Several women from Maine are among those present in Washington, D.C., at a planned two-week civil disobedience protest outside the White House over a proposed $7 billion oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Fran Ludwig, a summer resident of Damariscotta, said in a letter written before the protest that the transcontinental tar sands pipeline — named Keystone XL — threatens to escalate the environmental damage created by people.
“I’m going to Washington and risking arrest because, in spite of the efforts of concerned individuals and communities to live in a more sustainable way, government policy is the only way to achieve the large-scale change we need to avert the worst outcome of rampant climate change,” Ludwig wrote.
According to The Associated Press, 65 people were arrested Saturday, on the first day of the protest, with more being detained beginning at noon Sunday. More than 2,000 people expect to join the protest before it ends on Sept. 3.
Vermont environmental activist and author Bill McKibben, whom Ludwig taught in middle school science class, was among those arrested Saturday. Andy Burt of Edgecomb was arrested Sunday morning for her role in the protest and had been released by Sunday afternoon.
The environmental activists want President Barack Obama to deny a permit for the 1,700-mile pipeline, which would travel through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas.
TransCanada says its pipeline would provide jobs and needed oil.
The U.S. State Department will issue a final environmental impact report later this month on the project, with a final decision expected to be made later this year.
The Associated Press reports that the pipeline would provide thousands of construction jobs, which could make it challenging for the Obama administration to halt the project.
Jean Matlack of Rockport, who has been active on environmental issues for years, remained in Maine to act as a press liaison for the four Maine women she knows arrived in Washington on Saturday to take part in the protest.
In addition to Ludwig and Burt, Aylie Baker of Freeport and Wendy Schlotterbeck of Auburn were taking part in the protest.
Matlack said that the women were slated to attend a training on civil disobedience Saturday night.
“You can take a stand and say, ‘this is an important decision,’” she said Saturday afternoon. “This would mark an escalation of our greenhouse gas emissions and would involve huge environmental risks.”
Among those risks, Schlotterbeck wrote in a letter, is the likelihood that the oil extraction would pollute groundwater, that the pipeline would potentially contaminate the aquifer under the U.S. Midwest and that producing oil that way emits more carbon dioxide than conventional oil.
She said that she could see only two possibilities — build the pipeline and “suffer the environmental and economic disaster” that would follow or oppose the pipeline.
“The stakes are too high to stay home and look the other way,” she wrote. “I want our Maine children and grandchildren to experience the beauty of our state. Life as we know it is on the line.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.