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Bill McKibben at #OccupyWallStreet: We Need to Circle the White House and Liberate Obama from that Stunt Double

5:58 am in Uncategorized by Scarecrow

Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org and organizer of the Tar Sands Action protests at the White House and who with 64 others was arrested and spent two nights in jail because the D.C. police wanted to discourage more protests, spoke to a group from Occupy Wall Street who are also not discouraged.

As he’s been doing from the beginning, McKibben made a direct connection between the greed and corruption of the corporate/financial system represented by Wall Street and the greed and folly on global climate change represented by the Keystone XL Pipeline and tar sands oil development in Alberta, Canada.

Bill invited the Occupy participants to join him in circling the White House on November 6 to liberate Barack Obama.  It’s shaping up to be an exorcism.  The message to President Obama is classic:

Here’s the text, courtesy of Tar Sands Action:

Today in the New York Times there was a story that made it completely clear why we have to be here. They uncovered the fact that the company building that tar sands pipeline was allowed to choose another company to conduct the environmental impact statement, and the company that they chose was a company was a company that did lots and lots of work for them. So, in other words, the whole thing was rigged top to bottom and that’s why the environmental impact statement said that this pipeline would cause no trouble, unlike the scientists who said if we build this pipeline it’s “game over” for the climate. We can’t let this pipeline get built.

On November 6, one year before the election, we’re going to be in DC with a huge circle of people around the White House and they’re going to be carrying signs with quotations from Barack Obama from the 2008 campaign. He said, “It’s time to end the tyranny of oil.” He said, “I will have the most transparent government in history.” We have to go to DC to find out where they have locked that guy up. We have to free Obama, because there is some sort of stunt double there now. So on November 6, I hope we can move, just for a day, Occupy Wall Street down to the White House and get them in the fight against corporate power.

The reason that it’s so great that we’re occupying Wall Street is because Wall Street has been occupying the atmosphere. That’s why we can never do anything about global warming. Exxon gets in the way. Goldman Sachs gets in the way. The whole fossil fuel industry gets in the way. The sky does not belong to Exxon. They cannot keep using it as a sewer into which to dump their carbon. If they do, we’ve got no future and nobody else on this planet has a future.

I spend a lot of time in countries around the world organizing demonstrations and rallies in solidarity. In the last three years at 350.org, we’ve had 15,000 rallies in every country except North Korea. Everywhere around the world, poor people and black people and brown people and Asian people and young people are standing up. Most of those places, don’t produce that much carbon. They need us to act with them and for them, because the problem is 20 blocks south of here. That’s where the Empire lives and we’ve got to figure out how to tame it and make it work for this planet or not work at all.

Thank you guys very much.

Here’s the link to the New York Times article Bill mentioned, the original Think Progress blog by Brad Johnson that the Times, uh, forgot to mention, and our follow up at FDL.

“Our Project Will Create Lots of Jobs!” Yes, but So Will Its Alternative

10:23 am in Economy, Energy by Scarecrow

Workers at Cardiff Mine disaster, 1913 (photo: Library of Congress)

Whenever we have debates about whether to approve more oil drilling, or more coal mountain-top removal, or another coal plant, the arguments always come down to jobs.  The advocates of the project tell us how many jobs will be involved in the construction or extraction processes or operating the plants.  And the opponents are left to argue over whether the jobs numbers are exaggerated, or whether they’re only temporary instead of permanent, or comparative macroeconomic effects.

So it’s not surprising that the advocates of the Keystone XL Pipeline and related tar sands oil development have bussed in lots of supposed pipeline construction and oil workers to argue at the State Department hearings on the Environmental Impact Statement for why the project should go forward and why it’s in America’s national interest. It will create jobs and allow us to use less oil from bad places

Opponents sometimes find these arguments difficult to counter; you don’t want to argue against someone’s job.   Both sides then offer expert studies on how many jobs would be created by the proposed activities.  These efforts are fine and worth doing, I suppose, but I think they miss the broader picture.

We have an economy whose annual GDP is about $15 trillion.  We use enormous amounts of energy, of all types, probably more than any other nation.  In an economy as large as ours that relies on energy as much as ours, there will always be a large number of jobs that depend on the industries that provide that energy.

So of course, any large fossil energy source, whether it’s coal or oil or natural gas, will employ lots of people.  Large projects to extract, refine, transport and market those carbon fossil products will each provide many jobs.

But exactly the same is true of renewable energy industries like solar, wind, geothermal and even more so for energy efficiency endeavors.  There are plenty of studies showing that if we directed more of the nation’s wealth towards solar and wind and energy efficiency efforts, those too would create and sustain large numbers of jobs.  And doing the right thing is a terrific investment.

When you generate electricity from wind or solar power, you need to generate less electricity from coal or natural gas.   You need less coal and less gas to be extracted and transported.  And making our homes and offices more energy efficient takes lots of labor, but the resulting efficiency improvements also mean using less energy generated from coal and natural gas.  All of these “alternative energy” efforts create and require hundreds of thousands of jobs.  And those jobs are growing and growing fast.

So the question has never been whether we should extract more carbon from oil or coal or gas to provide jobs, because providing enough energy for this country will always provide lots of jobs.  Always.

The jobs question is, and always has been, whether we want those jobs building safer, cleaner, renewable energy technologies and efficiency improvements, or we want only jobs extracting, refining and burning dirtier, harmful, carbon-based energy sources.

We’re going to have plenty of energy jobs — hundreds of thousands of them — either way.  It just depends on where we focus our money and efforts and what we want the consequences of our choices to be.  But one way, the smart way, we get clean, renewable sources that don’t destroy the environment or the health of our children and elderly, and they rescue the planet from catastrophic global climate change . . .  and the other way we get environmentally destructive extraction, unsafe industries, unhealthy communities with huge health care costs and a heated up, endangered planet.

The comparative job numbers are interesting, but you don’t really need them to decide the smart thing to do.  It’s a fairly simple, no-brainer of a choice, once you understand what the real choice is all about.

State Department Letting Keystone XL Contractor Manage Its Environmental Review

7:15 am in Environment, Keystone XL Pipeline by Scarecrow

State Department Fountain (photo: Tom Watson)

Never mind Solyndra.  That pufffed up bit of White House political interference in agency determinations is small potatoes compared to what the U.S. State Department is doing to corrupt the environmental evaluation of the Keystone XL Pipeline project.

Brad Johnson at Think Progress reported yesterday that the State Department has farmed out critical agency functions regarding the environmental review to a private contractor that also contracts with TransCanada.  TransCanada is one of the Keystone XL pipeline sponsors and the applicant for the permit the project must obtain from the State Department.  That should cause a scandal.

The contractor, Cardno ENTRIX boasts on its website that it was contracted by TransCanada to assist the State Department in preparing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and is also managing the EIS process and, shockingly, the public hearings on the EIS for the State Department.

Let’s step back and talk about the role of the EIS.  Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) every federal agency considering a major “action” — such as approval of an application to build something (e.g. a 1,700 mile pipeline) — that may have a significant impact on the environment must first fully assess those impacts, consider alternatives to the project that would mitigate or avoid any adverse impacts, and propose mitigation measures to mitigate or avoid such impacts.

A project can be turned down because of the EIS findings, and an agency’s “action” — the decision approving the project — can be reversed in court for failing to prepare an adequate EIS or give it adequate consideration.  After preparing the EIS, the agency must fully consider the EIS throughout its approval process, so that environmental concerns are adequately addressed and mitigated in any final decision the agency makes.  That’s the law.

Over 30 years of federal litigation has established that the agency must perform these functions in a competent, independent manner.  It can’t ignore or dismiss environmental concerns, and it can’t accept and rubber stamp a draft EIS prepared by the applicant.  It can contract out the job of preparing the EIS, but the contractor must be accountable to the agency, not the project applicant.  And if the applicant provides information, studies, or drafts for the agency’s EIS, the agency still has an obligation to independently verify the information and studies rather than simply assume they are professionally prepared, accurate or unbiased.  That’s also the law.

The federal government is engaged in thousands of “actions” that might have an impact on the environment, and so agencies must prepare thousands of environmental impact statements.  Over the years, a large cottage industry of consulting firms and contractors has sprung up to perform this work for the government.  Many of them are highly competent.  Others not so much.

But ultimately, the government agency itself is responsible for the integrity and thoroughness of the EIS.  And the agency itself is also responsible for conducting its internal and public review processes, including public hearings, in a manner that fully considers the EIS at every step of the agency’s decision making process.  That’s also the law.

The United States Department of State seems to be having trouble following the law.  It’s not a problem for it to contract out the job of preparing the draft EIS, provided the contractor is not also a paid consultant for the applicant. In this case, the contractor boasts that it has been under contract to the applicant. How was that conflict resolved?

Farming out the conduct of public hearings is equally problematic.  The point of having the EIS available for public hearings, and then accepting public comments on the EIS, is to ensure that those agency officials directly involved in the decision making process — and they can be staff and/or counsel who directly advise the ultimate decision maker — fully considered the EIS in the decision making process.  So this is a function that should never be farmed out, let alone to a contractor that’s also contracted to the project applicant.

The State Department needs to clean up its act.  It has already issued an EIS that blatantly ignores or downplays the most important environmental concerns with the Keystone XL Pipeline project, so its final EIS is already legally vulnerable. The hearing process may be even more so.

State Department employees, with no connection to the applicants, and who will be advising the Secretary of State when she makes the decision, need to be running the public hearings.   They need to hear the public comments.  And they need to ensure that as the decision-making process goes forward, the EIS is fully considered at every step.  It’s the law.

We live in lawless times.  The Administration’s record in upholding the rule of law is shoddy.  But if the State Department doesn’t obey the law, well maybe there’s still an honest court left that will reverse the decision when Hillary Clinton makes the predetermined decision she’s already said — in another blatant violation of NEPA — she’s inclined to make.

John Chandley, Tarsands 65

Update: Looks like the hearing in Austin yesterday didn’t go as planned.

Bill McKibben: The Tar Sands Action Continues in Front of White House

8:40 pm in Environment by Scarecrow

White House Tar sands Aug 27

Tar Sands White House Protest August 27 (photo: Josh Lopez)

After a day off Sunday because of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene, the Tar Sands Action in front of the White House will resume with more arrests expected Monday. So far, 381 people have been arrested for trying to wake up the US President and the country on what could be “game over” in efforts to slow down global climate change.

[Update: Over 140 tar sands protesters were arrested today (Monday) in front of the White House. The group's counsel, here at the Courthouse, tells us Climate Scientist James Hansen was part of the group arrested.]

On Saturday, tars sands and Keystone XL Pipeline protest supporters assembled in front of the White House — the picture at right — but as planned, did not force arrests.  However, the sit-ins and arrests should resume Monday.

Bill McKibben let us know he’s expecting up to 100 people to participate and be subject to arrest on Monday.  [We know now there were over 140 arrested today.] So neither the earlier arrests nor Irene kept people from arriving from all over North America, and they’re willing to risk and endure arrest to keep calling attention to the tragedy of becoming more dependent on the world’s second largest carbon deposit.

And this time, President Obama, who has the authority to make the call to stop this dangerous dependency and its climate effects, will be back to hear the message directly.  If you’re in the area, come on down to your White House and exercise your rights for your planet and make sure the President hears you.  They assemble about 10:00 a.m.

Bill also said that as soon as he’s covered the White House sit in on Monday, he’ll head over to the federal courthouse to join Jane Hamsher (and me) to watch the first day of Dan Choi’s trial for being arrested earlier this year protesting DADT and related issues.   For Bill, it’s an important act of solidarity with Dan, who joined Bill McKibben and the Tar Sands Action protest on Saturday, August 20 and spent 2 days in jail as one of the Tar Sands 65.

Jane will be providing periodic coverage for Dan’s trial tomorrow, though live coverage inside the court room is not, I believe, permitted. So watch for her posts and/or tweets.

For a fine summary of the tar sands and Keystone XL Pipeline issues, here’s Bill McKibben being interviewed by Chris Hayes this past Friday on Last Word.

Bill McKibben Talks About Tar Sands and the D.C Sit Ins on Countdown

11:00 pm in Energy, Uncategorized by Scarecrow

Bill McKibben, head of 350.0rg and a principal organizer for the White House demonstrations against the Tar Sands extraction and Keystone XL pipeline, was interviewd Tuesday night by KO on Countdown.   McKibben’s quietly understated message to the President was direct,  personal and moving, and equally important, evolving:

It’s going to be gut-check time for the President.

When he ran for President . . . the night he was nominated, in fact, he said, “you know what?  When I’m President , the rise of the oceans will begin to slow, and the planet will begin to heal.”   That’s powerful talk.

He hasn’t yet done heroic things on the environment.  He’s done some good things around the edges, but nothing transformative.  And he’s backed down on some important fights.

This time, he can’t blame it on Congress; he doesn’t have to ask Jim Inhoff for permission; he doesn’t need any help from the Congress.  He can turn down this permit himself.  And if he does — and here I think is the political calculation — if he does it will send a surge of excitement through that base.

We were sitting, lying on the metal shelves in what’s called the central cell block in the Washington jail the other day, and people were saying, “you know, the last time I was this uncomfortable, I was lying in a church basement getting ready to go knock on doors for Barack Obama.”  I sure hope I get reminded of why I was doing all of that.”

When Jane Hamsher asked me if I wanted to join her at a White House demonstration led by McKibben that would also include Dan Choi, I said “sure,” not yet realizing I would spend two days in the cell directly across from Bill and down the cell block corridor from Dan.

And Bill is right that the cells and bunks were uncomfortable.  But we kept telling each other this isn’t anything compared to what the planet and its people face if we don’t stop the madness of releasing one of the world’s largest concentrations of carbon, stripping the forests, threatening the aquifers, and then burning the fuel.  How could we ever explain such shameful and reckless selfishness to the next generations?

But what Bill and the organizers did was to make sure that several generations understood all at once.  I’m 67 but was far from the oldest and clearly not the veteran of this kind of war.  Two cells down, 18 year old Lucas, who had just graduated from high school, was right there, and so were a dozen or more kids still in or just out of college or that age.  We had two ministers — one older, one newly ordained –  teachers, inventors, architects, former government advisers and more . . .  just regular Americans.  They all understood far more than I.

One of many favorites is Tom Weis, 45, who’s planning to ride his part electric three wheeler all the way from Canada to Texas, staring in October.  He’ll be biking the pipeline route and stopping to interview folks whose lands and water supplies risk destruction from leaks and pipeline failures.  Tom is planning to cross-post his experiences here at FDL, so check out his video and watch for “Renewable Rider.”  If you can help in his effort, follow the links.

The woman in the first 65 arrestees blew me away when they were arrested.  (Many great pictures here.)   We watched as the Park Police and SWAT guys handcuffed each of the women first, starting with a young women who stood up bravely, looked at us and held it together as burly men placed handcuffs on her for the first of what would be three or four times.  I will never forget that look, nor the next  from a woman probably older than I.  Proud, defiant, brave, she was. Unbeatable.  Hell, we all thought, look at that!  What are we worried about? And so it went, one after another.   Out of the way, guys, the ladies have got this.

And so it went. Jane’s posts provided great commentary on the conditions in the women’s cells at the first holding center — it was the same for the men, with 15 of us in our 6X8 foot cells.   The paddy wagons tanking us to the main jail became dangerous heat traps when we were left inside to wait for  . . . what?

Others have posted on the conditions at the main jails to which we were transferred late Saturday night and remained until Monday morning before donning ankle  shackles to be led to another large holding cell before release some 10 yours later.   I don’t have much to add except those were without doubt the most inedible not-really-cheese sandwiches in the history of food, but the only alternative was the almost equally undigestible baloney.

Inside the main jail, once it was clear we were to spend an exceptionally uncomfortable weekend courtesy of the DC Park Police, Bill McKibben had the difficult task of helping others keep the faith — since the original expectation was we’d be released on Saturday — so people needed to keep faith in the plan, the goal, and in themselves.  The mix of generations proved useful, here, and everyone hung in there, telling jokes, exchanging stories, quoting famous sayings, controlling the doubts and most of all, passing the time.

Like all of us, Bill is moving, learning from this event.  He’s telling his President there’s a promise to keep, a threat to be stopped, an alternative future to be built.  And people who worked for Obama are now prepared to hold him accountable.  I don’t think this President is listening, yet, not sure he can or cares.  But McKibben and followers aren’t done.  They’re just starting.   And there are now 65 more people from last weekend, and by today, another 200 or more who are ready to do it again and again, and more.   Because it doesn’t have to be this way, and it’s not okay for our government not to care about the only home planet we have.

John Chandley

Update:  Schedule of events and places/churches where the training is held nightly:  TarsandsAction.org If your in the area and want to the sights, come!