Holding the Line on Keystone XL

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Holding the Line on Keystone XL

'We won his battle, but the fight against Keystone XL is by no means over. Republicans, who were swept into control of the Senate this November on a tidal wave of Big Oil money, are surely going to hold more votes on the pipeline when Congress takes session this January. President Obama can wait and veto those bills or he can act now and reject Keystone XL once and for all.' (Image: 350.org)

Once again, the climate movement has demonstrated our ability to hold the line against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Today, after six hours of debate, a bill that would have approved Keystone XL failed to get the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate. The tally was incredibly close: 59-41 in favor of the pipeline. Every voted counted–and we didn’t take a single one for granted.

When we heard the news that Senator Landrieu would push for a vote on Keystone XL to try and help her struggling run-off campaign in Louisiana, our 350.org team–and the entire climate movement–sprung into action.

With our allies in DC, we ran the vote counts and started to focus our pressure on potential swings. We also made sure that Democrats, who profess to care about global warming, knew that a vote for Keystone XL was an act of climate denial.

When we heard that Senator Carper (D-MD) and Senator Bennet (D-CO) were going to be voting for Keystone XL, we sent out an email blast to our entire US email list and flooded their DC phone lines with over 6,000 phone calls. That was enough to shut down the switchboards–we heard from activists that the phones just kept ringing and ringing as staffers tried to handle the incoming complaints.

Just to make sure Senator Carper got the message, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben published an op-ed in Salon slamming the Senator for voting with Big Oil: “If you want to understand why the China-U.S. climate deal announced this week is going to be hard to meet, and if you want to understand why the Democratic Party is such an annoying institution, meet Tom Carper, Democratic senator from Delaware.” Ouch.

By Monday morning, we were taking action offline and into the streets. Bright and early at 8:30am, dozens of activists, indigenous leaders, and ranchers from Nebraska braved the freezing rain to demonstrate outside of Senator Mary Landrieu’s home on Capitol Hill with a giant inflatable pipeline. “If Senator Landrieu wants this pipeline so badly, she can have it through her front yard. If these Senators really wanted to be helpful, they could put thousands of folks to work with clean energy jobs,” said Nebraska farmer Art Tanderup. News and images of the protest made the New York Times, CNN, ABC, Politico, and more.

Later that morning, we got the news that Senator Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Levin (D-MI) were telling press that they were still “on the fence” or “undecided” on Keystone XL, even though they’d voted with us before in the past. Ten minutes after we saw the news, an email blast was out to our supporters in both Michigan and New York asking them to call the Senators. Together, we got over 100 calls into each Senator within the hour. Lo and behold, a few hours later both Senators had revised their talking points and were clearly standing against Keystone XL.

Today, on the day of the Senate vote, the climate movement really brought the heat. Let’s set aside Twitter, where the #NoKXL tweets dominated any attempts by pipeline proponents to advocate for the project. At around 11:30am, a group of students, ranchers and farmers, and indigenous activists marched into the offices of Senators Bennet and Senator Carper (remember, they’re the two swing Democrats who decided to vote with Big Oil) and refused to leave. CNN, MSNBC, Huffington Post, and other media covered the sit-in live from the Senate offices. It probably wasn’t the publicity Bennet and Carper looking for–but it was certainly the coverage they deserved.

Inspired by their leadership of those activists, we got out a blast out to our email list and sent another wave of 5,000 phone calls into Senate offices. As Senators went back and forth to join in and listen to the Keystone XL debate on the floor, their offices were getting bombarded with calls from people across the country.

This evening, when all the votes were counted, we knew that the effort had paid off. Another cynical attempt by Big Oil Senators to approve Keystone XL had gone down. “Once again, Congress tried to play games with our future–and failed,” said 350.org Executive Director, May Boeve in a statement to press.

None of this would have been possible with the support of hundreds of thousands of activists across the country, as well as the incredible partners who make up the coalition standing against Keystone XL. From our First Nations allies in the tar sands who started this fight, to the ranchers and farmers along the pipeline route, to the environmental advocates working within DC, we’ve shown the strength of this movement.

The fight against Keystone XL is by no means over. Republicans, who were swept into control of the Senate this November on a tidal wave of Big Oil money, are surely going to hold more votes on the pipeline when Congress takes session this January. President Obama can wait and veto those bills or he can act now and reject Keystone XL once and for all.

We say: act now. No more political theater, no more games. We’ve known since we sat down in front of the White House in 2011 for the first wave of sit-ins against Keystone XL that this pipeline was a climate disaster. Since then, the case against the pipeline has only grown stronger.

We’re still holding the line. It’s time for the President to join us.

Jamie Henn

Jamie Henn is the director of communications and strategy for the international climate campaign 350.org. Follow him on Twitter @Agent350

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