The Collegian
Friday, February 23, 2024

Climate activists heckle Pete Buttigieg, former U.S presidential candidate, at Q&A event

<p>Pete Buttigieg and UR Journalist in Residence Roben Farzad during taping of Full Disclosure at Camp Concert Hall Dec. 1.</p>

Pete Buttigieg and UR Journalist in Residence Roben Farzad during taping of Full Disclosure at Camp Concert Hall Dec. 1.

A man entered Booker Hall and started screaming at the U.S Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg about the Biden administration’s approval of an oil export terminal, a facility that would increase the nation’s oil export.   

The visit was organized by the Robins School of Business and Journalist in Residence Roben Farzad. Buttigieg was interviewed about his service in office and personal life on a live taping of the radio show Full Disclosure hosted by Farzad. 

The event did not meet unanimous approval. In a separate demonstration before the event started, protesters handed out flyers titled, "What's up with Petro Pete?"

“It’s not going to be a big typical protest, it’s more like giving people these flyers to bring awareness as they’re going to the event,” Junior Zoe Cultrara said before the live taping.

Cultrara said that she knew that another group would be present, intending to pose questions to Buttigieg, but was unaware of the full extent of their plans. Cultrara added she and the other demonstrators did not engage or collaborate with the protester screaming at Buttigieg.

Climate activists are upset because the Biden administration granted authorization for the construction of the largest oil export terminal in the United States, situated along the Gulf Coast of Texas. The Sea Port Oil Terminal, or SPOT, project is expected to enhance the country's oil export capacity by an additional 2 million barrels per day, according to a Texas Tribune article.

“Over 40,000 people protested [SPOT], and they still moved forward with it,” Cultrara said. “We are urging people to learn about the situation.” 

The offshore oil export terminal is the first to be approved of four proposals along the Texas Gulf Coast. The Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration filed the approval in the federal register, making no public announcement, according to a Texas Tribune article.

“It is just very harmful for the communities, impacting their health,” Cultrara said. “It is mostly indigenous people and people of color that live in this area.” 

Even while these programs are being implemented throughout Texas, other regional advancements are also happening.

“It’s in Virginia as well,” sophomore Devin Morgan said. “Currently, we are protesting the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is going from West Virginia to Southern Virginia.” 

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a natural gas pipeline project covering around 303 miles, extending from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. Being an interstate pipeline, it falls under the regulatory purview of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission according to the Mountain Valley Pipeline website.

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“Part of the protest we are doing tonight is about banks that are investing in this MVP project and profiting out of it,” Cultrara said. “We are not calling [Buttigieg] out for no reason, it is a real thing, and he is approving these projects.”

The taping was interrupted halfway through when an unidentified man entered Booker Hall and started yelling at Buttigieg. 

The man shouted his opposition to the controversial Willow Project and SPOT. The federal government owns the Willow Project, a massive, multi-decade oil drilling endeavor on Alaska's North Slope within the National Petroleum Reserve. Potential oil reserves in the assigned project area reach up to 600 million barrels. Because the project is still in its building stages, it will be a few years before this oil is available for purchase, according to a CNN article.

As UR police and Buttigieg’s security removed him from the hall, he yelled, “Do you care about the climate?”

“I do believe that climate change is real,” Buttigieg said, to which the room responded by breaking into applause.

Buttigieg has been interrupted during his speeches in the past, including one at Michigan State University last month where a man was arrested and charged with disorderly assemblages and conduct for violating an MSU ordinance. If found guilty, he might be sentenced to a maximum of 90 days in jail, according to a Wood Tv article.

Despite some heckling, Buttigieg had no shortage of fans in the room.

“I followed [Buttigieg] for a couple years,” sophomore René Polanco said. “I remember back when he was a candidate in the 2020 election, I supported him back then, so now I’ve kept with him and when I saw he was coming I knew I had to go.” 

Other students came for educational and business purposes, and to talk with Buttigieg during the private reception after the taping. 

“I am a business major, so I am grateful they put this on for us. It is so valuable to students,” Derek Gilmore, president of the Richmond College Student Government Association, said.

Buttigieg personally sought the opportunity to engage with students in VIP sessions before the show, a gesture that students appreciated.

“I appreciate that we got to talk to [Buttigieg] before and ask about his life, how he got here," Lauren Oligino, president of the Westhampton College Government Association, said. “Honestly, I did not know much about the Department of Transportation, didn’t think about it often but now it transformed my viewpoint on what that department does.” 

Contact contributing writer Claire Le Du at claire.ledu@richmond.edu.

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