“A Line in the Sand?”

That is how Jeffrey Simpson characterized a possible rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline by President Obama.  What are the advantages to the President if he refuses to approve the pipeline? First, the President will restore his credibility with the environmentalists who in 2008 had such great hopes that he would be a crusader against global warming.   Secondly, in the subsequent decades of this century the President will be recognized as the individual who by this act showed leadership in the combat against global warming – just as his failure to do so will undermine his place in history.

There are disadvantages to refusing approvals:  the Democrats depend on the support of organized labour, which is in favour of the pipeline. At a time when the US recovery is weak and unemployment high the prospect of jobs that the pipeline will create is important.

There is a minor disadvantage: the displeasure of the Canadian Government.

Canada has very little leverage that could be the basis of retaliation. Canadian support of US political initiatives in the UN might diminish – but Canada’s influence in the UN is much less than it once was.

Canada might not cooperate with the US administration in taking measures against climate change, for example in the Arctic.  Presently, Canada is moving “in lock-step” with the US – as our Cabinet Ministers have frequently emphasized.  That claim has a plausable basis: the common reduction targets promised by the two countries at Copenhagen in 2009; the relative progress towards meeting these targets as claimed by Government spokespersons; the adoption by Canada of US rules governing emissions from motor vehicles.  (Will Canada remain in lock step if, as appears likely,  the US adopts a more aggressive role in the fight against climate change!)

The US Administration could use the promise of approval as a means of getting concrete commitments from Canada on climate change.  The US might demand that the tar sands emissions be reduced by regulatory control, or that the volume of tar sands oil shipped through the pipeline not exceed a certain maximum. Canada would have to commit to these indirect reductions of GHG Emissions before shovels go into the ground for the construction of the pipeline.  If that should happen, Canada would suffer a partial loss of sovereignty but might gain a market for its tar sands oil.

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