listen to the people who put him where he is and the need to live up to his own commitments on climate change," Zarlin added.
The pipeline, which would run from Canada to Nebraska and streamline access to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries, was an issue in the 2012 presidential campaign, with Republicans generally favoring it as a jobs producer and energy benefit. Yet Zarlin countered that it would mainly benefit Canadian energy exports, with little effect on U.S. energy production, and that the tar sands fuel it would carry constitutes "a huge environmental risk" in the event of a spill and that the production was "extremely dangerous to the environment of Canada."
Just last month, news reports stated that carbon dioxide reached record levels, and Zarlin said the tar-sands process greatly increases so-called greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. He said the Obama administration's support for the pipeline would go against the president's own stated positions and weaken U.S. diplomatic negotiations to get China and India to rein in their increasing carbon-dioxide production.
"It's essential that the president start sending signals that we can't continue business as usual," he said.
According to Zarlin, more than 60,000 people have signed an online Pledge of Resistance vowing to fight the pipeline with civil disobedience. They're targeting federal State Department facilities because it's handling an environmental-impact study and, if that is favorable, it will lead other federal agencies in determining whether the pipeline is in the national interest. The studies are expected to be completed later this year.
"Is it in the national interest? No, for many reasons, it certainly is not," Zarlin said. If the State Department finds otherwise, however, that will trigger an escalation of the protests. "We hope it doesn't come to that, but we're preparing for it," he added.
Yet the decision ultimately rests with Obama, which is why they're starting the protests in Chicago.
"We've seen him go back and forth" on it, Zarlin said. Obama ran against it in his initial presidential campaign in 2008, but "after 2009 he was largely silent for the rest of his time about the urgency for climate change," Zarlin added. "This is a decision where all he needs to do is just say no."
Protesters plan to organize and prepare with a series of legal briefings Sunday at University Center, 525 S. State St., and are asking people to sign up in advance here.