4:53pm

Thu January 12, 2012
Energy

Pro-Pipeline Canada To Americans: Butt Out, Eh?

Originally published on Thu January 12, 2012 9:28 pm

Yet another foreign government has accused Americans of meddling in its internal affairs. It says U.S. donors are bankrolling local political activists, and it may be time for a crackdown on the political influence of outsiders.

But it isn't Syria and it isn't Egypt. It's America's friendly neighbor to the north — Canada. The conservative-led Canadian government is peeved at American environmental organizations that have been effective in delaying U.S. approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport Canadian crude oil down to the Gulf Coast refineries. Now the Canadian government says some American environmentalists are going further, and trying to shut down all production in the country's oil sands region of Alberta.

"There are some groups in the United States that do have that view and they're sending money into Canada and they're trying to game the system," Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver told the CBC.

The system Oliver accuses Americans of trying to game involves a series of public hearings for a new pipeline that would run from Alberta to Canada's west coast with the goal of filling up oil tankers bound for Asia.

The pipeline would terminate near the village of Kitimat, on British Columbia's wild, northern coast. Clifford Smith, a native of the local Haisla Nation, told regulators at a hearing that he worries about spills.

"The proposed pipeline will come through our back door and the ships will come in and transport the crude oil," Smith said. "We are indeed facing a double-barreled shotgun."

The public hearings are just getting started, but already an astonishing 4,500 people have signed up for a turn at the microphone in towns and villages all along the pipeline's route. That means the process could drag on for two years.

Kathryn Marshall runs a pro-oil industry organization called Ethical Oil. She says the flood of interest is part of a delay tactic she calls "Mob the mic."

"You know, signing up all kinds of people to speak on an issue, but they're all kind of saying the same things and they're being encouraged to sign up by one organization," she says, "a filibustering kind of campaign."

Marshall says it's one thing for American environmentalists to block the Keystone XL, but they have absolutely no business trying to keep Canada from selling its oil to Asia.

"They don't care about the oil sands worker and geologist in Newfoundland who puts food on his table because of his good-paying job in the oil sands industry," she says. "They're not concerned about these things — but Canadians are."

Marshall's organization has been running radio ads to hammer that point home. In a foreboding tone, one ad proclaims, "Say no to foreign special interest groups and their paid activists. It's our country; our pipeline; our jobs."

The ads also call environmental organizations out by name. Karen Campbell is a staff lawyer at Ecojustice, one of the organizations targeted by Ethical Oil's ads. She acknowledges the $275,000 Ecojustice received a few years back from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in California, but she says that hardly means Ecojustice is under American control.

"It's poppycock," Campbell says. "These are positions that we have taken and would be taking, and it's fortuitous and it's great for us that there is support from foreign foundations for this."

Campbell points out that American money also weighs heavily on the other side of this debate, specifically in the form of multinational investments in Canada's oil sands. Still, she's visibly shaken by the government's attack on environmental groups. She says she's not used to seeing this kind of political intensity.

"What's happening here is just so un-Canadian," she says. "It's almost too American for me, but that's what it is."

Others say it's not so new. Margaret Wente, a columnist for Toronto's The Globe And Mail, says natural resource battles can be deeply divisive in Canada, and this isn't the first time someone's invoked the ugly American.

"Historically, Canadians have been hypersensitive to American influence and the suspicion that American money is playing a part in Canadian politics," she says. "Canadians don't like to be pushed around by Americans."

Usually, it's business interests that are accused of succumbing to American control. What's new about this situation, Wente says, is that the tables have been turned. Now, the environmentalists are the ones who find themselves accused of being lackeys of the nefarious Yanks.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: And this is NPR's Martin Kaste.

The pipeline fight in Washington has been understandably frustrating for Canada, and the conservative-led government there is particularly peeved at American environmental organizations. Here is Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver speaking to the CBC.

JOE OLIVER: Their objective is to prevent development of resources in Canada.

KASTE: On Monday, Oliver went on the offensive, accusing American greens of not only blocking the Keystone XL, but, worse, he says they're also trying to keep Canada from selling its oil to anybody.

OLIVER: There are some groups in the United States that do have that view, and they're sending money into Canada, and they're trying to game the system.

KASTE: The system the Americans are trying to game, he says, is this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF PUBLIC HEARING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes, thank you, madam chair. And the next witness for the Haisla Nation is Clifford Smith.

KASTE: These are public hearings for a new pipeline that would run from Alberta to Canada's west coast to fill up oil tankers bound for Asia. The Canadians figure if the U.S. blocks the Keystone XL, that's all the more reason to make sure they can sell oil to China. The terminal would be near the village of Kitimat on British Columbia's wild northern coast. And the local Clifford Smith told the regulators that he worries about spills.

CLIFFORD SMITH: The proposed pipeline will come through our back door, and the ships will come in and transport the crude oil. We are indeed facing a double-barreled shotgun.

KASTE: These hearings are just getting started. An astonishing 4,500 people have signed up for a turn at the mic in towns and villages all along the pipeline route. And the process may drag on for two years. Kathryn Marshall calls it a mob-the-mic tactic.

KATHRYN MARSHALL: You know, signing up all kinds of people to speak on an issue, but they're all kind of saying the same things and they're being encouraged to sign up by one organization, kind of like a filibustering kind of campaign.

KASTE: Marshall runs a pro-industry organization called Ethical Oil, which is running radio ads right now in British Columbia.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Say no to foreign special interest groups and their paid activists. It's our country, our pipeline, our jobs.

KASTE: The ads call out environmental organizations by name. One of those is Ecojustice Canada.

KAREN CAMPBELL: And it's poppycock.

KASTE: Karen Campbell is a staff lawyer at Ecojustice. In her Vancouver office, she acknowledges the $275,000 received a few years ago from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in California, but she says that hardly means Ecojustice is somehow under American control.

CAMPBELL: These are positions that we have taken and would be taking, and it's fortuitous. And it's great for us that there is support from foreign foundations for this.

KASTE: She points out that American money weighs heavily on the other side of this debate. American oil companies have a big stake in Alberta. Campbell is visibly shaken by the government's attack on environmental organizations. She says she's just not used to this kind of political intensity.

CAMPBELL: What's happening here is just so un-Canadian, and it's almost too American for me. And - but that's what it is.

KASTE: But others say it's not so new. Margaret Wente, a columnist for The Globe and Mail in Toronto, says natural resource battles can be deeply divisive in Canada, and invoking the ugly American is an old tactic.

MARGARET WENTE: Historically, Canadians have been hypersensitive to American influence and the suspicion that American money is playing a part in Canadian politics. And Canadians don't like to be pushed around by Americans.

KASTE: But usually, it's business interests that are accused of being under American control. What's new about this situation, she says, is that the tables have been turned, and now it's the environmentalists who find themselves accused of being the lackeys of the nefarious Yanks. Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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