University students to protest crude oil in D.C.

President Obama is expected to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline soon.

Hailey Colwell


University of Minnesota students will join thousands of environmentalists Saturday as they flock to Washington, D.C., to protest the use of fossil fuel.

More than 20,000 people are expected to gather on the National Mall for the Forward on Climate Rally, an effort to convince President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline Project.

The proposed $7 billion pipeline would expand the existing Keystone oil system to span from tar sands in Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.

More than 40 people were arrested Wednesday for protesting the pipeline in front of the White House. Among those arrested were the Sierra Club’s executive director Michael Brune, activist Bill McKibben and lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Environmentalists have criticized the 1,700-mile pipeline for its potential to increase greenhouse gas emissions. They also worry that an oil spill could damage the air, water and terrain around it.

Supporters of the pipeline say it will increase jobs and U.S. energy independence.

Despite the potential to be taken into custody, one University student says she’s still excited for the protest.

“It’s a huge thing for progress on climate change,” said biology and Spanish freshman Paige Varin, “so I feel like the chance of getting arrested for this is well worth it.”

Varin said she called her mom for advice before deciding to go to the rally.

“I told her about possible arrests, and she was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, you need to go. This is going to be the moment of your life.’”

Obama has postponed his decision on the proposed pipeline because older versions of its route cut through ecologically vulnerable land in Nebraska, but he is expected to announce his final decision soon.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, Obama urged Congress to take steps against climate change. He said he will use his authority to reduce greenhouse gas pollution if Congress fails to act.

Staying green and saving green

To steer people away from flying to the rally, environmental groups and climate rally organizers and the Sierra Club have organized trains to transport participants to Washington, D.C.

“Ideally, we don’t want to use fossil fuel to go out to D.C. to try to stop fossil fuel usage, but [the train] is the most efficient way to get people out there,” said Paul Densmore, University alumnus and volunteer with MN350, Minnesota’s chapter of

Since the train’s infrequent trips would cause students to miss school, organized buses that will take people directly to the rally and back.

The bus tickets were subsidized by the Sierra Club and reduced to $100 each, making the commute much more affordable than the originally $360 train ticket.

Having a reduced-price bus ticket available to students makes going to the rally a much more realistic option, said evolution, ecology and behavior freshman Keisa Helgerson.

Varin said she and Helgerson originally looked into driving to the rally, which would have cost more than $300.

“The fact that they have transportation for kids is so nice,” Varin said.

She said she’s looking forward to representing the University at the rally because she wants to help persuade the president to look at renewable alternatives to crude oil.

“The pipeline could potentially be ridiculously hazardous to health as well as, obviously, the environment.” 

Two “climate buses” will leave the Twin Cities on Saturday and drive directly to the rally, which begins Sunday morning, Densmore said.

During the 18-hour bus ride to Washington, D.C., passengers will discuss climate change, watch documentaries and send out mass social media posts to raise awareness about the rally, he said.

“We’re definitely working on keeping people engaged and getting them excited about the rally.”

Medical student Simone Childs-Walker said she’s going to the rally because she’s never participated in a protest of this size.    

“I’ve known that the climate is a really important issue for a long time,” Childs-Walker said, “and I feel like the movement is really taking off.”

Childs-Walker said she looks forward to connecting with other climate-concerned students on the long ride.

“It will be a lot of bus time,” Varin said, “but it’s worth it.”

Margaret Levin, state director for the Sierra Club’s North Star Chapter said the rally’s organizers have seen a lot of student leadership on Keystone protest efforts.

“Young people are bringing inspiration [and] they’re bringing optimism, but they’re also adding to the sense of urgency to this growing movement for solutions to the climate crisis,” she said.

In addition to participating in the Forward on Climate rally, students from about 230 college campuses have begun fossil fuel divestment campaigns, pushing their schools’ administrations to remove endowment funding from fossil fuel companies, said spokesman Daniel Kessler.

“Over the last few months, we’ve seen unprecedented enthusiasm coming from college campuses,” Kessler said.

Students also play a major role in the movement by diversifying the population of people pushing for renewable energy, he said.

“It’s really encouraging to see the level of student enthusiasm on climate change.”

Helgerson said it’s important for students to understand how climate issues affect their lives.

“This is our future,” she said. “It’s what we’re going to have to live with later on once we’re out of college.”


– The Associated Press contributed to this report.