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article imageOp-Ed: Stephen Harper sends letter to Obama promising pipeline deal

By Ken Hanly     Sep 8, 2013 in Politics
Ottawa - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sent a letter to US President Obama that proposes "joint action to reduce emissions in the oil and gas sector" in order to gain approval for the Keystone XL pipeline.
Anonymous sources told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News that Harper would accept US targets for reducing climate-altering emissions. The letter was sent in late August. It indicates that Harper will make concessions in order to pressure Obama to grant a permit for the proposed TransCanada Corp. $7 billion pipeline that would link producers in the Alberta tar sands to refineries in Texas. Note: Reuters reports the cost of the pipeline at $5.3 billion. Up to now the White House has not responded to Harper's letter.
The province of Alberta's Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Resources, Diana McQueen, also suggested that the US and Canada should work together: “We recognize that climate change is a global issue and we are always willing to work together with other jurisdictions to accomplish common goals, A North American strategy is important for both Canada and the United States to maintain strong environmental protection, job creation, economic growth and energy security.”
Obama has not really said what it is he needs or wants to bring environmentalists on side on the issue. No doubt nothing will bring many on side since they think that any increase in production in the oil sands is to be discouraged. While Harper and Obama met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg the emphasis of their discussion was no doubt the Syria issue.
Canada has been constantly lobbying in Congress and has also mounted an ad campaign but with no strong impact it would seem. In June Obama said: "Our national interest will be served, only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline's impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward."
When Obama not long after said to the New York Times that those supporting the pipeline were inflating the number of jobs that would be created, environmentalists applauded, although some trade unions who want the jobs were not so impressed. The environmental lobby seems relatively strong, or at least strong enough to elicit some rhetoric towards supporting their position. Some environmentalists hope that Obama will finally live up to his earlier promise that he would be a strong supporter of measures to prevent damaging climate change during his second term.
Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver claims the pipeline is in the national interests of both the US and Canada and that Americans will need the millions of barrels of bitumen that would travel to the Texas refineries each week. Canadian officials point out that coal-fired electricity plants in the US produce about 32 times as much greenhouse gases as tar sands production.
Harper has already moved to change the federal environment review process to speed up approval of projects. He has also moved to develop new markets in Asia and approved more foreign investment in the the energy sector. Whether Keystone goes ahead or not the oil sands are likely to be further exploited.
Canada and the US have already initiated a Clean Energy Dialogue in 2009. The two countries have agreed to work together to reduce the impacts of climate change. One result is that the two countries adopted the same regulations governing car and truck emissions.
President Obama has been in no hurry to make a decision on the Keystone pipeline. Once a decision was expected after the election in 2012, but now it may not be made until next year. Obama's position on the projects is still unclear. Perhaps that is how he wants it. Obama has other more urgent matters he wants to deal with at present.
Canada has a target of reducing emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. However, critics say that this target cannot be met even if there were no further development of the tar sands The government has been promising to bring in new regulations for years. The deadline, for the end of 2012 was missed, as was the later deadline for the past summer by environment minister Peter Kent. The new minister has not set a deadline as yet.
Environmentalists continue to attack not just the pipe line but tar sands production in general. The Sierra Club along with others produced a report this week that says the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline flunks the Climate Test. The report claims that the best way to avoid climate Armageddon is not to have the pipeline and to leave the oil in the tar sands. The latter is almost certain not to happen. If the Keystone pipe line is not developed, alternative modes of transport such as rail will be used and pipelines will carry the oil elsewhere.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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