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Diane Francis

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America, the Banana Republic

Posted: 11/08/11 10:33 AM ET

The United States has finally become the world's ultimate Banana Republic, a nation choked by the 'Build-Absolutely-Nothing-Anywhere-Near-Anyone' people who prowl its corridors of power.

This, more than any future Greek, Euro or banking crises, threatens Canadian living standards.

America's political gridlock now afflicts any and all forms of industrial or energy development. It is harming U.S. living standards and job creation that indirectly hurts Canada because of the close economic partnership. More specifically, the Banana mentality is threatening Canada's critically important oil sands and the building of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline to bring 700,000 barrels a day of new production to the U.S. market. The postponement of this pipeline this week underscores the American banana mentality.

The line has become a cause celebre for the naysayers, activists, anarchists and their legions of lawyers who manipulate America's complicated political system, courts and the media to cripple energy and economic development in the name of environmentalism.

The pile-on has been especially dramatic, considering that the oil sands are nowhere as noxious in terms of emissions than other American energy sources. Another victim is shale gas drilling in North America which provides natural gas at emissions which are a fraction of other energy sources.

What's behind these battles is not the electorate but the rise, since the UN Copenhagen climate change fiasco, of a frustrated, and well-oiled, transnational environmentalism movement.

Borderless NGOs, with funds and contacts, have deputized themselves to impose a planetary agenda anywhere they choose to do so. In the past, environmental opposition has been locally based which made its participants accountable to the electorate, or back down, when their demands cost jobs or excessive damages to others or to the economy.

This transnational phenomena is a power unto itself. It scours the world for causes, except where it cannot generate headlines or results such as China, India, Russia or Appalachia, where environmental degradation is serious.

Instead, they have gone where the action, and publicity, is best and targets easy to pick off. Their favorite is in the world's biggest Banana Republic.

For Canadians, by the way, this is not just about a pipeline. Defeat of the Keystone Pipeline proposal will orphan Canada's only economic trump card, for years or forever. It will hurt mining, Canada's underpinning, in general. It will lead to stopping the exploitation of shale gas, with its low emissions, because it will prevent the building of pipelines to bring the stuff to consumers. The prevention of Keystone will be the thin edge of the wedge and block the future building any pipelines anywhere near anyone.

(Just to clarify, Alberta's oil sands emissions are currently less than those generated by tiny Wisconsin's coal-fired power generation plants.)

The question is why are these groups not forming human chains around America's coal plants and launching their own Occupy Coal Plant movement. These are collectively the world's greatest polluters, making China's smokestacks look like Sweden's emissions.

They don't address the coal problem because they cannot win it. They pick their battles carefully and Canada, without any votes in the Senate or House of Representatives, is the current favorite target.
This week, it all got worse as more oil sands critics came on board: movie idol Robert Redford, some Nebraska politicians and the European Union.

The Euros have been bashing oil sands for years, but recently the European Commission said it plans to class fuel from oil sands as highly polluting and suggest a ban on imports.

This week, Nebraska's Governor said he wants to redirect the route the Keystone pipeline has plotted through the state. This would trigger a legal battle between the state and federal government over jurisdiction that would cost years and millions.

The Keystone issue is also caught up in the presidential election cycle and the White House is going to decide by the end of the year whether to issue a permit to start construction. The pipeline has received all necessary regulatory approvals.

This is "part of a co-ordinated effort to stall a decision on whether or not the Keystone XL pipeline should receive a presidential permit to begin construction of this vital piece of North American energy infrastructure," TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said in a statement. "The real issue is does this proposed pipeline meet U.S. regulatory standards to be constructed and operated to deliver oil."

But the opponents never rest and are global. There was the letter-writing campaign against oil sands equipment being transported along Montana highways into Alberta orchestrated by persons in other oil producing countries like Nigeria and Venezuela. There was a recent screed in Al Jazeera, whose roots are in the oil-rich Arabian peninsula, by some writer named Dahr Jamail who called Keystone a "pipeline of poison" and the project an environmental disaster.

By the way, the targets are not always fossil fuels from the Canadian oil sands or deep shale deposits. Environmentalists pick on anything that yields publicity.

There is a green-on-green battle in California's Mojave Desert over the development of gigantic solar farms. The first and biggest is environmental darling, BrightSource Energy, whose 3,600-acre project called the Ivanpah is under fire from greens over the few dozen tortoises who live on its site. Estimated by biologists are that 162 adult tortoises and 608 juveniles may live on the site.

That revelation caused federal officials to halt construction in April. Building proceeded after undertakings were obtained. These include allocation of $45 million budget to mitigate risks for the tortoises, the employment of 40 full-time biologists and a 'head start' program for hatchling and juvenile tortoises in which they are taken care of for at least five years to better their chances of surviving in the wild.

No kidding.

 

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