Top NASA scientist arrested at White House protest


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The arrest of actress Daryl Hannah at a protest this week outside the White House led to headlines. But it’s the detainment of NASA’s top scientist on climate change that’s generating talk.

James Hansen was arrested alongside Hannah and several other people at a sit-in to protest the Keystone XL project, a proposed $7-billion, 1,700-mile pipeline that would transport crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast. Environmentalists fear the project will destroy pristine forests and pave the way for another devastating oil spill, but proponents say it will create jobs and reduce the nation’s reliance on oil from places such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.


Hansen heads NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which examines such hot-button issues as climate change and humans’ effect on the planet. Before being taken away by authorities, Hansen used a microphone to urge President Obama to act ‘for the sake of your children and grandchildren’ and stop the pipeline project, according to a Bloomberg report.

A Fox News report put the sharpest point on Hansen’s arrest: ‘As a government employee, Hansen is essentially taking potshots at his own employer.’

That’s nothing new for the outspoken Hansen: In 2006, he accused the Bush administration of trying to ban him from public speaking after he called for prompt reductions in greenhouse gases.

NASA spokesman Ed Campion told The Times on Wednesday that he could not discuss whether any action would be taken against Hansen, or whether the space agency approved of such actions. But Campion did say that Hansen was well aware of the agency’s policies regarding employee activities.

He added: ‘Dr. Hansen was on his own time, he had taken leave, so he wasn’t on official duty, and he was not representing the agency.’

Hansen, who has been arrested before for protesting climate change issues, was recently named in a lawsuit seeking documentation about his employment beyond NASA, and whether he violated ethics and financial reporting guidelines by accepting funds from environmental organizations.


Efforts to reach Hansen on Wednesday were not successful. He told Solve Climate News that he is obligated to protest and speak out.


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-- Rene Lynch
On Twitter @renelynch