Hiring private lobbyists on both sides of the border, Stephen Harper’s government in Canada is leaving no stone unturned it its efforts to secure approval for the KXL pipeline’s remaining route.
The fight to deny TransCanada a permit to build the Keystone XL has galvanized climate justice activism. A whopping 1 million individuals recently sent the State Department critical comments on the pipeline; tens of thousands have demonstrated against it and thousands have engaged in direct action from office occupations to chaining themselves to equipment to stop construction of the initial leg of pipe. Over 50,000 activists have signed a pledge to defy the law by physically resisting construction of the main, approved, part of KXL.
Already, this farsighted and largely unselfish movement has stalled KXL for over two years and scared oil interests. But it still needs to grow as it is up against the entire diplomatic apparatus of a G8 country and large swaths of the corporate world.
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Despite claiming to support free markets and fiscal conservatism, Stephen Harper’s government is spending tens of millions of dollars in public money to promote the pipeline. The third week of May, the Prime Minister traveled to New York, and with 100 protesters outside, told a well-connected Council on Foreign Relations audience that KXL “absolutely needs to go ahead.”
A recent Hill Times article titled “Canada’s Keystone XL pitch goes into overdrive” listed 25 similar such visits to Washington and other US cities by Canadian ministers, deputy ministers and provincial premiers since July 2011. In 2013 these pipeline promotion tours, which cost up to $45,000 each, have been taking place every two weeks.
These trips are part of a much broader Canadian (including Alberta and Saskatchewan) campaign that’s included hiring lobbying firms, taking journalists to dinner and purchasing ads. Natural Resources Canada began a major advertising campaign in Washington DC newspapers and on public spaces near Capitol Hill during the third week of May. They also launched a new web site targeting US audiences, which emphasizes Canada as a reliable energy supplier and “world environmental leader” on energy issues. To pay for its “responsible resource development” campaign, Natural Resources Canada requested $12 million in new cash, and since 2010-’11, Natural Resources Canada’s advertising budget has increased 7,000 percent.
The federal government has also devoted innumerable hours of public servants’ salaries to KXL lobbying. According to a Foreign Affairs spokesperson, a “couple dozen” staff at the Canadian Embassy in Washington are pushing the pipeline. As such, the foreign-service union’s recent unrelated job action – they aren’t working more than 7.5 hours or answering phones after normal hours in a labor dispute – has some in the business community worried. A Financial Post headline noted, “Canada’s latest Keystone headache – a spat with diplomats that could hurt lobbying efforts.”
Outside of Washington, the 22 Canadian consulates in the United States are also working full time to secure a permit for TransCanada’s $5 billion pipeline. Among various other efforts, the consulars have written letters to local papers, spoken to state legislators and accompanied governors on visits to Alberta’s tar sands.
Different levels of the Canadian government have plowed millions of dollars of taxpayer money into pushing this export pipeline. When everything is tallied, the government’s multi-year KXL campaign may top $50 million.
Ottawa’s efforts have been accompanied by a barrage of private spending. In coordination with the federal government, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has sent a number of delegations to Washington, DC, and next month CAPP officials will return in a bid to convince “moderate democrats” of KXL’s merits.
TransCanada has spent heavily on advertisements supporting KXL. So have a host of corporate lobbyists and right-wing groups from the American Petroleum Institute to the new political advocacy organization set up by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Spending by TransCanada and other pipeline promoters in Washington has been labeled “a full-employment program for K Street.” A recent Bloomberg analysis titled “Keystone Pipeline Support Enlists Oil Firms to U.S. Jews” found 48 groups that disclosed in filings released at the end of April that they lobbied on the proposed pipeline during the first three months of the year. Bloomberg reports that the American Petroleum Institute increased its lobbying spending to $2.1 million, four construction unions put up $1.1 million and even the American Jewish Committee has plowed thousands of dollars into the KXL effort since the start of the year. (Is this their way of thanking Stephen Harper’s government for his “Israel no matter what” policy?) All but two of the 48 groups Bloomberg documented support KXL.
The oil companies and other major institutional players backing KXL have spent tens of millions of dollars more than pipeline opponents. A ThinkProgress analysis of 2012 lobbying disclosures found that the groups pushing the pipeline had 35 times the lobbying budgets in Washington as those opposed to KXL. The combined lobbying budgets of proponents was more than $178 million last year while the groups lobbying against KXL spent less than $5 million.
Despite this imbalance in resources, the opposition movement has been able to stall KXL’s approval for over two years and continues to have a legitimate chance of pushing a decidedly pro-corporate president into rejecting the pipeline. The anti-KXL movement, as well as those organized against the Kinder Morgan and Northern Gateway pipelines that would take Alberta bitumen through British Columbia, have forced the industry to reevaluate planned investments in the tar sands. Recently, Canadian Natural Resources president Steve Laut specifically linked KXL with tar sands expansion, telling the Globe and Mail, “Long-term, we do need Keystone to be able to grow the volumes in Canada.”
The battle to curtail extraction of heavy emitting tar sands oil is among the most important ongoing struggles to save humanity from ecocide. A study released at the recent Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme’s International Conference found a huge rise in the acidity of Arctic Ocean caused by absorbing CO2 emissions. The consequences of this acidification are expected to be felt for “tens of thousands of years” even if we cut all emissions today.
At the same time, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere just passed 400 parts per million. Before the Industrial Revolution, CO2 was around 280 ppm, and until 1960 it was below 320 ppm. Many climate scientists believe the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere needs to be under 350 ppm to keep world temperature increases below 2 Celsius and avoid further devastation from climate disturbances. If we continue apace, atmospheric CO2 could reach 800 ppm by the end of the century.
It is no exaggeration to say that the long-term survival of humanity – and many other animals – is dependent on the growth of farsighted grassroots political forces that can overcome the power corporations have over political life. The battle over KXL has been a step forward in awakening this movement.