65 protesters arrested at environmentalist sit-in at White House

A U.S. Park Police officer handcuffs and arrests a protester in front of the White House, Saturday. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

On the first day of a planned two-week sit-in front of the White House, 65 environmentalist protesters have been arrested.

Leaders of the protest say they want to pressure President Obama to deny the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. The controversial 1,700-mile project would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S. They say this is the most important environmental decision facing the president before the 2012 election.

"President Obama can stop this climate killing disaster with the stroke of a pen," said environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, one of the protest planners. "We will be outside the White House hoping we can inspire the president to live up to the promises that so inspired us in his 2008 campaign. And without Congress in the way, this is the clearest test he'll ever have."

McKibben, Mark Ruffalo, Dr. James Hansen and over 2,000 people from all 50 states are expected to take part in the sit-in at the White House that began Saturday morning and is scheduled to run through September 3, according to a statement released to the media.

Gus Speth, founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council and an environmental advisor to previous presidents, is also participating in the protest.

U.S. Park Police spokesperson David Schlosser says the 65 arrestees have been charged with “failure to obey a lawful order.” They were taken to a processing facility.

Labor groups differ over US-Canada oil pipeline

WASHINGTON (AP) - A Canadian company's plan to pipe oil from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast is pitting traditional Democratic allies against each other.

Two major unions said Friday they oppose the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline. That stance aligns them with environmentalists but puts them at odds with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of the largest and most influential unions.

The Transport Workers Union and the Amalgamated Transit Union say they're concerned that the $7 billion pipeline could pollute groundwater and cause health problems near the Texas refineries where the oil will go.

Calgary-based TransCanada wants to build a pipeline to carry crude oil extracted from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas. The pipeline would go through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Larry J. Hanley, president of the ATU, said the risk of oil spills, ruptures and other possible environmental damage outweighs the lure of new jobs.

"We think there are lots of ways to produce lots of jobs, and you don't have to foul the environment," he said. "We think there are issues that trump the simple question of jobs."

Hanley also said he believes the 20,000 jobs projected by TransCanada - including 13,000 construction jobs - are inflated. Hanley declined to comment on the Teamsters' endorsement of the project, saying it was a "difference of opinion."

James Kimball, chief economist for the Teamsters, said the project would create up to 1,500 Teamsters jobs at a time of high unemployment.

"This project means jobs - and jobs for our members," he said at a conference call this week organized by the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry lobbying group.

If President Barack Obama really wants to create jobs, he should approve the pipeline instead of touring the Midwest on a bus, Cindy Schild, the institute's refining issues manager said.

"He's been talking about jobs. This is the opportunity: the largest shovel-ready project in the United States," she said. "You've got to put actions where your priorities are, and our priorities need to be jobs."

The pipeline needs a document known as a presidential permit because it crosses an international boundary, although in practice the State Department has authority over the project.

The State Department is expected to complete an environmental analysis this month, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said she will make a decision by the end of the year.

TransCanada declined to comment on the opposition to the project by the two transit unions, but says it has agreements with at least six unions to build the pipeline.

Organized labor's support for the project was credited with boosting congressional support for legislation that would force the Obama administration to make a final decision on the pipeline by Nov. 1. That bill passed the House last month with bipartisan support, but it is not likely to advance in the Senate.

The disagreement among labor unions comes as more than 2,000 people are scheduled to take part in daily sit-ins at the White House to pressure the Obama administration to deny a permit for Keystone XL.

The project would double the capacity of an existing pipeline from Canada, and supporters say it could significantly reduce U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Environmental groups say the pipeline would bring "dirty oil" that requires huge amounts of energy to extract and could cause an ecological disaster in case of a spill.

"It's either a `yes' or a `no' for the climate-killing Keystone XL oil pipeline - and Obama gets to make the call," said environmental author Bill McKibben, one of the leaders of the protest.

The protests, which begin Saturday, will culminate in a Sept. 3 rally outside the White House. The events are intended to "show the president he has the support necessary to stand up to Big Oil and stop the pipeline," McKibben said.