Dozens of young protesters concerned about climate change stormed the Baltimore stage where U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was taking part in a daylong conference coordinated by The Baltimore Banner, carrying signs and shouting criticism of a Texas petrochemical project.

Yelling “Stop Petro Pete” and other slogans, members of the Climate Defiance protest were trying to disrupt Buttigieg’s appearance as his agency considers the second part of the project.

Trevor Carroll of the organization Better Brazoria said the protesters want the Department of Transportation to reject permits for the Sea Port Oil Terminal (S.P.O.T.) crude export facility located 30 miles off the coast of Brazoria County, near Houston. If approved, it would export 2 million barrels of crude oil per day from an area known as the nation’s energy capital.

”I’m going to ask him to deny the project. If I could just get him to come to Brazoria, that would be something,” Carroll said.

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Security officers tried unsuccessfully to clear the stage and eventually asked the audience to leave the room. Protesters continued singing and chanting for five minutes.

A group of protestors from Climate Defiance interrupt a discussion with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg at Impact Maryland, a thought leadership conference hosted by The Baltimore Banner Tuesday, Oct.10, 2023 in Baltimore.
A group of protestors from Climate Defiance interrupt a discussion with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg at iMPACT Maryland, a thought leadership conference hosted by The Baltimore Banner Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Baltimore. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

After they left, Buttigieg returned to the stage and talked about the project and the issue of climate change underlying the protest, and what President Joe Biden’s administration has done to address it. Biden successfully pushed for passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which contains incentives to expedite the country’s transition from fossil fuels.

Buttigieg declined to address the terminal project details, saying it is already the subject of a lawsuit. Better Brazoria is currently challenging a permit approval for part of the project in the federal courts.

”I get the urgency. By the time my kids are old enough to ask, we’re going to have a really good answer to get out of climate change,” said Buttigieg, a progressive former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who rose to prominence during a 2020 presidential primary contest that Biden ultimately won. “That’s real.”

The protests started at about 1:40 p.m., with a group walking down both aisles and onto the stage of the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

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The group Climate Defiance disrupted a conversation with Pete Buttigieg, U.S. secretary of transportation. (kirk McKoy/The Baltinore Banner)

In a private conversation, a Baltimore Police officer advised one of the group’s leaders to move to the sidewalk across the street. Demonstrators were asked multiple times to leave the premises, including by a police officer who spoke into a microphone.

The group then began chanting over the police officer’s announcement, with members walking up the aisle singing and chanting “Which side are you on, Pete, which side are you on?”

One of the protesters who was removed by security came back into the room and joined the line of protesters again. Demonstrators held up a sign that read “Pete: don’t be a climate coward, Stop S.P.O.T. And Gulflink.”

American University student Kat Raiano was also among the protesters.

Raiano volunteered for Buttegieg’s 2020 presidential campaign in New Hampshire for a few months ahead of the primary there, while she was still in high school. She said she was impressed by Buttigieg’s view on climate change and “thought he would be different” than his predecessors. She now feels betrayed by his apparent support for the pipeline and other initiatives that promote dependence on fossil fuels.

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Protesters lobbed questions at Buttigieg, then began chanting over his attempted answers.

When interrupted, Buttigieg replied, “It’s really hard to answer the question if you interrupt the answer,” a response that received applause from the audience.

After responding to the protestors, he explained the details of the Texas project and objections to it for members of the audience.

Baltimore Banner Editor-in-Chief Kimi Yoshino returned to the stage after the protesters left, quipping that The Banner hoped to make news with iMPACT Maryland, “But not like this.”

When Buttigieg and Banner reporter Pamela Wood took the stage once again, audience members greeted them with a standing ovation.

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Buttigieg used the remaining time to discuss what the administration is doing to make electric vehicles more accessible and affordable, including investing $7.5 billion in vehicle charging infrastructure. The transportation secretary also highlighted investments in the state from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, hailing U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, both Democrats, as key champions to the legislation.

“But my hope also is that some of those folks who are just here saw what happened when I was in front of the Transportation Infrastructure Committee two weeks ago trying to persuade or help the members of Congress [understand] that the seasons changing is not the same thing as climate change,” Buttigieg added. “And if this literally came up, and so we’ve got literal climate deniers … who can’t be bothered to admit that climate change is real.”

Once outside, Carroll said the protests aimed to draw attention to the oil export terminals that are being proposed.

Pipeline infrastructure will wind through residential areas in Brazoria, Carroll said, and end in Surfside Beach, which is populated by tourists and retirees. Groups are worried about the risk of an oil spill at the “massive oil export terminal” that will be built at the end of the pipeline.

“Both projects are going to have miles of pipeline infrastructure that’s going to go directly through residential areas and wetlands,” Carroll said.

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Carroll and all other protesters purchased tickets to be present at the event.

“We came to draw Pete and the audience’s attention to what’s going on right now. Pete’s department oversees the seaport oil terminal, which is a massive oil export project off the coast of Surfside Beach, where the residents, their local elected officials, and everyone has voiced opposition,” Carroll said.

Carroll said Texas-based groups he belongs to have “showed up” at other Buttigieg events. He said they’ve invited Buttigieg to tour the area where the pipeline will be built, but he’s refused.


Banner staff members Daniel Zawodny and Adam Willis contributed to this report.

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