January 2, 2012
This guide is intended for the students in my energy policy classes but I wanted to make it more widely available. You can find it here.
January 2, 2012
This guide is intended for the students in my energy policy classes but I wanted to make it more widely available. You can find it here.
December 31, 2011
This week a federal district court in California declared the California low carbon fuel standard unconstitutional for its violation of the interstate commerce clause. The grounds for the decision are revealing about the tensions of sub-national jurisdictions producing complex regulations that have economic implications for other parts of the federation. One of the most important dynamics in US and indeed global environmental policy has been the “California effect,” where innovations in environmental regulation produced by such a gigantic market spillover into other jurisdictions and get adopted more broadly. If upheld, the ruling could have the effect of negating future California effects.
The case is Rocky Mountain Farmers Union v. Gladstone. It focuses on standards for corn-based ethanol, but has direct implications for other unconventional sources of transportation fuels, including oil sands. It also may have implications for state renewable portfolio standards that treat out of state renewable different from in-state. Because the judicial standards for interstate commerce are similar to what they are for international trade, the logic of the ruling also has implications for the consistency of domestic international regulations with NAFTA and WTO.
Does the LCFS discriminate on the basis of location?
There are three essential findings of the case. The first is that the LCFS is, on its face, discriminatory of out of state sources of fuel. This is probably the most controversial and consequential part of the ruling. In its LCFS, California gives different carbon intensity values to different source of fuel. The standard contains a table showing the default carbon intensity values of Midwest corn-based ethanol is 10% higher than California corn-based ethanol. These different values are based on a life cycle analysis (LCA) of greenhouse gas emissions (from the CA-GREET model adopted by the California Air Resources Board). Like any good LCA, the model attempts to be comprehensive, and includes as factors in the analysis transportation distance and the GHG intensity of electricity input. Because Midwest corn-based ethanol needs to travel farther to get to California, and is based on a more coal-intensive electricity supply, it is considered more carbon intensive.
The core issue is whether including transportation distance and type of electricity supply is simply a sensible consequence of the application of a well-intentioned methodology to address a legitimate state policy problem, or whether it constitutes impermissible discrimination based on place of origin. The court sided with plaintiffs and firmly adopted the latter conclusion: “Having considered the parties’ arguments, relevant case law, and admissible evidence, this Court finds that the LCFS…explicitly differentiate[s] among ethanol pathways based on origin (Midwest vs. California) and activities inextricably intertwined with origin (electricity provided by Midwest power companies vs. California power suppliers and interstate transportation).”
California argues this logic is flawed, that the standard discriminates on the basis of carbon intensity, which is exactly its purpose, and not location per se. But the court ruled differently.
If the argument that application of a life cycle analysis is “inextricably intertwined with origin” holds up, it posed grave threats to state-level regulatory standards under the US constitution and national regulatory standards under international trade law. In fact, the judge in this case goes so far as to imply that any standard addressing carbon leakage is discriminatory: “California is attempting to stop leakage of GHG emissions by treating electricity generate outside of the state differently than electricity generated inside its border. This discriminates against interstate commerce.”
Can Climate Change be Legally Constructed as Legitimate Local Concern?
Under US constitutional law (and international trade law), discrimination based on location is not inherently unlawful. The state must “demonstrate both that the statute ‘serves a legitimate local purpose,’ and that this purpose could not be served as well by available nondiscriminatory means” (p. 22).
The second part of the ruling addresses whether the LCFS serves a legitimate local interest. The ethanol producers argued that because greenhouse gas emissions have a global effect, that they do not have a particular local impact on California. The district court rejected this argument, based on previously established decision in the landmark Massachusetts v. EPA case.
Can the Policy Objective be Achieved by Non-discriminatory Means?
The third part of the ruling addresses whether California’s policy goals can be a achieved through other means that don’t discriminate based on location. The court ruled that “California has failed to establish this fact. “ The judge pointed to testimony that even state experts acknowledge that a carbon tax, vehicle emission standards, and reductions in vehicle miles travelled could be applied to pursue the same objective of reducing carbon emissions from transportation in the state. The judge faulted the state for not demonstrating that alternatives to the LCFS could meet the same objective with less discriminatory effect.
The future of this case is critical to the development of climate policy in the US and perhaps other jurisdictions. The state could win on appeal (the next stage is the federal court of appeals, and then potentially the US Supreme Court). Another court may be more convinced by California’s logic that the standard discriminates on the basis of carbon intensity and not location. The provision in the standard for “customized carbon intensity pathways” should strengthen its case. The law provides for tailored carbon intensities for suppliers that can demonstrate that their practices differ from the assumptions in the standard, and the state has already granted a number of these.
However, if higher courts agree that application of a life cycle analysis is “inextricably intertwined with origin,” the ability of states to use LCA as the basis for climate policy will be thwarted. The state could attempt to redesign a low carbon fuel standard that was more neutral to location, but that would undermine its effectiveness. California might be forced to abandon its LCFS and pursue other policy instruments.
It is important to note that all these unfortunate dynamics are being created by the failure of the US government to take concerted action on climate change. In the past, California’s leadership on environmental policy has prompted more effective and comprehensive federal action. In the case of California’s LCFS, Midwestern corn-ethanol producers have succeeded in using the courts to stop the California effect in its tracks. For now.
See also Richard Frank’s analysis from Legal Planet.
The Seventeenth Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change just concluded with a “plan for enhanced action” in which we’ve agreed to agree at some later point to “raise levels of ambition” and “close the ambition gap.” If we are going to turn the struggle for climate action into a farce, it makes more sense to look to the professionals. One of the great writers of our time, the UK’s Ian McEwan, has written a cutting, insightful satire about climate change. His book was inspired by the farce at COP15 in Copenhagen, but rings just as true in the wake of COP17.
Solar is centered on the unlikable protagonist Michael Beard, an English physicist who won the Nobel Prize for his pathbreaking “Beard-Einstein conflation.” Beard’s physical appetites are just as prolific as his mental faculties, and have jointly turned him into an overweight egoist. Beard’s consumption patterns are described in painful detail, as he goes through food, drink, and women with little thought to the consequences.
McEwan has a keen eye for the disciplinary dynamics of intellectuals. One scene in the book has Beard acting as the token climate expert on a boondoggle cruise to the Arctic with artists and musicians. McEwan’s depictions of the personal interactions are packed with insight into the “two cultures.” The book also has a devastating indictment of past-their-prime academics as Beard flagellates himself for the “pseudo work he did to mask his irrelevance.”
As the novel progresses it becomes apparent that Beard’s attitude towards consumption serves as an allegory for humanity; his overeating (and other habits) can be likened to our overuse of finite resources and destruction of the natural world. As Beard’s gluttony-induced health problems increase, his doctor tells him “I’m afraid we really must address your lifestyle.” But McEwan’s protagonist won’t listen, because his lifestyle is too important to him. He also uses the creeping chaos of the boot room of the Arctic cruise ship as an apt metaphor for the tragedy of the commons at the centre of the climate dilemma.
However, the book is not simply metaphor, nor does it read like a morality tale. Through a series of mishaps and lies, Beard accidentally turns into a crusader to thwart anthropogenic climate change, as he becomes the voice of a project with the goal of turning solar power into the most important renewable energy source through artificial photosynthesis. (Go here for a real world version.)
It is this plot convolution that makes the novel so fascinating, as tension between Beard the overweight and at times ridiculous hedonist, and Beard the rational physicist whose project could potentially save the world, somehow match up. There is an especially striking scene where Beard is pushed to give his most convincingly passionate speech about the ailments of our planet because he needs to rush off the stage to vomit a gluttonous second lunch.
McEwan’s Solar is about the climate crisis but its characters and plot are also metaphors for the humanity’s apparent unwillingness to address global warming.
This is our first blog that looks at environmentally-relevant fiction. Fiction as a metaphor for environmental challenges is one genre of environmental literature. Others include:
More to come. Suggestions welcome of course!
“It’s not something you’ve ever seen before. It’s like a tsunami that takes twenty-five years instead of two seconds” Keith Dufresne, manager of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition
In Andrew Nikiforuk’s latest book, “The Empire of the Beetle”, the bark beetle outbreak that has killed over 30 billion pine and spruce trees is described in great detail. The story is told like a parable, staring the little bug that significantly disrupted a huge industry.
Chapter three, “The Lodgepole Tsunami”, describes how the outbreak took over British Columbia. Beginning with the biology of the beetle, he explains how beetles and pine trees have coexisted in harmony for decades. So how did a harmonious balance turn into an outbreak that devastated B.C’s forests?
First, the British Columbia forest industry was based on a model of “cost minimization and volume maximization”(52). The model led to a policy of fire suppression, following the logic that lost trees to fires meant lost dollars. This policy was a “multi-million dollar annual effort created a more uniform, dense, and expansive patch of adding lodge poles”(60). This is how “cost minimization and volume maximization” turned what was originally an age diverse forest into a monoculture of aging pine trees, or in other words, how a short term economic decision created long term ecological consequences.
However, fire suppression was not the only culprit in creating a perfect setting for a beetle population surge. “Dedicated firefighting may have set the table, but it looked as if climate change had reconfigured the table’s shape and size, so that it now extended into northern and alpine forests” (61). A subtle regular warming had removed the restraints cold weather had put on beetle population growth.
This is how human action set the scene for the unprecedented epidemic.
The beetle outbreak was met with a series of policy decisions that did nothing to slow it down. In 1996, the federal government abandoned the Canada’s Forest Insects Disease Survey (FIDS) to save money. While the duty of monitoring forest health was officially passed on to the provinces, it took a few years for British Columbia to pick up the slack. This resulted in no surveys in 1997 or 1998, which were both critical to the mountain pine beetle increase. Better monitoring may not have changed the course of the outbreak, it could definitely have shaped a superior, more informed response.
Allan Carroll, now with UBC’s Department of Forest Sciences, advised the park service that the best plan was to “predict the outbreak’s size and determine what was driving it”(55). Instead, a series of war like tactics where employed in efforts to kill the beetles. First, nearly a million dollars was spent on a “fell and burn” program, which involved cutting down and burning individual infested trees. After this didn’t work, a “snip’n'skid” program was put into place, followed by a “hack and squirt”. Hack and squirt was cutting into the tree and then injecting arsenic into it. In 2006, it came out that the arsenic was not just killing beetles but in addition killing fifteen species of woodpecker, the beetle’s best natural predator.
In response to the ever-growing beetle outbreak, in 2001 the annual allowable cut was increased to “salvage dead wood”. At the same time stumpage fees were lowered and mills expanded, upping the production and transportation of beetle kill wood. Of course, this resulted in some unintended environmental consequences, such as the transportation of beetle infested trees creating outbreaks along the highways (63).
In 2001 the province also commissioned a review on the costs and benefits of clear-cutting the beetle kill (which of course, they were already doing). The results of the review showed that letting the dying trees stay allowed natural processes of forest regeneration to continue, while removing the trees negatively impacted wildlife diversity and habitat. According the Nikiforuk, the results of this review where ignored.
In 2009, The B.C. Forest Practices Board released a report about the clear cuts that concluded, “The ecological consequences of salvage harvesting on a spatial scale” had “no precedent globally”(100).
While this book offered interesting insight into what policy choices helped contribute to the mismanagement of the crisis, the real value of it comes from the personal accounts Nikiforuk collects. The book is mainly focused on the emotive aspect of the beetle outbreak, and how the forest destruction affects the people and the animals that depend on it. Through personal interviews and stories, Nikiforuk paints a truly tragic story of environmental ruin.
Andrew Nikiforuk. The Empire of the Beetle: How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug Are Killing North America’s Great Forests. Vancouver: Greystone Books and the David Suzuki Foundation. 2011.
For more information about the environmental effects of the mountain pine beetle epidemic in British Colubmia, journalist Larry Pynn had a 5-part series in the Vancouver Sun this past week.
George Hoberg and Andrea Rivers
December 6, 2011 (last updated December 8, 2011)
[Due to rapidly developing events we've decided to keep this post a living document with frequent updates. Updates from original text will be in italics.]
Since US President Obama’s decision to put off a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline for 18 months, pressure has increased on other alternatives for expanding oil sands access to markets. Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project has become the new focal point, especially given the opportunity it provides to diversify exports away from the uncertain US market.
We’ve been following developments in the Northern Gateway controversy closely and will continue to provide periodic updates here.
On December 7th, it was announced that the Joint Review Panel decision on the project will be delayed until late 2013, a year later than previously expected. Enbridge remains publicly supportive of the process despite possible delays to the pipeline’s in-service target if approved. The first phase of community hearings is slated to begin on January 10th 2012 in Kitimat where the panel will hear oral evidence from registered intervenors.
The Gitxsan Kerfuffle
Media attention on Northern Gateway reached a new crescendo over the past several days when Enbridge announced Friday afternoon that it had reached a deal with the Gitxsan First Nation to support the pipeline in exchange for an equity share in the project.
But within 48 hours of the announcement, it became apparent that there was significant opposition with the Gitxsan community about the deal. By Monday afternoon the uproar within the community resulted in a significant backlash against the decision within the community and a group of Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs are renouncing the deal and demanding the resignation of the individual who participated in the announcement.
On Saturday December 3 an Enbridge spokesman stated: “We’ve done a lot of research and we think we understand the governance structure of the Gitxsan quite well and we’re comfortable with the way this has proceeded. We’re convinced we’re speaking to the right people.” While the Gitxsan situation has yet to be clarified, the backlash against the announcement casts doubt on Enbridge’s handle on First Nations politics.
The situation remains uncertain. Members of the Gitxsan nation formed a blockade outside the Hazelton, BC treaty office in protest. On December 7, an court injunction was issued ordering protesters blockading the Gitxsan treaty office to leave the site.
The Strength and Breadth of First Nations Opposition
More important, even if it turns out the Gitxsan decision sticks, the much, much bigger story is the remarkably strong opposition from so many other First Nations in BC – along the pipeline route, along the Pacific coast, and downstream in the Fraser River watershed. A total of 130 First Nations have announced opposition. That includes approximately 70 that have signed the Save the Fraser Declaration banning new oil sands pipelines through their territories, and the Coastal First Nations who have issued a ban under their laws of oil sands tanker traffic along the BC inland coast. Here’s a map that shows the extensive territory covered by BC First Nations who have formally opposed the pipeline (some in the Northwest Territories have as well.)
Questions about Media Bias
Some have raised questions about the disparity in the limited media attention paid to the overwhelming First Nations opposition and the sensational treatment of the Gitxsan support announcement. This differential treatment is more likely due to the fact that First Nations opposition was well known in advance and the Gitxsan announcement appeared to be such big news because it is the first instance of a First Nation declaring support for the pipeline. The story on dissent within the Gitxsan community was also given the lead story in Monday’s print version of the Vancouver Sun. The media thrives on fresh news and conflict, and does not always excel in depth and perspective.
Should We Expect Other First Nations to Announce Support?
Those who have followed the Northern Gateway case have never expected First Nations opposition to be unanimous. There are First Nations east of Prince George that, because of the existing footprint of oil and gas on their land, may not have the same objections to this new pipeline. In an interview with Post Media’s Peter O’Neil, Enbridge CEO Patrick Daniel “boldly predicted…that at least 30 of the 45 First Nations along the 1,170-kilometre pipeline route from Bruderheim, near Edmonton, to Kitimat on the B.C. coast, will have deals with Enbridge by next June.”
We can anticipate a numbers game of competing assertions of support vs opposition based on number of bands, kilometers of pipeline covered, and totals throughout the broader region. But the larger point remains that a very substantial number of the most directly affected First Nations are adamantly opposed.
Can First Nations Legally Block the Pipeline?
First Nations get their power within Canadian law from their constitutional rights as interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada. At present, Canadian law does not specifically require First Nations consent for resource development and authorization within their traditional territories. Current law requires that they be consulted meaningfully and that their interests be accommodated. The test for sufficient accommodation, however, is very uncertain. The key question is whether authorizing the construction of this pipeline can be consistent with accommodating the interests of so many First Nations who are so adamantly opposed.
Opposition by the Environmental Community
The opposition of First Nations is a formidable political force, but it is also important to understand that the environmental community in BC is also deeply opposed to the pipeline, and has allies across Canada and in the United States to help them. A coalition of environmental groups released a report arguing that the pipeline’s environmental risks outweighed its benefits. The authors of the report were from Canada’s Pembina Institute and Living Oceans Society, as well as the highly influential American group Natural Resources Defense Council. Also highly influential on the issue within BC are the Dogwood Initiative, ForestEthics, and West Coast Environmental Law.
It is uncertain how much this opposition by First Nations and environmental groups resonates with the general public. We were not able to find any publicly available polls specifically on the Northern Gateway pipeline. On the related issue of tanker traffic, public opposition appears to remain intense. An opinion poll commissioned by an environmental group shows 80% opposed to allowing oil tanker traffic in B.C.’s inside coastal waters.
The pipeline threatens to become an electoral issue within British Columbia. BC Premier Christy Clark has adopted a decided “wait and see” attitude towards the federal assessment of the pipeline. This stance is striking, given the enthusiastic support for the project by the previous premier and Clark’s aggressive jobs-through-resource-projects strategy.
Disjunction in Net Costs and Benefits between Alberta and BC
This opposition within BC poses a serious threat to the viability of the pipeline. No wonder Enbridge’s CEO Patrick Daniel is appealing to British Columbians to think from a broader perspective, from the “Canadian national good.” Daniel, along with the Prime Minister of Canada and Premier of Alberta, have stressed the importance diversifying the Canadian market for oil sands away from the American market that seems increasingly unreliable in the aftermath of the Keystone XL delay.
This theme was accentuated by federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. In an interview he stated: “We believe that we have to have access to Asian markets for our energy products, for our oil and gas. That is clearly in our national interest. We’ll survive without it, but not nearly in the same way…It’s nation-building, without exaggeration.”
The economic logic for diversification is powerful. But so is the environmental, cultural, and political logic of opposition to the pipeline from First Nations and many other British Columbians. The political problem is that the benefits of the pipeline will flow mostly to Alberta. The direct economic benefits to BC are relatively minimal, but BC is being asked to shoulder the bulk of the risk to rivers and coasts from potential oil spills. Opposition in BC appears both widespread and very intense.
Other recent developments: US Foundation Influence
A considerable amount of media attention remains focused on the issue of U.S. charities funding various pipeline opposition groups. The investigative research of Vivian Krause has gained significant traction with mainstream media columnists, some suggesting environmental opposition is underlain by illicit commercial activity to ensure protection of American economic and trade interests. Much like Ezra Levant’s brainchild Ethical Oil was embraced by the oil industry and members of the federal government, support for Krause’s perspective has proliferated within Canada’s corporate and political elite. Enbridge’s CEO and Canada’s Prime Minister are the most recent high-profile vocalists. As they question the financial backing of opposition to the Northern Gateway project, Steven Harper vows to protect the “best interests” of Canadians. We’ve tried to put US foundation influence in perspective by highlighting the significant role played by foreign corporations in the oil sands in a previous blog and op-ed.
A detailed case document accurate up to May 2011 is here
Our previous September 2011 blog update of that case document.
A new article in the Canadian Journal of Political Science describes the strategies used by the Government of Alberta and the oil sands industry to deflect pressure for more rigorous environmental regulation of the oil sands. Playing Defence: Early Responses to Conflict Expansion in the Oil Sands Policy Subsystem (pdf available below) by George Hoberg and Jeffrey Phillips, examines how powerful policy actors defend themselves against opponents’ demands for change through a case study on the oil sands of Alberta.
Political science theories of public policy conflict focus on interactions among three forces: actors (or interests), ideas, and institutions. The approaches we find most useful are “actor-centred” in that they focus on strategic actors pursuing their interests by adopting strategies that make the optimal use of their resources. Strategies can involve developing coalitions with other actors, working in the arena of ideas through strategic “framing” of issues, and “venue-shifting” to select the institutional arena most advantageous to their interests. The oil sands case is rife with framing dynamics, with the conflict between “dirty oil” and “ethical oil” frames being the most obvious example. This article, however, deals with the institutional strategies.
In response to an escalation of criticism of its performance on environmental regulation and related issues in the mid 2000s, the Government of Alberta sought to contain the conflict by pursuing a strategy of selective opening of the policy process through multi-stakeholder consultations. Our article is strongly influenced by the work of political scientist Sarah Pralle and management theorist Christine Oliver. Oliver highlights alternatives faced by organizations under attack: acquiesce, compromise, avoid, defy, and manipulate. The Alberta government and oil industry have not acquiesced, have compromised perhaps a bit, and have persistently avoided and then defied criticisms. When defiance and avoidance became harder to justify, they turned to a type of manipulation by inviting stakeholders, including aboriginal groups and environmentalists, into consultation processes that dragged on without producing meaningful policy change reflecting the concerns of oil sands critics.
We look at three such processes. In the one case were the terms of reference focused on facilitating industrial expansion of the oil sands (the Radke report), the pro-development recommendations were quickly adopted by government. In the other two processes, recommendations posing challenges to the dominant industry–government power nexus have not been acted upon. In the case of the Oil Sands Consultations Multi-stakeholder Committee consensus voting rules were used to block changes. Even in cases where there was cross-sectoral support—the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA) land use recommendations—the government failed to act on the recommended policy change. As the paper concludes: “The emerging pattern seems to be not consultation for regulation, but consultation instead of regulation; what might be dubbed a strategy of ‘talk and dig.’”
The article closes by questioning the sustainability of the oil sands establishment’s defensive strategy, essentially a form of co-optation in which opposition actors are neutralized or won over by assimilating them into the established power structure. Thus far, this strategy has been relatively successful in containing change. But it is important to recognize the risks of cooptation, properly understood, as a strategy. The most well-developed treatment of co-optation, sociologist Philip Selznick’s classic TVA and the Grassroots, is based on a different interpretation of co-optation than the current conventional meaning. Selznick’s concept involved opposition groups being brought into the dominant power structure, but in doing so, the official goals of the organization had to be altered—a process he called “goal displacement.” As the paper concludes: “Mollifying opponents can risk providing legitimacy to their point of view and, as a result, lead to a shift in power and policy change. In the oil sands case, the government of Alberta has formally acknowledged the legitimacy of environmental critics by giving them a formal voice in the consultation processes. Now that environmentalists have denounced those processes and withdrawn, the government’s strategy has lost its legitimacy.”
Since the research for the article has been completed, criticisms of the oil sands have expanded but so have the defensive strategies of the oil sands establishment. There is little indication, however, that any significant shift in power over oil sands policy has occurred within the Canadian political system. For that to happen, some major disruption of the policy subsystem will need to occur. The surprising decision by the Obama administration to postpone the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is a sign that the cracks in the fortress may be growing.
George Hoberg and Jeffrey Phillips, “Playing Defence: Early Responses to Conflict Expansion in the Oil Sands Policy Subsystem,” Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue canadienne de science politique 44:3 (September/septembre 2011) 507–527 doi:10.10170S0008423911000473
© 2011 Canadian Political Science Association (l’Association canadienne de science politique) And/et la Société québécoise de science politique
access pdf: Hoberg and Phillips CJPS
November 11, 2011
Yesterday the Obama administration shook the foundations of the energy sector by calling for further review of the Keystone XL pipeline and putting off a decision until 2013. The decision left the Canadian oil establishment dumbfounded, wondering, as a Financial Post columnist put it, “why a project that Canada’s Prime Minister described as a “no brainer,” that was so desperately needed by both countries, was sunk so spectacularly by a loosely organized, fact-challenged, emotion-driven posse of anti-oil protesters.”
The unexpected decision has produced some keen insights from some great climate/energy policy thinkers. I provide a quick summary here, and I’ve added some of my own thoughts at the bottom.
Michael Levi of the Council of Foreign Relations has a piece in the New York Times, and he followed up today with an additional blog. His New York Times op-ed emphasizes how the action-blocking nimbyism reflected by the Keystone XL victory could backfire against broader efforts to combat climate change: “The tactics and arguments that have won the day are ultimately as likely to retard clean energy development as they are to thwart dirty fuels.” Big wind projects, new transmission lines for a smart grid, and certainly new nuclear plants will all provoke the type of nimbyism that the anti-Keystone protesters have just validated.
Levi’s Friday blog elaborated on this theme by trying to speculate on what kind of political coalition could be successful in bringing legislative change in the United States. He is troubled that the anti-Keystone protests (which Levi compares to the Tea Party!) have soured relations with potential allies, such as moderate Republican, proactive energy companies, and investment banks, that would be necessary to get over the daunting hurdle of 60 votes in the U.S. Senate.
Time writer Bryan Walsh gives props to the climate movement for its political effectiveness in this case: “Of course, Keystone presented a unique opportunity in the mind-numbingly complex world of climate politics to focus public attention—and fear—on a single project that could be stopped. It was a pressure point, and McKibben and company applied a perfect Vulcan nerve pinch on it. They deserve to feel good.” But Walsh then makes much the same argument as Levi about the risk of nimbyism for a clean energy future, and questions whether the negative politics can be turned to political success for more concerted climate action.
(Levi and Walsh are taken to task by Grist blogger Christopher Mims for not appreciating the potential for distributed energy system the he believes can avoid the big project nimbyism.)
Andrew Leach of the University of Alberta Business School looks more specifically at the implications for the oil sands. He argues that there is currently surplus capacity in oil sands pipelines, but that a pinch could occur in 2020 without more pipeline capacity. He also notes there are opportunities to expand capacity without new pipeline routes from Alberta. Leach endorses Levi and Walsh’s concerns about nimbyism, but also has some very insightful comments about political strategies of project proponents, including Canada’s Prime Minister and Alberta’s Minister of Energy. “If you play poker, and you’re going to raise the stakes,” Leach reminds the Canadian oil establishment, “it helps to have a winning hand.”
My 2 Cents
I’ve had a somewhat different perspective from my colleagues on the anti-Keystone protests. I agree about the concerns of validating nimbyism. My larger concern about the climate movement’s choice to focus so intently on this issue is that it risked externalizing the climate problem for Americans: that carbon emissions were something that came from the tar sands up north, rather than out of their tailpipes at home.
My wonk colleagues have been critical of the anti-Keystone campaign for not pursuing strategies that were optimal from a cost-effective climate mitigation perspective. I don’t challenge that conclusion. But that is the wrong, or at least terribly incomplete, standard by which to judge a social movement. I have had a lot more time and patience for the action because I believe it was the right choice at the right time for the climate movement.
The anti-Keystone campaign needs to be seen first and foremost as a regrouping and movement building exercise for climate activists. The broad coalition put together for Waxman-Markey was impressive at an elite level, but it failed to galvanize sufficiently intense public support to withstand the Republican/Koch backlash. McKibben and friends recognized that to have meaningful success, more direct action would be required to galvanize the intensity of preferences at the grassroots level needed to foster a powerful social movement. Keystone XL turned out to be a perfect short-term vehicle for that.
It has to be recognized as a remarkably shrewd and stunningly successful tactic. It is, for now, a battle won in a much longer and larger struggle. The great challenge is in leveraging that success for something larger and more enduring. The barriers are colossal. The movement isn’t close to being united on its core ask – is it cap and trade, a carbon tax, a Manhattan project style commitment to renewables? Congress is dominated by a party that doesn’t believe in anthropogenic global warming. The public is focused on economic anxieties, and social movement energy is being captured by a focus on economic inequality through Occupy Wall Street.
The Keystone protests have given the climate movement some grassroots muscle. Time to work together on the heavier lifting.
November 9, 2011
Over the past several months, there has been increasing attention in the media on the role of US foundation funding of groups active in the Canadian environmental movement, including those involving the oil sands and associated pipelines such as the Northern Gateway pipeline. I believe these concerns are important, but it is time to bring some greater balance to the discussion.
Much of the information on US foundation funding has been uncovered by researcher and blogger Vivian Krause. According to Krauses’ blog, “since 2000 USA foundations have poured at least $300 million into the environmental movement in Canada.” Prominent mainstream media columnists have picked up on this research and used it to question the credibility of Canadian environmental organizations. This week, Calgary Herald business columnist Deborah Yeldin questioned the authenticity of opponents who have signed up to speak at the Northern Gateway pipeline hearings, and blasted US foundations for interfering in these Canadian disputes. She asks “whether the involvement, nay, interference, by U.S. foundations in the development of Canada’s natural resources constitutes a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement or of Canadian economic sovereignty.” She concludes with what sounds like a call to arms for Canadian nationalists: “At a minimum, Canadians should be outraged there are organizations based outside this country that feel they have the right to interfere in the development of Canada’s natural resources.”
A month ago, Vancouver Sun columnist Barbara Yaffe made a similar argument in a column entitled “Cash flow from U.S. to ‘green’ initiatives often hides private interests – Financial contributions sometimes thinly veiled attempts to help American industries gain unfair advantages over Canadian counterparts.” Yaffe argued “Canadians need to be aware that the long arm of American interests is behind many of the so-called grassroots protests taking place in Western Canada.”
I have a number of thoughts about these arguments. One is that the apparent dependence of the Canadian environmental movement on US foundations is dismaying. I wish more of their funding came from donations from members or charitable foundations in Canada. Second, there is little question that funding from US foundations has increased the capacity and influence of the Canadian environmental movement. Third, I find the arguments made by Krause and Yaffe that there is some kind of illicit commercial interest behind US foundations support for the Canadian environmental movement far-fetched.
We need to bring some perspective into the discussion of US and foreign influence in Canadian environmental and resource policy. The notion that foreign influence is on the side of environmentalists and in opposition to corporate interests in resource development is bizarre. Foreign ownership of the Canadian resource sector has been significant and long-standing. Statistics Canada keeps statistics on foreign ownership. The table below shows foreign ownership statistics for the 2009, the most recent year for which data are available. More than a third of assets in the Canadian oil and gas sector are foreign owned, and foreign-owned companies received 51% of all revenues in the sector. Here’s the membership list for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
|% under foreign control (2009)|
|Assets – all industries||19.6|
|Assets – oil and gas extraction and related activities||35.3|
|Operating revenues – all industries||28.5|
|Operating revenues — oil and gas extraction and related activities||51.1|
|Profits – all industries||20.1|
|Profits — oil and gas extraction and related activities||41.3|
These foreign-owned companies are certainly highly active in attempting to influence Canadian natural resource policy. Here is just one example of Chinese pressure being felt by Canadian policy-makers. Yedlin argues we “should be outraged organizations based outside this country that feel they have the right to interfere in the development of Canada’s natural resources.” Let’s just be sure when considering foreign influence, we are not only talking about US philanthropic foundations, but foreign-owned oil companies as well.
The Northern Gateway pipeline is proposed by Enbridge, a Canadian company, to ship diluted bitumen from Canadian and multinational oil companies in Alberta to Chinese or Californian refineries. It seems remarkable that media attention has been focused on US foundation influence on the Canadian environmental movement and ignored foreign influence of oil companies with billion dollar stakes in the issue.
George Hoberg and Andrea Rivers
October 13, 2011
I’m preparing to give a talk on “The Oil Sands: Canada’s Defining Dilemma,” wading into a type of analysis that is a bit different. Andrea and I have been collecting quotes as feedstock for this that use the oil sands in a positive or negative light to draw more general characterizations about Canadian identity. We thought we might try crowdsourcing the data gathering by posting a sample of the best so far in an effort to provoke more submissions. So feel free to comment adding links to statements in the media or elsewhere.
“I will make this general point, which is that, first of all, importing oil from countries that are stable and friendly is a good thing”
President Barack Obama
“There has been a demonizing of a legitimate resource. It is ethical oil.
It is regulated oil. And it’s secure oil in a world where many of the free
world’s oil sources are somewhat less secure.”
Peter Kent, Federal Environment Minister
“It is a regulated product in an energy superpower democracy. The profits from this oil are not used in undemocratic or unethical ways. The proceeds are used to better society in the great Canadian democracy. The wealth generated is shared with Canadians, with investors.”
Peter Kent, Federal Environment Minister
“The oilsands are one of Canada’s most vital industries, spinning off billions of dollars annually into the economy, and employing tens of thousands of workers, from First Nations to Newfoundland, and yet, they are responsible for roughly 5% of all of Canada’s annual greenhouse gas emissions”
“In reality, the oilsands have quickly become one of the entire country’s most vibrant job creators. And the benefits to people from B.C. to the Atlantic provinces have mushroomed at a breathtaking rate, and promise to deliver decades, and billions of dollars, more in benefits to regions all across Canada, including some of the most economically challenged places in the country.”
“In today’s world, all fossil fuels are unethical”
“Just as we called on President Obama to reject the pipeline, we are calling on you to use your power to halt the expansion of the tar sands – and ensure that Canada moves towards a clean energy future.”
Letter to Stephen Harper signed by 8 Nobel Peace Prize Winners
“Canada’s image lies in tatters. It is now to climate what Japan is to whaling. The tar barons have held the nation to ransom. This thuggish petro-state is today the greatest obstacle to a deal in Copenhagen”
“An area the size of England, of pristine forests and marshes, will be dug up, unless the Canadians can stop this madness. Already it looks like a scene from the end of the world: the strip-miners are creating a churned black hell on an unimaginable scale.”
“Canada is a cultured, peaceful nation, which every so often allows a band of rampaging Neanderthals to trample all over it. Timber companies were licensed to log the old-growth forest in Clayoquot Sound; fishing companies were permitted to destroy the Grand Banks: in both cases these get-rich-quick schemes impoverished Canada and its reputation. But this is much worse, as it affects the whole world. The government’s scheming at the climate talks is doing for its national image what whaling has done for Japan.”
“The tar sands represent a path of broken treaties, eroded human rights, catastrophic climate change, poisoned air and water and the complete stripping of Canada’s morality in the international community.”
Clayton Thomas-Muller, Indigenous Environmental Network
“Symbolically, the pipeline would be a fitting monument to Canada’s resource history – a horizontal exclamation point at the end of five centuries of exploitation, from beaver pelts to mining, forestry and cod. Indeed. Enbridge has touted it as a piece of national infrastructure, akin to the St. Lawrence Seaway.”
Chris Turner, Journalist (on proposed pipeline from Alberta to BC Coast for export)
“There’s a tendency in some circles to treat the oil sands as a prairie aberration, but part of the reason the industry has thrived is that it’s so consistent with the country’s traditional economy. The oil sands are as Canadian as a Hudson’s Bay blanket.”
Chris Turner, Journalist
“Nations become what they produce. Bitumen, the new national staple, is redefining the character and destiny of Canada. Rapid development of the tar sands has created a foreign policy that favours the export of bitument to the United States and lax immigration standards that champion the import of global bitumen workers. Inadequate environmental rules and monitoring have allowed unsustainable mining to accelerate. Feeble fiscal regimes have enriched multinationals and given Canada a petrodollar that hides inflationary pressures of peak oil Canada now calls itself an “emerging energy superpower”. In reality it is nothing more than a Third World energy supermarket”
Andrew Nikiforuk, Author of Tarsands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent (p. 2)
“ Without long term planning and policies, Canada and Alberta will fail to secure reliable energy supplies for Canadians, develop alternative sources for the country, or to create valuable resource funds for the future. Unlike the governments of Norway and Alaska, the government of Canada stands to leave citizens a singular legacy of exponential neglect and water-shed destruction”
Andrew Nikiforuk, Author of Tarsands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent (p. 4)
George Hoberg with help from Lisa Jung, and Alvin Shum
October 4, 2011
Issues come and go, but the collapse of forestry on the agenda of the government of British Columbia is extraordinary. Yesterday’s Throne Speech did not contain the words forest, forests, or forestry.
I got curious and had some students go back and look at previous thrown speeches over the past decade to see if there was any precedent for this. The results from 2000 to present are on the chart below (click to enlarge). There was in fact one other Throne Speech during this period that did not mention forests – Gordon Campbell’s first in 2001. The mean for the 17 speeches over this period is 10 references, with a peak of 28 in 2003 and another in 2009.
I have no rigorous explanation for the trends, but the two peaks and then steady declines afterwards are quite striking. The first peak was Gordon Campbell’s “year of the forest” in 2003, when a big burst of forest legislation was brought forth, centered about the Forest Revitalization Act. That was a period of real policy action. The second peak was 2009, when the government wanted to appear responsive to the Great Recession and the crippling impact it has on the forest industry. It released a Forestry Roundtable report and there were a variety of initiatives coming Premier Campbell’s energy and climate initiatives with forestry. But little policy change emerged during that period, and as the government ran out of tools to attempt to reverse the decline in forest jobs, it seems to have dropped the subject all together.
The complete absence of forestry from the Throne Speech is indeed striking. Two-thirds of the province is covered with forests, and the condition of the forest is vital to many environmental services enjoyed by British Columbians. Despite the recent decline, product products are still, according to the 2010 State of Forests Report, “the most important export commodity accounting for 30% of the total value of B.C. goods exports in 2009.” Despite sharp declines in employment over the past decade, the forest products industry still provides nearly 60,000 direct jobs. For a Premier focused on creating jobs, the absence of a strategy that includes measures for the forest sector is surprising.
The only conclusion I can draw is that the Clark government simply does not see the problems of the forest sector as something the government has the tools to address at this point in time. No doubt, the rejuvenation of the softwood lumber conflict contributes to the wariness of an already reticent government.