It’s highly unusual for an American envoy to give interviews interpreting and parsing the meaning of a U.S. president’s speech. David Jacobson wouldn’t have done that without clearance from the White House.
Jacobson was explaining Barack Obama’s many references to climate change in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, and the unstated connection to the Keystone XL pipeline project, from Alberta to the Gulf Coast of Texas.
This isn’t about the pipeline, it’s about the Alberta oilsands, and greenhouse-gas emissions from bitumen. It’s about environmental activists in the U.S. making Keystone their line in the sand on climate change. Thousands are expected to demonstrate at the White House on Sunday.
Obama has a decision to make — to approve or not to approve Keystone. Jacobson said it would be helpful if Canada could reiterate its commitment to progress on climate change, striking a balance between the economy and the environment.
“I think there are an awful lot of people who are trying to make up their minds and trying to draw the right balance between these two things,” Jacobson said, “who I think will be moved by progress.”
Well, it really only matters what two people think, what Secretary of State John Kerry recommends, and what the president decides. As for commitments, Obama and Stephen Harper launched the Clean Energy Dialogue in 2009, and both countries support the emissions reductions targets in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord of 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.
This certainly isn’t about the route of the pipeline, not since TransCanada proposed an alternative route around a Nebraska aquifer. Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, who opposed the previous route, has approved the revised one and urged Obama to do the same.
American politicians, political activists and special interests have been kicking sand in the eyes of Canada for the past several years. It is a reversal from the days of North American free-trade agreements signed by leaders who sang duets about smiling Irish eyes.
With pressure to secure votes in the November election, President Obama, to the delight of environmental activists, once again halted the TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project, intended to move oil from central Canada to the Gulf. The move, for reasons beyond oil supplies or employment, is costly and hurtful to both U.S. and Canadian national interests. The Canadian angle in American foreign policy has been only a small part of election rhetoric, and the focus has been on energy and employment. But the issue could be of greater significance if voters understand the more important question: Is there a threat to America’s long tradition of easy relations across the forty-fifth parallel?
A shared national interest has always been a “no-brainer” in North American relationships. U.S.-Canadian strategic discussions have not always been easy, but they have been conducted against a backdrop of neighborliness. It helps that cross-border economic relationships are also defined by the rule of law. Not only does Canada supply 25 percent of American energy needs, but there also are treaty-level obligations, binding both sides, ensuring that such essential flows will be maintained even in the face of unexpected surprises. In the North American free-trade arrangements, Canadian energy supplies are specifically singled out in treaty language as secure and guaranteed.
Supporters of the NAFTA treaty claimed that such a binding of the special North American partnership had clear long-run benefits greater than any potential loss of sovereign authority. But this North American tradition of security of supply and a rule-of-law environment is now at risk.
Canadians were surprised by the American reaction to Keystone XL precisely because it was so contrary to the North American tradition of trust and reliability. Truly dependable contractual guarantees must be established once again and made secure if trust and security between Canadian and American economic and political agents are to be restored.
Permitting the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline should have been an easy diplomatic and economic decision for U.S. President Barack Obama. The completed project would have shipped more than 700,000 barrels a day of Albertan oil to refineries in the Gulf Coast, generated tens of thousands of jobs for U.S. workers, and met the needs of refineries in Texas that are desperately seeking oil from Canada, a more reliable supplier than Venezuela or countries in the Middle East. The project posed little risk to the landscape it traversed. But instead of acting on economic logic, the Obama administration caved to environmental activists in November 2011, postponing until 2013 the decision on whether to allow the pipeline.
Obama’s choice marked a triumph of campaign posturing over pragmatism and diplomacy, and it brought U.S.-Canadian relations to their lowest point in decades. It was hardly the first time that the administration has fumbled issues with Ottawa. Although relations have been civil, they have rarely been productive. Whether on trade, the environment, or Canada’s shared contribution in places such as Afghanistan, time and again the United States has jilted its northern neighbor. If the pattern of neglect continues, Ottawa will get less interested in cooperating with Washington. Already, Canada has reacted by turning elsewhere — namely, toward Asia — for more reliable economic partners.
Economically, Canada and the United States are joined at the hip. Each country is the other’s number-one trading partner — in 2011, the two-way trade in goods and services totaled $681 billion, more than U.S. trade with Mexico or China — and trade with Canada supports more than eight million U.S. jobs. Yet the Obama administration has recently jeopardized this important relationship. It failed to combat the Buy American provision in Congress’ stimulus bill, which inefficiently excluded Canadian participation in infrastructure spending.
Mention Canada, and images of mounties, maple syrup or possibly Montreal are most likely to spring to mind.
But the country is sitting on the second-largest oil reserves in the world. Its extraction could lead to great wealth - but it also raises environmental concerns.
The bulk of the reserves lie in the oil sands of Northern Alberta. Recently Katty Kay, the anchor of BBC World News America, moderated a panel of experts at the University of Calgary.
These men and women offered their perspectives on Canada’s role in supplying the globe with energy.
“Canada is now the fifth-largest producer of oil in the world… and it is the fourth largest exporter in the world. Ask yourself, which other countries in the world of that magnitude of oil export are politically stable, free-market, rule of law,” said Peter Tertzakian, chief energy economist and managing director of ARC Financial Group.
He argued those distinctions put Canada in a unique position, especially at a time when political volatility has raised serious questions about supply routes and driven prices higher.
For decades Canada has been the largest supplier of oil to the United States, but recently a row has erupted over the proposal to extend the Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada into the northern US.
President Obama rejected Transcanada’s original path on the basis that it could damage environmentally sensitive areas in the American Midwest. Now a new route has been submitted.
As President Barack Obama pushes to fast-track an oil pipeline from Oklahoma south to the Gulf Coast, an American Indian tribe that calls the oil hub home worries the route may disrupt sacred sites holding the unmarked graves of their ancestors.
Sac and Fox Nation Chief George Thurman plans to voice his concerns this week in Washington. He said he fears workers placing the 485-mile Keystone XL pipeline that would run from Cushing to refineries on Texas’ Gulf Coast could disturb holy ground without consideration of the tribe. He and another tribe member say the pipeline’s route travels through areas where unmarked graves are likely buried.
“We’ve been here 171 years,” said Sandra Massey, the Sac and Fox Nation’s historic preservation officer. “We’ve been living and dying here. We are all over.”
Obama announced last week in Oklahoma that he was directing federal agencies to expedite the southern segment of the Keystone XL line, removing a critical bottleneck in the country’s oil transportation system. The full, 1,700-mile Keystone pipeline, which would run from Canada to the Gulf Coast, became a political flashpoint late last year when congressional Republicans wrote a provision forcing Obama to make a decision, and environmental groups waged a campaign to kill the project. Obama delayed the full project in January.
Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada, the Calgary-based Keystone pipeline operator, said the company works closely with Indian tribes whenever its operations have a potential impact on their lands. TransCanada has archaeologists and other experts to help identify and avoid areas of concern, he said.
Work stops immediately when artifacts or important materials are discovered, said Terry Cunha, manager of stakeholder relations for Keystone Pipeline System.
“We would then work with the tribe to ensure that the materials are handled properly and that we agree on a plan to move forward before work resumes,” Cunha said.
According to a report released by TransCanada, a survey of the project found 70 archaeological sites, 18 individual artifacts and 34 historic structures in the area where the pipeline will be built in Oklahoma. The numbers were first reported by The Oklahoma Daily.
Seven of the sites met criteria to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and TransCanada agreed to bypass six of them, said Oklahoma Historical Society Director Bob Blackburn. The site that will be partially destroyed is a Works Progress Administration drainage ditch built around the 1930s, he said. Details about the other sites and whether any Indian graves were included were not immediately known.
In a desperate attempt to force Keystone XL, three Senators are threatening access to a vital economic and national security safeguard, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Republican Congressional leaders have failed to force President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. But that’s not stopping them from trying over and over again, taking hostages in the process.
This week, several senators took a different hostage: our emergency oil supply. On February 13, Senators David Vitter (R-LA), John Hoevan (R-ND), and Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced the Strategic Petroleum Supplies Act, S. 2100 that would prevent President Obama from selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve unless Keystone is approved:
the Administration shall not authorize a sale of petroleum products from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve… until the date on which all permits necessary … for the Keystone XL pipeline project application filed on September 19, 2008 (including amendments) have been issued.
In other words, unless the president approves Keystone, he cannot sell our emergency oil — even if Iran causes an oil supply disruption in the Strait of Hormuz, a hurricane or other disaster disables oil production or refining facilities, or any other type of event causes gasoline prices to soar above $4 per gallon. If any of these events happen, middle class Americans would pay significantly higher gasoline pump prices, giving billions of dollars more to big oil companies that made record profits last year.
Additionally, this bill threatens our national security because it would give Iran more incentive to cause an oil supply disruption knowing that the U.S. could not legally access its 695 million barrels of oil reserves.
These hostage taking senators would argue that the Keystone XL pipeline – like the SPR — is vital to provide oil for Americans. However, that is false. It is likely that a large portion of the tar sands oil sent to Texas refineries will be for export, and would not be sold in the U.S.
The Senate is trying to force a pipeline route through Nebraska that is not yet identified, let alone evaluated to determine whether its impact on air and water quality. Because much of the tar sands oil refined in the U.S. would go overseas, Americans would bear the environmental risks while other nations get the oil.
I don’t know about others, but I don’t think it’s hyperbole in the least to label Hoevan, Lugar, and Diaper Dave Vitter’s repulsive stunt as treason. Selling out America’s security to appease Keystone transnational oil conglomerates, many of which John Boehner invests in.
The fact this isn’t a crime is a crime in itself!
When we started the fight about Keystone there were just a few of us, and no one thought we had a chance.
But with hard work and lots of great organizing we scored an unlikely victory when the President eventually rejected the pipeline last month. However, the oil industry’s representatives in Congress are eager to undo that, and it looks like a deal could be coming together in the Senate this week to make that happen. It’s time for us to defend our victory.
Beginning at noon today, every environmental group in the nation, not to mention great allies like MoveOn.org and CREDO Action, will come together for the most concentrated burst of environmental advocacy this millennia. We’re aiming to send half a million email messages to the Senate in the next 24 hours. And they’ll all have the same message: back up the President and make sure this pipeline doesn’t get built.
This is what movements look like. And we need you to play a big part.
1—Send a message right now to the Senate: act.350.org/sign/kxl/
2—Make sure that everyone else you know does the same thing.
The arguments by now are clear: This pipeline won’t create jobs (that’s why the biggest labor unions in the country support the president). It puts the heartland of the country at risk from spills, the kind of leaks that devastated the Yellowstone and Kalamazoo Rivers in the year past. And after the year with the most weather disasters in the nation’s history, and amidst this weird and out-of-kilter winter, the fight against climate change must start here.
The only argument for the pipeline comes from folks like the Koch Brothers—‘we can make a lot of money.’ It’s not a good argument, but that money buys votes in Congress, unless we stand up.
So: stand up.
Look, this is one battle in the long fight against climate change. There will be others—we’ll doubtless have to call on you to go to jail again, to march and to sit in and to protest. And I have no doubt you’ll be there when it’s needed.
But today—today—the fight is at the keyboards. What you started has spread to become the greatest green fight in years. We’ve got to defend your victory, and we’ve got to do it now.
With deep thanks,
—Bill McKibben for 350.org
Also see my previous page on how Keystone sucks taxpayer dollars. Koch Brothers and other fossil fuel megacorps gain, everyone else loses.
The Keystone XL scam: big oil taking over a billion dollars to subsidize pipeline and linked refineries
Sen. Mitch McConnell claimed recently that the Keystone XL Pipeline ‘doesn’t require a penny of our taxpayer money all the president has to do is approve it.’ But our research reveals many places that the pipeline project benefits from many taxpayer subsidies.
The refineries that are linked to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline as committed shippers will receive between $1 billion and $1.8 billion in tax breaks. They are paid specifically for investing in equipment to process the heavy sour oil the pipeline promises to deliver.
The largest of these refineries, Motiva, is half owned by Saudi Refining Inc., and will receive between $680,000 and $1.1 billion in U.S. taxpayer support.
Saudi, you say? So much for that whole “ethical oil” idiocy.
Keystone XL, like all oil industry projects, is enabled by substantial taxpayer subsidies. Three of the refineries that are planning to process the pipeline’s oil have invested in special equipment to handle the extra heavy tar sands oil. According to our conservative estimates, the U.S. taxpayer is subsidizing these investments to the tune of $1.0-1.8 billion. Here’s how it works.
Now you know why the GOP whines like stuck pigs about subsidies for renewable energy:
Look! Squirrel! Pay no attention to the big oil foreign conglomerates sucking at the government teat, and John Boehner’s substantial investments in said conglomerates!
The polarizing debate about whether the United States should issue a permit for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would pipe crude from oil sands near Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast, is an almost surreal lesson in issue-framing. The pipeline has become a political football in an election season: Republicans have used it as a cudgel to paint President Barack Obama as a job-killer, while the White House hails it as a rare victory for environmentalists at a time when much of its climate change agenda has stalled.
The political point-scoring has only served to obscure the issues raised by Keystone XL. Oil is likely to be in short supply in the coming years, given the turmoil in the Middle East. Therefore, U.S. environmentalists are unlikely to be able to stop Canada — which, ironically, has a far more proactive greenhouse gas management policy than the United States — from finding buyers and transportation for its secure and readily available oil, no matter how much pollution it may create.
Because it crosses international borders, Keystone XL needs a presidential permit from the U.S. State Department to move forward. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton initially indicated that such approval would be forthcoming, but a political uproar from environmentalists delayed the decision. Congressional Republicans inserted a provision in a tax bill giving the administration a Feb. 21 deadline to make a decision, but on Jan. 18 Obama gave the pipeline a thumbs-down, saying that the deadline made it impossible to adequately assess the pipeline’s environmental impact. The saga continued on Jan. 30, as 44 senators signed their names to a new bill that would green-light the pipeline, bypassing the president.
Canada’s relationship with the United States is facing recent strains unseen since the signing of the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement 25 years ago. Unlike early episodes of Canadian angst over nationalism, this stress is due to the U.S. taking Canada, its most important and reliable ally, far too much for granted.
Even President Obama’s State of Union address mentioned a host of countries throughout the world with no reference to Canada, which he recently kicked in the teeth with his decision over the Keystone XL pipeline.
If anything, Canada needs to think hard about how to reboot its ties with the United States.
Historically, Canadians have understood that our most critical political and economic ties are with the world’s largest economy, with which we share a 8,891-kilometre border, the longest in the world. Trade is exceptional, with over $600-billion of bilateral trade. Family ties are strong, with many Canadians living in the United States and many Americans migrating here over the years. Security issues are shared since military and terrorist threats know no boundaries.
We have signed many important agreements with the U.S., such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Canada-U.S. tax treaty and recently, a promising start to removing unnecessary regulatory impediments to Canadian-U.S. trade. These and other treaties have helped minimize policy confrontations but stronger treaties could have been negotiated in some cases.
For example, the 2010 government procurement treaty lessens the effect of obnoxious Buy American rules under 2009 U.S. Recovery Act that would have hurt Canadian businesses bidding for construction infrastructure contracts. While NAFTA provides an exemption from such actions with respect to certain federal programs, it does not apply to sub-national governments. The procurement agreement exempts us from some discriminatory trade policies of state and local governments, although only temporary relief has been given for agriculture, energy, environment and housing projects, a logic that defies explanation. Why would a “friend” not jump to a permanent exemption?
In the case of the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber agreement, just renewed this week for two years, Canada has had to accept an export charge on its $8.5-billion of lumber exports to avoid a tariff imposed by the United States. While U.S. complaints about provincial logging regulations are fair enough (as if there are no subsidies and tax preferences that support the U.S. forest industry), this historic dispute remains intractably unresolved after so many years.
But it is the Keystone XL pipeline decision that illustrates best the Obama government’s downgrading of Canadian-U.S. relations. Even though the case for the pipeline is clear-cut in terms of energy security and jobs, President Obama’s decision to reject the project was officially based on the need to reroute the pipeline through Nebraska to avoid an aquifer, an issue that could be quickly resolved. But as everyone knows, the real reason for the rejection was to placate an environmental lobby that wants to trap Canadian oil sands production in Alberta. If the shoe were on the other foot, the U.S. would have applied considerable pressure on Canada to approve a Keystone XL pipeline. The whole mismanaged process was an insult to Canada, which is supposed to be a close ally.
This is further illustrated by Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal article co-written by John Podesta, former chief of staff for Bill Clinton and chairman of the Democrat-leaning think-tank Center for American Progress. He criticizes Republicans for supporting a “pipeline that imports more foreign oil,” thereby grouping Canada with Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Has Canada fallen that far down the totem pole?
So what should Canada seek now that U.S. is treating us so shabbily? As with squabbling members of a family, it does little for the small brother to retaliate with actions that only hurt him. In the past, some experts have raised the idea of a “grand bargain” with the Americans to deepen the relationship. But the current protectionist climate doesn’t lend itself to big ideas.