Student Voice


January 30, 2023

Partly Cloudy


Student Keystone Pipeline protests validated after Obama's rejection

November 12, 2015

In March of 2013 I, along with eight other UW-River Falls students, embarked on a trip which had a profound impact on the future of my college career, my beliefs as a citizen of the United States, and as a human being on this planet.

The nine of us packed into a mini-van headed for Madison, to meet with students from throughout the UW System, where we planned to take rented vans to Washington, DC. After a short time in Madison and a few changes of plans, we came to the realization that there would be no rental vans, and we would be taking this trip in the mini-van. Nine students, mostly unfamiliar with each other, in a mini-van for twenty-four hours. I knew this would be a trip to remember, but I had no idea what would come of it and where this trip would lead me in my future.

The trip was focused around a protest against the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Students from all over the country would be gathering at the nation’s capitol to express concern over this project, which would have dissected the country, extending from the northern to southern border.

This pipeline would put our nation’s largest aquifer and largest source of irrigation water, the Ogallala Aquifer, at risk. I had never before experienced this type of event; protesting and direct action was stuff I’d only studied in my history courses and heard about in the lyrics of that Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth”. I was excited, I was nervous and I had no idea what to expect; but I felt like I was doing the right thing. It was important to take action against this toxic project.

The morning of the event, over 1000 people met at Georgetown University for a rally before the protest, followed by a march past Sec. of State John Kerry’s home, whose approval was needed to greenlight KXL. The march ended at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the White House. It was here where 398 people were arrested, the official charge being blocking traffic. Many of the activists had zip-tied their hands to the fence outside of the White House, others laid themselves upon a giant sheet of black plastic, representing an oil spill and staged a die-in. Before leaving for the trip, I had informed my family of my intent to get arrested, which was met with confusion, worry and judgement. This was expected, but again, it felt like it was the right thing to do. I was new to the environmentalism thing, but I knew that fossil fuels were not the future of our nation, and this pipeline was not in our nation’s best interest. It would only benefit a very few, very rich group of people.

This past Friday, after the oil company TransCanada had already suspended its permit application with the State Dept., President Obama made an announcement that I and many others had been eagerly awaiting for almost two years: he denied the project. Near the end of his official statement, Obama said “… we’re continuing to lead by example. Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.” This was a move of profound importance, no president has ever made such a monumental statement against the fossil fuel industry. President Obama must be commended for his bravery to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, and for proving himself to be a climate champion, instead of the pipeline president. In a society where we rely so heavily on the use of fossil fuels in almost every aspect of our life, on a planet which has a finite amount of these fossil fuels; it is refreshing to see a person in power taking the right steps toward a brighter future.

Being a part of blocking a major pipeline project via nation-wide social action, whether its KXL, or the illegal expansion of Enbridge’s tar sands pipelines, are just a few examples of how The Environmental Corps of Sustainability (ECOS) has done it’s part to advocate for a cleaner planet. To find out more about what ECOS is currently doing to promote the idea of sustainability at UWRF, please come to a weekly meeting on Thursday evenings at 7 p.m. in room 332 of the University Center.

Greg Mathews is a senior history major with a political science minor at UW-River Falls. He is also an environmental activist, adventurer and outdoor enthusiast.