Climate activists arrested in US railroad protest

2016-05-15 21:00
Members of the Seattle Raging Grannies sit in their rocking chairs chained together on the Burlington-Northern Railroad tracks. (Scott Terrell, Skagit Valley Herald via AP)

Members of the Seattle Raging Grannies sit in their rocking chairs chained together on the Burlington-Northern Railroad tracks. (Scott Terrell, Skagit Valley Herald via AP)

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Seattle - Authorities cleared the railroad tracks of protesters and arrested 52 climate activists on Sunday morning in Washington state, after a two-day shutdown.

About 150 people spent the night in tents and sleeping bags on the tracks near two refineries in northwest Washington, according to BNSF Railway spokesperson Gus Melonas.

They were asked to leave at about 05:00 and most gathered their belongings and left the area near Anacortes, Melonas said.

"It was peaceful," he said. "Eighty percent removed their belongings and cleared out."

The rail line has been closed since Friday because of the protests, but were set to have begun running again on Sunday afternoon after a clean-up and safety sweep of the tracks, he said.

Protesters in kayaks, canoes, on bikes and on foot also took place in demonstrations near Anacortes, about 110km north of Seattle, to demand action on climate and an equitable transition away from fossil fuels such as oil and coal.

Hundreds marched to the refineries on Saturday and a smaller group blocked the railroad, all demanding energy policy changes. The railroad knew about the protest in advance and rerouted rail traffic to avoid the area.

The railroad spur provides rail transportation for the nearby Shell and Tesoro oil refineries, as well as animal feed and other products.

"We can't wait anymore. We've got to do things now," Clara Cleve, 76, of Edmonds, said on Saturday. "Direct action is very effective. My grandchildren are not going to have a place to live unless we move quickly now."

'Break free'

The protests are part of a series of global actions calling on people to "break free" from dependence on fossil fuels. Similar demonstrations were held around the country during the weekend.

In upstate New York, climate activists gathered on Saturday at a crude-oil shipment hub on the Hudson River in an action targeting crude-by-rail trains and oil barges at the Port of Albany. A group of activists sat on tracks used by crude oil trains headed to the port. Albany is a key hub for crude-by-rail shipments from North Dakota's Bakken Shale region.

In Washington state, organisers targeted two refineries that are among the top sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. Tesoro has started shipping Bakken crude oil to its refinery, and Shell is proposing an expansion project that would similarly bring in Bakken crude oil by train.

Officials with both Shell and Tesoro said in earlier statements that they respect the right of people to demonstrate peacefully, and that safety is their highest priority.

Crowd estimates of Saturday's march ranged from several hundred to about 1 000 people, Skagit County spokesperson Bronlea Mishler said.

Bud Ullman, 67, who lives on Guemes Island, participated in the march, which he described as good-spirited, peaceful.

"The scientists are right. We have to get away from our dependence on fossil fuels, and it has to be done in a way that takes into serious consideration the impact on workers, families and communities," he said.

Many of the nearly 40 groups involved in organising the event were also involved in large on-water kayak protests against Shell's Arctic oil drilling rig when it parked last year at a Seattle port.

Read more on:    us  |  energy  |  climate change

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