Pipeline becoming flashpoint in U.S. politics – by Bruce Campion-Smith (Toronto Star – October 22, 2011)

The Toronto Star, has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

OTTAWA—The camera pans across bucolic images of the U.S. Great Plains — a rancher astride a horse as cattle graze in the background, grasslands, wheat fields, scenic landscapes.

“The bread basket of America. But today these lands are threatened by big oil and its plan to run a pipeline straight through this American heartland,” says the narrator. But not just any narrator.

The voice belongs to actor and director Robert Redford, who used a three-minute video this week to implore U.S. President Barack Obama to deny approval for the Keystone XL pipeline.

The pipeline, proposed by Canadian energy giant TransCanada Corp., would run 3,134 kilometres, from Alberta across six states, carrying half a million barrels of oilsands crude a day to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas.

In Redford’s eyes, the pipeline would be moving what he calls the “dirtiest oil on the planet.”

“The Keystone XL is a bad idea, an idea that needs to be stopped,” he says in the video posted on the New York Times website.

Redford is a prominent lobby by himself.

But his involvement is also a symbol of how this proposed pipeline has became a flashpoint in U.S. politics and a potential factor in Obama’s re-election bid, even though it’s more than a year away.

The issue has pitted labour against the U.S. environmental lobby — two of the very groups that came together to help elect Obama.

In the middle is a beleaguered president, who is already on the campaign trail saddled with a sagging economy, sagging political support and now a controversial pipeline that is shaping up as the defining decision of his administration’s environmental agenda.

But right with him is Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, which has publicly and privately lobbied Washington on behalf of the project in order to expand the market for Alberta oil and help secure future development of the oilsands.

For Canadian politicians and diplomats in Ottawa and Washington, it has meant public speeches and private arm-twisting to sell the merits of the $7 billion pipeline to the American economy and its energy security.

“It’s a very important project for the government of Canada,” said one Washington official familiar with the work of the Canadian embassy in the U.S. capital.

Ottawa would have been “remiss” in not “bringing the facts to the table on this at every level in Washington,” the source said.

“Whoever needs to be touched on this has been touched more than once.”

For the Canadian government, TransCanada and pipeline proponents, selling the proposal was never supposed to be this hard when the project was first pitched in 2008.

But the pipeline has stirred opposition from an unusual coalition. Landowners are upset about the pipeline passing across their land. Environmentalists oppose it on several fronts, saying it will spur further development of Alberta’s controversial oilsands, increase America’s reliance on fossil fuels and boost the risk of a damaging rupture.

All that alone is a recipe for controversy.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/article/1074338–pipeline-becoming-flashpoint-in-u-s-politics