U.S. opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline: it’s not what you think it is

The headquarters control room of the Keystone XL pipeline: caution, pipeline operations may not be exactly as illustrated, on this blog or on those run by the Alberta government. Below: The Keystone pipeline as environmentalists see it. Below that: the pipeline as American Tea Partiers perceive it. Bottom: Wildrose Energy Critic Paul Hinman.

So where’s the Wildrose Party and their principled support for property rights now that our good neighbours to the south really need them?

When you hear reports of opposition to Transcanada Corp.’s Keystone XL Pipeline project in Alberta’s media nowadays, it’s always cast as the work of nutty environmentalists – and treasonably un-Albertan ones at that, if the environmentalists in question happen to be from around here.

It’s true that neither Canadian nor American environmentalists are big fans of the plan to pump oil wrung out of Alberta’s tar sands all the way across the continent via Illinois and Oklahoma to the U.S. Gulf Coast, exporting thousands of jobs along with it. For that matter, neither is Peter Lougheed, the sainted founder of Alberta’s tiresomely long-lived Tory dynasty.

And it’s also true that all the Conservative leadership candidates still vying for the opportunity to replace Premier Ed Stelmach seem to be in favour of the project.

But there’s a special irony to the project’s support by Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith, who uses the Keystone XL project’s political problems as an excuse to lob shots at both environmentalists and Conservative leadership front-runner Gary Mar – who for years was Mr. Stelmach’s Man in Washington with the job of lobbying in favour of environmentally iffy activities like the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Mr. Mar, of course, is the candidate the Wildrosers would most like to win the final Tory leadership vote on Oct. 1 because they see him as the easiest to portray as a mildly left-wing “wet” who would be soft on their hard-right issues – such as, for example, “property rights.”

The Alberta government, Mr. Mar, the Wildrose and Ms. Smith all seem to be in agreement that if only the Americans can be persuaded the pipeline will do no environmental harm, the project is a deadbolt cinch.

“Some may be wondering where Gary Mar was while President Barack Obama was forming his opinions about Alberta’s energy industry based on false information and misleading environmental propaganda,” Ms. Smith complained in a recent speech. “Gary Mar was Alberta’s man in D.C., the man who was supposed to be defending Alberta’s energy sector against these unfair and unfounded smear jobs. On his watch, Alberta’s oil patch became America’s favourite environmental punching bag.”

Wildrose Energy Critic Paul Hinman, meanwhile, calls Keystone XL “important for the future growth and prosperity of the Alberta economy.” Said Mr. Hinman in a Sept. 1 Wildrose Party news release: “The question President Obama should be asking – and the question Gary Mar obviously failed to ask – is ‘would the United States rather buy their energy from a friendly neighbour delivered through a pipeline or from corrupt regimes delivered in oil tankers?’”

However, virtually unreported in Alberta, and certainly not mentioned by Ms. Smith or Mr. Hinman, are the real reasons why the Keystone Pipeline project is a big problem for U.S. politicians like President Obama – and it’s not opposition from environmentalists.

Mind you, this is entirely consistent with Wildrose practice on other issues. The party never mentions, for example, what a useful tool its approach to “property rights” would be to overcome legislative initiatives to protect the environment or act on the interests of society generally.

Greens are of course a political factor in the U.S., as they are in Canada, but when it comes to secure energy supplies and the chips are down, their concerns are certain to be brushed aside, and with the support of considerable numbers of voters in both countries.

The more serious political problem – especially on the south side of the Medicine Line – is the business of the need for eminent domain, or expropriation as we say in Canada, to build this monster project. In other words, “property rights,” a key issue for loony right Wildrosers and a concept that’s enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

As American commentator Alexander Cockburn observed recently on his Counterpunch.org blog, the Keystone XL pipeline “will require one of the largest and most aggressive eminent domain actions since the construction of the Interstate highways.”

Since, as Mr. Cockburn points out, opposition to eminent domain or any interference with Americans’ constitutionally enshrined property rights is the ideological bedrock of the Republicans’ Tea-Party right, any development of the project is certain to be a drawn-out and bitter battle.

This, of course, is the real reason the timorous Mr. Obama fears the Keystone project, not the objections of green-tinted movie stars at the White House fence whose concerns can be brushed aside with ease and a few plastic wrist ties in the face of the potential of energy security at fire sale prices from environmentally questionable projects in Alberta.

So if the pipeline flops, the Wildrosers need to remember that it’s not going to be the fault of easy-to-vilify environmentalists, or Mr. Mar for that matter. It will be their ideological fellow travellers in the U.S. chapter of the Wildrose Party, known south of the border as the Tea Party fringe of the Republicans.

If they ever thought about the Wildrose Party, those beloved and admired U.S. farmers and ranchers who fear expropriation along the Keystone XL route would be entitled to ask, “Where are our highly principled Albertan friends now that we really need them?”

Indeed, Albertans might ask themselves a similar question about how committed the Wildrose Party and Danielle Smith really are to the universal principle of “property rights” whenever it ceases to be convenient to implementing their economic nostrums.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

2 Comments on "U.S. opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline: it’s not what you think it is"

  1. Anonymous says:

    The crazy right doesn't have to make sense or be self-consistent. They just need to be louder and angrier and meaner than the other guy.

  2. Carlos says:

    When I read your posts I am never sure what kind of respect you have for environmentalists but I have to confess that does not sound very positive which is regretable.

    Economics has always won against the importance of the environment which is even more regretable because they are one and the same except that economics does not exist without a healthy environment and that is where wierd people like Danielle Smith go very wrong. They do not think, they just economize and see the big houses and the big boats and private jets and all that jazz.

    I am 100% with Peter Lougheed, the only conservative I have some respect for. Why are we transferring jobs to Texas and above all the billions they make with our raw materials? Danielle Smith says that is because we do not have enough people to do the job! Well it would make sense to first of all determine how much processing we can safely do in Alberta without damaging our environment. We should make a decision based on our carrying capacity and our population. We should determine how much development we really want. We should implement a real royalty framework, not the ones the oil companies want to pay. Our current royalties are to say the least laughable.

    Furthermore, we do not have to process all the oil we have and cause terrible social and environmental damage just to make more and more without limits. Has any of these politicians realized that maybe the level of development we have is more than adequate. Have they pondered that maybe a much slower approach will be much more profitable and socially desirable in terms of job security and less damaging to our social structure. Having foreigners by the thousands is affecting sometimes negatively our quality of life and of the social fabric of our communities.

    Unregulated development like Stelmach so proudly admired brings very high costs of living and inflation which can only be met in Fort McMurray where salaries are very unrealistic. There is more to life than just this silly over development. The consequences are already very evident. The Alberta Advantage is gone. We now have some of the highest costs of utilities, housing and education in Canada never mind health care.


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