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Arizonans join march in Washington against Keystone XL pipeline

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WASHINGTON – Prescott residents Cliff and Paula Fuhst often feel like “two blue dots in a red state,” but they felt right at home Sunday marching in Washington with thousands who oppose the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

“This is the ultimate, to see democracy in action,” said Cliff Fuhst, who said being part of what organizers called the largest climate change rally ever encouraged him and his wife to keep fighting for the environment.

The Forward on Climate rally drew an estimated 35,000 people from more than 160 groups to the National Mall, according to the Sierra Club, an event organizer. The protesters marched on the White House to urge President Barack Obama to reject the pipeline – which would run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico – and instead support renewable energy.

“Mr. President we have heard what you have said on climate,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.

“We have loved a lot of what you’ve said on climate,” Brune said. “But Mr. President our question is: What will you do?”

In freezing wind, the crowd made its way from the Washington Monument to White House chanting: “Hey Obama, we don’t want no climate drama” and “Whose air? Our air!”

Despite the large turnout for the rally, pipeline backers said Sunday’s protesters represented only a vocal minority of opponents to a project that they claim most Americans support.

“This pipeline will mean jobs for the U.S. and increase our energy security,” said Sabrina Fang, a spokeswoman from the American Petroleum Institute.

Fang cited an institute-sponsored telephone poll of 1,000 people that found 69 percent of Americans support the pipeline.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The southern portion of the pipeline, from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf, was approved over the summer and Fang pointed to that as proof the Keystone XL pipeline will be part of the president’s inclusive energy policy.

But Cliff Fuhst said tar sands oil is the consistency of peanut butter and that his years in construction taught him that no material was strong enough to safely transport it.

His wife, Paula, said she had been a member of the Sierra Club for about 30 years, but this was the first time she had taken part in a large-scale rally. If Obama rejects the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, she said, she would feel as though she had played a small but significant role.

The march featured speaker after speaker calling on Obama to reject the pipeline. In addition to the direct environmental threat the pipeline poses, they said it presents a longer-term threat of increasing dependency on oil and the climate change that can bring. They said the administration should focus its efforts on developing clean and renewable energy instead.

Zakary Skinner, a Tucson resident at the rally who identified himself as a member of the International Socialist Organization, argued that capitalism is killing the planet. Even if the pipeline is rejected, it will only be small step in the right direction, he said.

“Ultimately, we need to argue persistent change, because capitalism will never create a perfect system where there won’t be climate change,” Skinner said.

Paula Fuhst, struck a more balanced tone, saying clean energy offered a better opportunity for economic growth.

“I sympathize with people who need jobs,” she said, “but let’s make them clean jobs.”