By ZACH JAY
For The Daily News
MARQUETTE - Several spirited people gathered outside U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek's Marquette office Saturday in the cold and at times heavy rain, clutching signs for "Draw the Line - to Protect the Great Lakes" in protest of the proposed Keystone pipeline extension.
The protest was part of "Draw the Line," a national "day of action" with groups assembling around the country for "creative events" and rallies.
Protesters want President Obama to deny the permit for the pipeline extension - known as Keystone XL. The pipeline is designed to carry oil from Canadian tar sands south across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma to refineries in Texas. The company behind the project, TransCanada, also has proposed connecting it to the Bakken oil field in Montana and North Dakota.
With signs that read, "Oil and Water Don't Mix!" and imploring passersby to "kick the fossil fuel habit," the small group gathered to express how strongly they believe that oil pipelines and the Great Lakes should be mutually exclusive.
Heidi Gould, who organized the event in Marquette, said she was "compelled to respond" after reading in The Marquette Mining Journal a comment Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, made at a recent Negaunee town hall meeting. Benishek said he doesn't see why the Upper Peninsula can't have the Keystone pipeline come down through Canada - which he said would create jobs and lower gas prices.
"Our congressional representative needs to understand the vitality of the Great Lakes and we need to do everything we can to protect them," Gould said in the event's press release.
Kyle Bonini, communications director for Benishek, said, "Dr. Benishek always welcomes and wants input from citizens in Northern Michigan. As a lifelong Yooper, Dr. Benishek believes we must protect the environment while ensuring Michigan families have more affordable energy bills. That's why Dr. Benishek supports efforts such as the Keystone Pipeline that will responsibly utilize our energy resources, create jobs and lower gas prices for hard-working moms and dads here in Upper Michigan."
Anne Newcombe, who traveled from Houghton to take part in the protest, called Benishek a "climate science denialist" and said America's emphasis on building more pipelines for tar sands - sands saturated with a dense, viscuous form of petroleum known as bitumen - is an "extremely disturbing" trend.
Gould said the jobs created by the pipeline's construction would be "terminal," and that economists say the pipeline would not reduce the price of gas. She also said fossil fuel pipelines are only a symptom of our overall problem - that we're addicted to the fossil fuels.
"We need to divest from Big Oil, kick the fossil fuel habit and start recovering from our addiction by diverting resources to expanding the green energy field, (and by) creating research and development, manufacturing, installation and maintenance jobs in solar, wind and water energy sources," she said.