Keystone pipeline in the sand – by Peter Foster (National Post – September 11, 2013)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

Keystone has become the most contentious issue in Canada-U.S. trade relations since the Trudeau government’s National Energy Program in 1980

There have been reports this past week of a mysterious “letter” from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to President Obama offering cooperation on climate policy. This in pursuit of the president’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which sits in limbo five years after its sponsor, TransCanada Corp., first applied to build it.

The notion that Mr. Harper might seek to promote Canadian interests via diplomatic channels is hardly surprising, but the media has been trying to build the missive’s significance. For example, was Energy Minister Joe Oliver, who visited Washington on Monday, “in the loop?” Mr. Oliver was non-committal about the letter during and after his visit to meet with his counterpart, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, but that is hardly surprising.

Keystone has become the most contentious issue in U.S.-Canada trade relations since the 1980 National Energy Program. Then, Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals fell prey to destructive economic nationalism. This time, it’s all about President Obama being in thrall to a powerful environmental movement, specifically over policy responses to projected, catastrophic man-made global warming.

No reasonable person could claim that developing the Alberta oil sands would make any discernible impact on the global climate, even if one adopted the most radical projections. However, Keystone XL’s opponents are not reasonable people. It has become a “pipeline in the sand” for a radical U.S. environmental movement, which sees stopping it – and holding up development of the oil sands – as a symbol, and evidence of their coercive power, from which governments, and corporations should learn. Or else.

The pipeline has inevitably become entangled in the broader issue of climate policies, and politics. Canada has pursued a policy of mirroring U.S. policy action, primarily out of fear of trade retaliation. Both countries committed after the UN’s Copenhagen meeting in 2009 to reductions of 17% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Among other measures, Canada has adopted U.S. fuel economy standards, which makes sense since the two countries’ auto sectors are so tightly integrated (even if the standards themselves make little sense).

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