Rallying against Keystone XL pipeline, demonstrators court Casey vote in vain

Environmental activists rallied outside of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey’s office in Philadelphia Monday as part of a last-ditch effort to persuade the Democrat to cast a key vote against the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. 

But their hopes were dashed as a Casey spokesman said the senator will likely support the project.

The measure in question, which the Senate is expected to vote on soon, would bypass the Obama administration and approve a pipeline transporting tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in the Gulf Coast. Last month, the State Department announced that it was delaying a decision on the project due to legal concerns.

One of the few dozen activists at the Philadelphia protest was Adam Garber, field director for the statewide organization PennEnvironment. He said Casey should vote against the Keystone XL pipeline because it will exacerbate climate change by expanding the use of fossil fuels.

“Extreme weather, from the massive flooding we saw last week to the droughts out West, are devastating our country,” he said. “If we set off this climate bomb in our midst, it will only get worse. And honestly, Sen. Casey has it within his power potentially … to stop it.”

Casey was thought to be one of a few possible swing votes on the proposal. Last week, Keystone XL supporters in the Senate said they had 56 of the 60 votes needed to pass the upcoming bill.

But John Rizzo, a Casey spokesman, said Monday he “fully” expects Casey to vote in favor of the project.

“Sen. Casey understands some of the concerns raised about the Keystone XL project and also recognizes the potential that Keystone has to create jobs and bolster our energy security,” said Rizzo. “The State Department issued its final environmental impact statement. According to the State Department’s study, the pipeline is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in oil sands.”

Environmental groups reject the department’s analysis, saying it relies on the faulty assumption that the oil will be transported with or without the Keystone XL project. They argue it isn’t feasible to move such large amounts of oil by rail or truck.

They also dismiss claims that the project will have a significant economic impact.

“The jobs are really going to be quite minimal,” said Sam Bernhardt, an organizer for the nonprofit Food & Water Watch who attended the rally. “On the short term, they’ve been overestimated. On the long term, they’re frankly just not really present.”

The State Department estimates that the pipeline would support more than 42,000 temporary jobs and 35 permanent jobs.

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, also of Pennsylvania, said Monday that he would vote to authorize the Keystone XL pipeline.

“It’s a tremendously important part of our energy infrastructure for the country,” he said, “and it’ll be a source of a lot of jobs, thousands of jobs, including many in Pennsylvania.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal