Alberta Clipper decision disappoints environmentalists

It’s not a big surprise that the Obama Administration decided to grant a permit to build the Alberta Clipper, a 1,000-mile pipeline designed to carry up to 800,000 barrels a day of fuel from Canada’s vast oil sands into the US.

But the oil sands fuel is greenhouse gas intensive, and importing it into the US will add to carbon emissions. So approving its construction contradicts the administration’s goal of building a green economy.

Yet politics is politics. And despite Obama’s campaign pitch to change Washington, it is becoming increasingly clear that is easier said than done. Just as the Waxman-Markey climate bill had to be watered down to appease enough Congressmen to make it out of the House, the Alberta Clipper had to be approved to appease Canada – a major supplier of crude oil to the US.

Nothing in government is done without compromise and a nod and a wink at someone. Environmentalists know that, but they had high hopes that a president who came into office campaigning against global warming would at least make a symbolic gesture and reject the permit, if only to appear to stand by his principles.

The State Department, which approved the pipeline permit, said greenhouse-gas emissions are best addressed through each country’s domestic policies and a strong international agreement. In other words, the US does not want to step on anyone’s toes unless it is part of a group of countries doing so in an international agreement. That way it cannot be singled out for criticism.

The problem is that curbing greenhouse gas emissions is too big of a problem to wait for someone else to lead the way to a solution.  At the very least, the Obama Administration could have tied the pipeline approval to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands. Yet it made clear that energy and economic security come first:

The Department found that the addition of crude oil pipeline capacity between Canada and the United States will advance a number of strategic interests of the United States. These included increasing the diversity of available supplies among the United States’ worldwide crude oil sources in a time of considerable political tension in other major oil producing countries and regions; shortening the transportation pathway for crude oil supplies; and increasing crude oil supplies from a major non-Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries producer. Canada is a stable and reliable ally and trading partner of the United States, with which we have free trade agreements which augment the security of this energy supply. Approval of the permit sends a positive economic signal, in a difficult economic period, about the future reliability and availability of a portion of United States’ energy imports, and in the immediate term, this shovel-ready project will provide construction jobs for workers in the United States.

Really, economic and energy security always have come first. For those who thought Obama was different and would put the environment first, the rising of the Alberta Clipper in the heartlands of the country will serve as a reminder that he is just a politician. Not only that, he is unwilling to stand up to Canada, a longtime friend and ally. What does this say about how he deal with China and India as they ramp up their economies with greenhouse gas emissions?

Hmm. It’s starting to get a little stuffy in here.

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