The war of words over the pipeline project is getting heated

Obama and Harper, keystone XL pipeline The American Government is facing a forced shutdown and the Government of Canada is effectively shut down until October. Apparently conservatives in both countries love government work stoppages. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has prorogued parliament four times now and Republicans in the US have been threatening a government shutdown for years.

But with all the talk surrounding these striking politicians it’s easy for other stories to get lost in the back pages of newspapers and on cable news. Environmental news I would argue get’s pushed back the furthest.

A war of words is developing between Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and American President Barack Obama over the Keystone XL pipeline that would send bitumen oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast.

Although the language is not necessarily directed at each other personally, the rhetoric is becoming stronger and bolder. While in New York last week for the UN general assembly, Harper said that he wouldn’t take no for an answer when it comes to Keystone’s construction.

“My view is that you don’t take no for an answer,” Harper said. “We haven’t had that, but if we were to get that, that won’t be final. This won’t be final until it’s approved and we will keep pushing forward.”

It’s hard to determine just what the Prime Minister meant by that statement. If Obama doesn’t approve the project, will Harper just wait till Obama leaves office (assuming Harper gets re-elected in 2015)? Will he lobby with Republicans in congress to put even more pressure on Obama (which could hurt his popularity at home even more)? Surely there won’t be any military intervention, but how else do you force a foreign leader to say yes?

Harper has claimed in the past that the pipeline project would eventually create up to 40,000 jobs. That number has been debunked by most experts and economists, a fact repeated by the president himself earlier in the summer.

“My hope would be that any reporter who is looking at the facts would take the time to confirm that the most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline — which might take a year or two — and then after that we’re talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs in an economy of 150 million working people”. Obama said with a snicker “That is a blip relative to the need.”

Keystone XL pipelineObama suggested that the decision to approve the project would be based largely on the pipeline’s environmental impact, but still took a shot at Canada’s environmental record. There is “no doubt” that Canada, as the source of the oil sands, could potentially be doing more to fight carbon emissions.

As a Canadian I can tell you Harper’s approach toward the environment and Canadian scientists has been appalling.

As CBC News reported on Sept. 6, Harper sent a letter to Obama formally proposing “joint action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector,” if that’s what is needed to gain approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

I’m not sure what kind of joint action would be enough for Obama to approve the project. Carbon emissions from the tar sands where the bitumen is mined is expected to double by 2020.

I’ve written a number of articles on why Keystone should be rejected by both Americans and Canadians. The main commonality would be for environmental reasons. At a time when UN climate scientists are saying there is a 95% chance that global warming is man-made and an eminent threat, why would we want to make things worse? It isn’t going to lower gas prices anyway.

With Obama under increased political pressure from his base to reject the pipeline permanently and Harper under the same pressure to acquire the go ahead, you can be sure the battle and war of words is just beginning.

Keystone XL Pipeline and tar sand environmental effects

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