Is Canada Being Jerked Around Over the Keystone XL Pipeline?

On Friday's Washington Post editorial page, Charles Krauthammer told President Obama to "stop jerking Canada around" regarding the Keystone XL pipeline. Anyone considering paying attention to Mr. Krauthammer might be well advised to take what he says with a few grains of salt.

Mr. Krauthammer assures us that "Canada" is committed to the development of its tar sands, and to exporting the resulting oil to China and other countries. Perhaps he is not aware of, or more likely simply elects to ignore, the Canadian opposition to tar sands development and its environmental impacts, particularly that led by Canada's First Nations ("Indian tribes" to us south-of-the-border types) via the "Idle No More" movement. To judge from what this observer has been able to learn, Canada is by no means united in support of the pipeline or digging up the tar sands.

Mr. Krauthammer also dismisses environmental concerns because, he says, the tar sands will be developed with or without the pipeline. Maybe, but those same First Nations that are spearheading the opposition to development have rights to a good deal of the land west of Alberta across which any purely Canadian pipeline would have to pass in order to serve trans-Pacific trade. A pure-Canadian pipeline is by no means a sure thing; if it were, it would probably already be in operation.

But anyhow, Mr. Krauthammer tells us, the pipeline won't have any serious environmental impacts; he knows this because the State Department has kinda sorta said so, based on environmental impact assessment (EIA) that found the projected impacts to be tolerable. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has questioned the adequacy of State's EIA, and critics have charged that the EIA is biased.

How is it biased? Allegedly, by being based substantially on data and analyses provided by the project proponent, who can be expected to put a happy face on the pipeline's impacts. Sadly -- and I say this based on almost a half-century's experience with EIA - such bias is typical of EIA performed in the United States and elsewhere.

The State Department is having more EIA done -- which perhaps will be less biased than the previous work, but I wouldn't hold my breath -- and then will consider further whether to let the pipeline cross the border. The "Canada" to which Mr. Krauthammer attends may regard this as jerking it around, but Canadians and their southern neighbors concerned with the North American and world environment -- notably including the First Nations who know more about being jerked around than almost anyone -- do not.