Last week Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper demonstrated that he’s more than willing to do that which his counterpart in the White House is unable or unwilling to do: display a little backbone when dealing with radical environmentalists and their pet causes. Harper’s administration both commenced hearings on an alternative pipeline that would be used to ship Canadian crude to China, as well as putting the “green movement” on notice that extremism masquerading as environmentalism will no longer be tolerated in the Great White North.
Clearly Canada would prefer to ship crude recovered from massive reserves in Alberta to Texas via the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Unfortunately, the combination of green fear-mongering and President Obama’s predictable dithering has put approval of Keystone XL in doubt. Per his deal with Congress the President has until February 21 to approve the pipeline project or to explain his refusal to do so. Yet, even if the President does approve the project and risk annoying those among his supporters who worship planet earth even more than they do him, there is no guarantee that construction of Keystone XL would start anytime soon.
As Harper is aware, the United States is as litigious a society as there is on earth and – thanks to the many misguided decisions made in the pursuit of environmental purity by both parties – the massive statutory and regulatory infrastructures that have been constructed in the name of protecting mother earth practically guarantee that environmental groups could tie up an approval of Keystone XL in the courts for years. It would be silly to put all one’s eggs in one basket in any case, but given the dysfunctional manner with which America addresses environmental issues and energy issues, Harper would be worse than foolish to assume that Canada’s best energy customer will continue to be so.
So, the Harper government opened hearings on the Northern Gateway pipeline, an alternative route that would send crude from Alberta to Kimat, British Columbian, where it would be loaded onto tankers and shipped to energy-starved China. To be sure that the pipeline faces opposition and its own bureaucratic obstacles as well, but with hundreds of billions of revenue at risk it is clearly well worth the effort to move forward on both tracks. Keystone XL is surely the preferred – and sensible – way to get Alberta’s crude to market, but Northern Gateway will do just fine if the United States is too stupid to approve a project that is so clearly in our national interest.
For not only would Keystone XL generate tens of thousands of new jobs, both in terms of construction jobs and in terms of a myriad of employment opportunities down the supply chain, it would also take a huge bite out of overseas oil imports. At full capacity, Keystone XL would provide about ten percent of America’s crude oil demand, without the slightest risk of a foreign tyrant cutting off production or closing a supply route.
That the Harper government is savvy enough to pursue a second pipeline option is testament to its wisdom, but the fact that it also called out (finally!) the environmental movement for its unrestrained, unscientific extremism speaks volumes about its courage. In an open letter published at the Financial Times, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver put environmental groups on notice last week, letting them know that their tawdry little games would no longer be tolerated in Canada. He called them out in no uncertain terms:
These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda. They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects. They use funding from foreign special-interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest. They attract jet-setting celebrities with some of the largest personal carbon footprints in the world to lecture Canadians not to develop our natural resources. Finally, if all other avenues have failed, they will take a quintessential American approach: Sue everyone and anyone to delay the project even further. They do this because they know it can work. It works because it helps them to achieve their ultimate objective: delay a project to the point it becomes economically unviable.
How refreshing it is to hear a leader of a representative form of government speak in such a clear, uncompromising manner. Oliver’s words are a reminder why plain-spoken leaders like Reagan and Christie are so well-received: they are remarkable because they are so rare. And surely Oliver is correct on all counts. For what are massive, well-heeled environmental groups like the Sierra Club and NRDC if not special interests? What are rich, finger-wagging Hollywood celebrities like Streisand, Cameron and DiCaprio if not hypocrites? What is the reason behind the numerous, pointless lawsuits that greenies file if not to obstruct and demoralize those who seek to create wealth?
A little more than a month from now, President Obama will be forced to do something he hates to do: make an actual decision, all the more so because if he approves Keystone XL he will upset his green base, while if he kills it he will annoy his union base. History suggests he’ll look for a new way to waffle – perhaps by killing the project for now, while promising to revisit it in 2013 – but no matter what happens it’s clear that Canada is determined to find a way to sell its riches to someone. It ought to be us, yet perhaps this too is just another sign of the way power is shifting in the world today. For not only are China and India showing more leadership than Obama’s America, it seems that even Canada is too.
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