Keystone Pipeline’s Approval Could Spark Civil Disobedience

Environmentalist groups warn of action if State Dept. approves project


Environmentalist groups are training activists nationwide to conduct a mass civil disobedience campaign if the State Department recommends approval of the Keystone pipeline.

Three of those groups—CREDO Action, the Rainforest Action Network, and The Other 98%—say they have tens of thousands of supporters who have pledged to partake in the campaign.

“More than 69,000 people have pledged to risk arrest in acts of peaceful, dignified civil disobedience if the State Department issues a draft National Interest Determination (NID) that recommends approval of the Keystone XL pipeline,” CREDO Action said in a Friday email.

The pledge aims to “convince the White House that it will be politically unfeasible to go forward” with Keystone, according to a preface to the pledge on CREDO’s website.

“Our goal is not to get arrested,” CREDO says. “But if [President Barack Obama] shows clear signs he that he is preparing to approve it, we will be ready.”

CREDO said the three groups have organized events in 25 American cities to train activists in conducting protest activities.

“More than 750 people have signed up to lead local actions in their communities and attend the organizer trainings,” the organization wrote.

CREDO and others involved in the effort portray it as a grassroots push against Keystone. But pipeline supporters claim the environmentalist groups organizing the campaign are well-funded “astroturf” organizations.

“Organizers and trainers are all foundation-funded,” said Ron Arnold, executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise and author of EcoTerror: The Violent Agenda to Save Nature.

“We have a moneyed elite buying a populist front to impose their views on the mass of the American energy-dependent public,” Arnold said in an email to the Washington Free Beacon.

Neither CREDO nor any of the three groups training anti-Keystone activists returned requests for comment.

The Keystone Pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast, has become a flash point for environmentalists. Many see the project as a litmus test for the Obama administration’s—and the Democratic Party’s—environmentalist bona fides.

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer spent millions of dollars electing Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) to the U.S. Senate in a special election last month. Markey’s opposition to Keystone won him Steyer’s significant financial support.

While obscure environmentalist groups have vociferously opposed the pipeline, larger, more established organizations have encouraged their supporters to break the law in opposition to the project.

“The board is answering the urgency of this threat with our decision to engage, for one time, in civil disobedience,” Allison Chin, president of the environmentalist group the Sierra Club, wrote in January.

The Sierra Club and groups pledging additional acts of civil disobedience have repeatedly said that opposition to the pipeline must be nonviolent. But some have expressed concern that individual activists could cross that line.

“It depends on the circumstances,” said one attendee of a February anti-Keystone rally organized by the Sierra Club when asked whether he endorsed eco-terrorism as a means to stop the pipeline.

“When we say ‘by any means necessary,’ we mean ‘by any means necessary’,” he added. The rally was also sponsored by, which has collaborated with CREDO on its civil disobedience pledge.

Supporters of the pipeline say environmentalist tactics have become more extreme as the perception that the president will approve it has grown.

“As public support continues to grow for this pipeline, expect fringe opposition groups to resort to more and more outlandish tactics to grab headlines,” Matt Dempsey, spokesman for the industry blog Oil Sands Fact Check, told the Free Beacon in an email.

Lachlan Markay   Email | Full Bio | RSS
Lachlan Markay is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He comes to the Beacon from the Heritage Foundation, where he was the conservative think tank's first investigative reporter. He was also a contributing editor for His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, and the Washington Examiner. He graduated from Hamilton College in 2009, and currently lives in Washington, D.C. His Twitter handle is @lachlan. His email address is