For the first time in the Sierra Club’s 120-year history, its national leader has been arrested for civil disobedience.

Julian Bond and Michael Brune protest against Keystone XL Pipeline at Lafayette Park on Feb 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images)
Julian Bond and Michael Brune protest against Keystone XL Pipeline at Lafayette Park on Feb 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images)

Executive Director Michael Brune was one of several celebrity demonstrators arrested today in Washington, DC, when they tied themselves to a White House gate to protest a proposed pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands to the US for refining.

Brune recently told KQED Science Editor Craig Miller that the San Francisco-based environmental advocacy group is expanding its playbook to include more street-level demonstrations.

“We realize that there’s no single, simple way to affect social change,” Brune said. “We want to do everything that works.”

Protestors want the President to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, which they say would add to air pollution and global warming. Brune told Miller this pipeline is part of a bigger picture.

“We want to see the President reject the XL pipeline but we want to see him go much farther than that,” Brune told Miller. “There’s an opportunity to reduce carbon pollution from smokestacks and refineries, all across the country. There’s an opportunity to turn away from Arctic oil drilling. There’s an even bigger opportunity to invest in clean energy like solar and wind.”

Their complete interview will air this coming Monday on KQED Public Radio at 6:33 and 8:33 am.

Here’s the full AP article on the protest …

WASHINGTON (AP) — Celebrities and environmental activists, including lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and civil rights leader Julian Bond, were arrested Wednesday after tying themselves to the White House gate to protest the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada.

Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune also was arrested — the first time in the group’s 120-year history that a club leader was arrested in an act of civil disobedience. The club’s board of directors approved the action as a sign of its opposition to the $7 billion pipeline, which would carry oil derived from tar sands in western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Activist Bill McKibben, actress Daryl Hannah and NASA climate scientist James Hansen also were arrested, along with more than 40 others. They were charged with failure to disperse and obey lawful orders, and released on $100 bond each.

The protesters are demanding that President Barack Obama reject the pipeline, which they say would carry “dirty oil” that contributes to global warming. They also worry about a spill.

Many business and labor groups support the 1,700-mile pipeline as a source of jobs and a step toward North American energy independence.

The 4-year-old project has become a flashpoint in the debate over climate change, with opponents labeling it a “carbon bomb” that could trigger global warming. Supporters call that rhetoric overblown and say Obama should approve the pipeline as part of his “all of the above” energy policy, which encourages a wide range of domestic energy development.

In an interview before his arrest, Brune said civil disobedience was justified because of the threat posed by tar sands oil, which is difficult to produce and emits significantly more greenhouse gases than conventional oil. The Sierra Club is the nation’s oldest and largest environmental group and generally shies away from extreme tactics.

“We want to send a strong message that we expect the president’s ambitions to meet the scale of the challenge and reject a pipeline that carries dirty, thick oil” that contributes to global warming, Brune said. The president’s supporters want Obama to “fight with both fists” against climate change, Brune said.

The made-for-media protest came ahead of a rally planned for Sunday on the National Mall, where organizers are expecting at least 20,000 people to protest the tar sands pipeline and urge Obama to act forcefully on climate change.

Kennedy, president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, a New York-based environmental group, said he was being arrested “with regret,” noting that he would prefer to contest the pipeline in court — and may eventually do so.

Kennedy, whose father was an attorney general and U.S. senator, called the pipeline “a boondoggle of monumental proportions” that will “ruin the lives of millions of people,” through increased carbon pollution and likely spills.

Obama was visiting a manufacturing plant in North Carolina when the demonstration occurred. As he made his way to a factory in Asheville, protesters held signs saying “Stop coal” and “No to Keystone.”

Obama has called climate change a serious threat and in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night urged Congress to combat the phenomenon. If Congress fails to act, he will use executive authority to take steps to cut greenhouse gas pollution and encourage increased use of cleaner sources of energy, Obama said.

Obama has twice thwarted the Keystone XL pipeline because of concerns over its route through sensitive land in Nebraska, but has not indicated how he will decide on the pipeline now that Nebraska’s governor has approved a new route. The State Department has authority over the project, because it crosses an international border, but most observers expect Obama to make the final decision.

Bond, former chairman of the NAACP, said he participated in the pipeline protest “because I’m an American and I’m worried about the planet.” He called the pipeline a human-rights issue, since many landowners in the six states where it will travel have been unable to resist Calgary-based TransCanada, the pipeline operator, as it seizes their property.

Bond also said the pipeline will exacerbate pollution problems near the Houston refineries where it will be processed, including neighborhoods where minorities predominate. The pipeline will travel through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma before reaching Texas.

Bond, 73, said he was unhappy at the prospect of being arrested. “My mother told me I’d never get a job” if he got arrested, he said.

As Bond and others were being arrested, the American Petroleum Institute, the largest lobbying group for the oil industry, again urged Obama to approve the project. The group said it will pay for ads supporting the pipeline and will mobilize grassroots events across the country urging Obama’s approval.

API President Jack Gerard called Keystone XL “the most thoroughly vetted major infrastructure project in the nation’s history” and noted that TransCanada has agreed to 57 special conditions sought by the U.S. government to ensure environmental safety.

With the unemployment rate hovering near 8 percent, “getting people into these new jobs is critical,” Gerard said.

In the past week, nine people have been arrested in attempts to disrupt the pipeline’s construction through Oklahoma. One of the eight people arrested Monday near Schoolton, Okla., had attached himself to a crane and was freed by a firefighter using bolt cutters.

Sierra Club Chief Arrested at Keystone XL Pipeline Protest 13 February,2013Molly Samuel

  • Jalama

    Not a peep of apology out of these same idiots that polluted our land and water in California with MTBE requirements in our gas..

    • Chris Meyering

      Theres no MTBE requirements. The law says an oxygenate must be used, that would be any oxygenate which includes MTBE, ethanol (which is required in many states) and a few others. Many Refineries used MTBE due to cost and Industrial lobbying which has been in use since the 70’s. No so much anymore, as most states moved to Ethanol. Not sure where you heard that, and hardly think its the same people.

  • dcoy

    What a commitment,,, with a string???? really.

  • James Maxwell

    If these fools want to reduce carbon emission then quite driving thier cars, flying their
    jets around the world to whine and howl about polution. Better still why don’t the quite
    using electricity, Cars and heating thier homes. Live like our ancestors did in caves with
    not fire or clothing except what they can grow themselves. Our polution has droped to
    the lowest level in many years thru improved power generaton and better automibile
    emission controls. For fools like this their is never enough but they will not change nor
    stop thier consumption of petro products, Coal products, thier airplanes or automobiles.
    They are blowing smoke up each othes backside and collecting millions of dollar while
    polution the enviroment daily.

    • Jacob Johnson

      nice grammar, but serously, flying in a plane or driving a car doesen’t compare to a pipe that is likely to leak and/or cause even more pollution than there is. yes, flying a plane or driving to work causes pollution, but thats ok. The planet can take a certain amount of pollution before bad things happen. These people arent trying to stop all pollution, but merely slow it.

      • James Maxwell

        If you go back and look at the Sierra Club and what they have stood far in the
        past it sounds plausable and very nice. But realiztically it has not helpe nor
        stoped any polution. In Colorado they blocked and stoped the cutting of
        trees that were infested by the pine bark beetle. The results was massive
        forest fires that could have been prevented. A few years ago in Florida
        the state tried to have a deer hunt to remove an over population problem
        that also included a lack of water for the populaton. The Sierra club
        prevailed and the hunt was blocked. Guess what the death of the local
        deer popullation numbered into the thousands. Their track record is not
        very good nor has it been in the bet interst our our naiton. Again pipe
        line develope leaks over time. That is why they are highly monitored by
        the government agencies and on site inspections. They are not concerned
        about reducing polution but more abour political power and control.
        That does not benifit our societ, our economy nor the citizens. Much like
        the EPA overregulating the Power industry and causign over 100 plus
        coal fired powere plants to close and other not to be build because they
        cannot keep up with the overregulation partical emissions. This has
        included plants that meet or exceed the current regulations. They
        are not concerned wth reducing nor slowing emissions. Sort of like
        when they complained about the emissions from the herds of cattle and
        their methan production.

  • gregg

    keep that guy in jail!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Molly Samuel

Molly Samuel joined KQED as an intern in 2007, and since then has worked here as a reporter, producer, director and blogger. Before becoming KQED Science’s Multimedia Producer, she was a producer for Climate Watch. Molly has also reported for NPR, KALW and High Country News, and has produced audio stories for The Encyclopedia of Life and the Oakland Museum of California. She was a fellow with the Middlebury Fellowships in Environmental Journalism and a journalist-in-residence at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. Molly has a degree in Ancient Greek from Oberlin College and is a co-founder of the record label True Panther Sounds.

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