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Originally published September 21, 2013 at 7:53 PM | Page modified September 21, 2013 at 8:12 PM

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Hundreds gather in Seattle in opposition to coal, oil exports

Climate-change activist and author Bill McKibben and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn headlined a Saturday demonstration against coal and oil exports.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Climate activists gathered on the Seattle waterfront Saturday and vowed to fight any increase in coal and oil exports through ports in Washington and other states.

In one of more than 200 such demonstrations across the nation, about 600 people lined the edge of Elliott Bay in Myrtle Edwards Park to form a symbolic barrier to coal shipments.

Although the nationwide “Draw the Line” demonstrations were aimed primarily at persuading President Obama not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, the Seattle crowd also protested proposed new West Coast coal ports they said would accelerate global warming.

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, the advocacy group that promoted the national “day of action,” expressed confidence that a new coal terminal at Cherry Point, in Whatcom County, won’t be built.

“There’s no way they’re going to run coal trains through the city of Seattle,” McKibben declared. “There aren’t enough police to keep those tracks cleared day after day after day.”

Organizers of Saturday’s event said 1,500 Seattle residents have declared their intention to commit civil disobedience if the Keystone pipeline is approved.

McKibben said he didn’t know what Obama would decide about the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from the Alberta, Canada, tar sands to the Gulf Coast.

Based on his own visit to the tar sands, McKibben said, “For you Tolkien fans, the sort of technical name for what’s going on up there is Mordor.”

He described the world’s largest mine-tailings pond there, and said cannons are fired day and night to keep away birds, which, if they landed, would be “instantly dead.”

The Seattle event was organized by 350 Seattle, a local affiliate of 350.org, which is named for the belief of some scientists that the future health of Earth depends on reducing the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million, which would still be well above preindustrial levels.

Carbon dioxide topped 400 ppm at two monitoring stations for the first time in May.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, who is running for re-election, faced a friendly crowd at the event as he introduced McKibben and reiterated his call for the city to divest itself of stock in companies that sell coal or gas.

After meeting with McKibben last year, McGinn said, he began pushing for divestment. “So he’s a persuasive guy, this Mr. McKibben,” McGinn said.

McGinn’s office on Saturday provided the text of a Dec. 21, 2012, letter in which the mayor asked the city’s retirement board to begin divestment of fossil fuels, including two of the fund’s largest holdings, in ExxonMobil and Chevron.

In that letter, McGinn said divestment would bring economic benefit to the city because unchecked climate change would cause financial losses from turbulent weather and a rising sea level.

However, City Councilmember Tim Burgess, who serves on the pension board, said that last month the board reaffirmed its first priority is to ensure the best return on investment for retired and current employees.

While symbolically blockading the waterfront, demonstrators chanted, “We love Puget Sound, leave the coal in the ground,” and “Hey, Obama, we don’t want your climate drama.”

Sundance Chief Rueben George, of British Columbia’s Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, said 160 indigenous nations have joined in opposition to new pipelines to export oil from the Alberta tar sands. His mother’s advice, George said, was “Warrior up!”

Emily Johnston said she was arrested in a Keystone pipeline protest at the White House and helped organize Saturday’s event because “absolutely nothing is more important. This is the issue of our time.”

With 215 demonstrations in 47 states, McKibben said he traveled to Seattle in part because McGinn is “the most environmentally minded mayor I know in the country.”

Staff reporter Lynn Thompson contributed to this story. Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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