Interfaith leaders to protest Keystone Pipeline at White House

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A group of more than 60 interfaith religious leaders will gather today at the White House with NASA lead climate scientist Dr. James Hansen in protest of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The pipeline plans to transport tar sands oil nearly 2,000 miles from oil fields in Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas, cutting across six U.S. states along the way. However, President Obama must sign a permit before construction on the pipeline can begin. The religious leaders have started a petition that urges the president to say “yes” to climate justice by saying “no” to this pipeline.

“The tar sands represent a catastrophic threat to our communities, our climate, and our planet,” reads the petition. The leaders urge the president to “stand by your religious tradition and your commitment to clear moral leadership on climate change by rejecting the requested permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and instead focus on developing safe, clean energy that manifests reverence for God and God's creation.”

Opponents cite concerns that the pipeline is a threat to ecosystems, sources of water, and general public health. Tar sands oil is a high polluting fuel that produces large amounts of carbon emissions and requires vast volumes of water for its production. Many indigenous people living in northern Alberta living downstream from tar sands operations have seen an in increase in incidences of rare cancers. Pipeline spills are especially of concern in the proposed route, which crosses the Missouri, Yellowstone, and Red Rivers in the U.S.

The interfaith group plans to lead a prayer service and read scripture that promotes the sacredness of creation. Among Catholic spokespeople present include Marie Dennis, director of the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns, and Fr. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, chair of the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Directorate for the Franciscans of the Holy Name Province.

According to Catholic social teaching, how we treat the environment is a measure of our respect for God. As stewards of the earth, we are called to live out our faith in our relationships with God’s creation. Does this mean that President Obama (who, though not Catholic, is a man of faith) should act on his faith when deciding to sign the permit? Can faith be kept separate from environmental and economic cases for or against the pipeline?

Related: What kinds of questions should we be asking presidential candidates who profess a faith?

Read more about Catholics and the environment and take our survey on green burials