Like Keystone In The U.S., Canada’s Pipeline To Pacific Is High-Voltage Politics

Like Keystone In The U.S., Canada’s Pipeline To Pacific Is High-Voltage Politics

By John H. Cushman Jr., InsideClimate News

The Canadian government’s decision Tuesday to approve the $7 billion Northern Gateway pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta to the coast of British Columbia does not guarantee that the pipeline will be built in the end — or that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will find it any easier to advance his Conservative party’s energy agenda, which also includes getting the Keystone XL pipeline approved in the United States.

Politically, Canada’s Northern Gateway debate has parallels with the U.S. debate over the Keystone — but with some of the roles reversed.

In Washington, Republicans who strongly favor the Keystone have been pressuring vulnerable Senate Democrats from fossil-fuel or swing states to support legislation that would approve the pipeline without waiting for President Barack Obama to weigh in. A key Senate committee on Wednesday OK’d a bill to bypass Obama.

In Canada, it’s those who oppose the Northern Gateway who are putting pressure on Conservatives from British Columbia, threatening to campaign against them on the hot-button issue as the project proceeds. That could put Harper’s majority at risk in the next national elections.

Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway project would carry 525,000 barrels a day of tar sands crude to Canada’s Pacific coast. TransCanada’s Keystone would carry up to 800,000 barrels a day of Alberta’s bitumen crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Both pipelines, as well as others being proposed to carry more tar sands crude to world markets, are critical for the oil industry’s plans to increase production. Delays in building them are one factor behind the industry’s latest, slightly less bullish forecast for future growth.

The Enbridge pipeline is especially unpopular along the coast of British Columbia, where crude oil tanker traffic would meander through sensitive waters into the Pacific’s shipping lanes.

A recent poll in the province found that 47 percent of respondents would be less likely to support a local Conservative candidate if the Harper government approved the pipeline. Only 11 percent said they were more likely to support the Conservatives if the pipeline got a green light. It wouldn’t matter to 29 percent and the rest were unsure.

Even among Conservative voters, 19 percent said the pipeline’s approval would make them less likely to support the party’s candidate, while 24 percent said it would make their support more likely. Among Liberal and NDP voters, 57 and 74 percent, respectively, said it would make them even less likely to support a Conservative candidate. Among Greens, 64 percent would be less likely. Those who refused to identify their party split fairly closely on the question.

This is a troubling calculus for the 21 Conservatives in B.C.’s delegation in the federal Parliament — and for Harper, who is as strong a proponent of the Northern Gateway project as he is of the Keystone XL pipeline. Environmentalists have mounted a campaign to target those 21 members of the House of Commons over the pipeline.

Harper has shown no inclination to rein in growth in the tar sands, or to temper his hostility to cracking down on global warming emissions. He made that clear recently in a joint appearance with his Australian counterpart, where the two argued against any climate-change measures that they said would do too much economic harm.

His approval of Enbridge’s project was conditioned on the company’s meeting 209 conditions, mainly involving safety and the environment, set by a review board in December. But those are not insurmountable.

“Today constitutes another step in the process,” said the decision. “Moving forward, the proponent must demonstrate to the independent regulator, the NEB, how it will meet the 209 conditions. It will also have to apply for regulatory permits and authorizations from federal and provincial governments. In addition, consultations with Aboriginal communities are required under many of the 209 conditions that have been established and as part of the process for regulatory authorizations and permits. The proponent clearly has more work to do in order to fulfill the public commitment it has made to engage with Aboriginal groups and local communities along the route.”

Opposition politicians have been excoriating the Conservatives for their willingness to accept the proposal.

Taunting the B.C. Conservatives during question time in the House of Commons a few days before the decision’s announcement, Nathan Cullen, a leader of the opposition in the House who has been vocal in opposing the pipeline, said: “Politically it is a nightmare for a tired, arrogant, out-of-date government who just can’t listen to those who put them here.”

Photo via WikiCommons

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