TCPL’s Keystone XL pipeline may not be dead, but it is mortally wounded thanks to President Obama’s refusal to grant a presidential permit allowing XL to proceed. Many blame Alberta’s Conservative government for not doing enough to ensure that Keystone landed right side up at the end of the arduous 3 year approval process. The PCs have failed Albertans in many ways—but this isn’t one of them.
Granted, the PCs should have enacted tougher environmental laws years ago instead of cosying up to industry. That may have given some comfort to the environmentalists (as well as the feds who elbowed their way into Alberta’s environmental process). However that’s about as far as we can go to blame the PCs for the failure of Keystone.
If you want to see who’s really responsible for Keystone going pear-shaped look no further than the corporations developing the oilsands, TCPL, and the quagmire created by American politics in an election year. The latter is particularly instructive given that Albertans are also entering the silly season.
Let’s start with the corporations. It’s their responsibility, not the government’s, to ensure that the public is fully informed of the benefits and the risks of the oilsands and, more importantly, understand that the benefits outweigh the risks. Public tax dollars are earmarked for projects in the public interest (think healthcare) and should not be spent on public relations efforts to bolster the private interests of a corporation’s shareholders. These corporations have their own well-paid PR and government relations departments, they failed to use them effectively.
Turning to TCPL…What were they thinking? It’s one thing to face down ranchers in a right-of-way dispute which ends in expropriation. It’s quite another to plunk a ruler on a map, draw a straight line through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska and declare that that’s the pipeline route come hell or high water—especially when the route runs straight as an arrow through the Sandhills and the Ogallala aquifer.
The environmentalists were enraged and joined forces with the disenfranchised ranchers to cry halt. TCPL responded with charts and graphs. It acknowledged the “unique challenges” of the Sandhills and committed to bringing in experts.* It reassured the protesters that the odds of a leak in the Ogallala aquifer were small and the impact of a leak would be minimal in the grand scheme of things.
Maybe true, but dream on. Charts and graphs never trump emotion. The environmentalists drew in big name supporters but still TCPL refused to re-route the pipeline. Instead it placed its future in the hands of the politicians…in an election year. Desperate men do desperate things, but really…What were they thinking?
The first crack in that game plan appeared when Obama delayed his decision on the presidential certificate until after the Nov 2012 election. Surprise surprise. The Republicans saw their opportunity and took it. They cleverly tacked a rider to a tax reduction bill (only in the US…!) which imposed an arbitrary 60 day deadline within which Obama had to decide whether Keystone was in the national interest or not.
Obama had two choices: (1) go with the environmentalists and be painted as an anti-business tree hugger or (2) go with industry and lose the support of the powerful Natural Resources Defence Council and other activists forever. Either way the Republicans win.
What do you do when you have to choose between 2 doors: behind one is the lady and behind the other is the lion, except the lady isn’t a lady she’s another lion. Obama was hooped. On Jan 19th, a full month ahead of the deadline, he did exactly what the Republicans thought he’d do—he chose the environmentalists.
The Republicans are now frothing with well-staged indignation. They’re working on 3 bills to “fight for the pipeline”. They’ve “invited” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify about Keystone at the next House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing. They’re abuzz with energy devoted to saving the pipeline that they themselves put in jeopardy.
The Keystone experience is instructive as Albertans go into the next election. The controversy over Keystone was not caused by activists vs industry, or even politicians vs industry, but rather politicians vs politicians. And when politicians are pitted against politicians in “silly season” they will throw everyone—the public, industry, their mothers—under the bus if that’s what it takes to be re-elected.
To paraphrase Kenneth Greene, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, every single word a politician says in silly season should be viewed as a campaign tactic.** Let’s keep a keen eye out for who’s about to be thrown under the bus.
*TCPL Report, Pipeline Construction in Sandhills Native Ranchlands, TCPL website
**Calgary Herald, Jan 20, 2012, D7