1. Keystone XL

An environmental issue that has rallied a motley crew of protesters

Michael Burne speaking to a crowd of 12,000 against Keystone.

Michael Burne speaking to a crowd of 12,000 against Keystone.     Photo: laurigorham/flickr

Quick, name an issue that conservative farmers, Native Americans, climate scientists and progressive liberals have all rallied behind—in fact, got arrested over—in the past year. At issue is the Keystone XL, a proposed pipeline that the TransCanada oil company would build to carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries in the Midwest and Gulf Coast. Touted as a job creator and a might-as-well-be-domestic energy source, the roughly 1700-mile pipeline would travel over the Ogallala Aquifer, a large, shallow source of a third of the ground water used for irrigation in the U.S. If this pipe sprung a leak, it could devastate the agriculture industry or even pollute drinking water sources for residents of the plains and American Indian reservations. That's why farmers and tribes opposed it. And the oil from the tar sands is extracted using an energy-intensive, dirty process that raises environmentalists’ hackles and would mark a departure from any semblance of a clean energy agenda.

Bill McKibben, Darryl Hannah and NASA scientists James Hansen were among the more than 1000 pipeline protestors to be arrested this summer, but despite the massive opposition, Obama's decision to postpone his decision on whether to approve the project came as a surprise, given his lackluster environmental track record as President. That said, he really only delayed the decision until after the 2012 election.

Still, some see the decision as a victory. "Today, I feel like I got my president back," a protestor in Wisconsin told a public radio reporter in early November, when Obama announced the postponement. But now, Nebraskan lawmakers are looking favorably at rerouting the pipeline and the GOP is pressuring Obama to make a stand, so the issue is far from resolved.

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