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Do climate protests work?

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TIM SLOAN/AFP/NEWSCOM

(Read caption) Protesters block an entrance to the US Capitol Power Plant in Washington, D.C., during a March 2 march by the Capitol Climate Action Coalition to demand that the plant switch from coal to natural gas.

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On Monday, thousands of climate activists descended on Washington, D.C., to protest the Capitol Power Plant, a partly coal-fired plant that heats and air-conditions the seat of the US Congress and is the District of Columbia's largest source of air pollution and carbon emissions.

For more than four hours, the protesters, many wearing dress clothes to play down any appearance of radicalism, blockaded all five entrances to the plant as police stood by, according to the Associated Press and other news reports. Nobody was arrested.

The activists are declaring victory, in part because, a few days before the protests, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that they would convert the plant to run entirely on natural gas, which burns far more cleanly than coal does. Currently, the plant runs on about 35 percent coal, 65 percent natural gas.

In a Feb. 26 letter to Stephen Ayers, the acting architect of the Capitol, the Democratic leaders called the move "an important demonstration of Congress’s willingness to deal with the enormous challenges of global warming, energy independence, and our inefficient use of finite fossil fuels."

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