WASHINGTON - When climate activist Bill McKibben of Middlebury needed "big stars" for his series of oil pipeline protests at the White House, he turned to Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The Vermont independent made a four-and-a-half-minute video that McKibben used as a recruiting tool for the protests, which will continue through Saturday. It's one of several ways members of Vermont's congressional delegation have aided the cause of environmentalists who want President Barack Obama to deny a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.
"Clearly, our congressional delegation is in the lead on this," said McKibben, who has led sit-ins outside the White House gate resulting in more than 700 arrests since Aug. 20.
Sanders and the protesters say the pipeline, which would stretch from Western Canada's oil-producing tar sands to refineries in Texas, would contribute to climate change because tar-sand oil emits 82 percent more carbon pollution than conventional oil.
In his video address, Sanders says building the pipeline would keep America "addicted to oil" when there are better choices for the environment and economy.
"Why in the world would we ever consider approving a new Big Oil pipeline to carry dirty fuel and keep America addicted to oil, when we could save money, create jobs, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil by moving to stronger fuel economy standards?" Sanders says. "I hope the president, who understands the problem of global warming, is asking himself the same question, and I hope his administration rejects the new Big Oil tar sands pipeline, and instead continues to push for strong fuel economy standards and clean energy alternatives."
The pipeline could transport up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, if Obama approves a permit.
More than 100 Vermonters have participated in the protests, and 21 were arrested on Tuesday. The State Department will determine by the end of the year if the project is in the national interest.
Sanders, along with Rep. Peter Welch and Sen. Patrick Leahy, both Vermont Democrats, have joined other members of Congress in writing to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton detailing their concerns and calling for thorough assessments of the project.
Clinton said late last year the department was "inclined" to approve the project.
The three Vermont lawmakers reacted sharply last week to the State Department's findings that the project would cause limited environmental damage. Leahy called the findings "disappointing" and a "missed opportunity" for the Obama administration to draw the line.
"The earth's climate is changing, and this is no time for business as usual by making commitments that will dramatically increase greenhouse gas emissions and do nothing to move us towards an economy that is less dependent on polluting fossil fuels," Leahy said in a statement.
The statement was significant, McKibben said, given Leahy's seniority in the Senate.
"They're doing exactly what we hoped they would do," McKibben said of the delegation. "We know that they will keep reminding President Obama over and over and over again that he's on the hook on this one."