You may wonder why a blog called Canadian Energy Issues so closely follows U.S. energy and environment policy. Aside from the deep interdependencies between the Canadian and U.S. economies, and aside from the fact that Canada, a friendly country, is now America’s main source of foreign oil, there is a policy affinity between our countries on energy and environment issues. This affinity exists because of the almost completely uncritical admiration, on the part of most mainstream commentators in Canada, for the U.S. president.
Briefly, Canadian environment policy consists of waiting for the Americans to develop their own environment policy. If that doesn’t happen, Canada can continue business as usual, which consists of selling massive and growing amounts of oilsands petroleum to the U.S., and not worry about getting nailed by some politically correct U.S. legislation.
I say this not with sarcasm but admiration. Canada’s government has shown impressive savvy and sophistication in recognizing the U.S. president’s environmental rhetoric as exactly that—rhetoric. Very few others have caught on to this. To some, Obama’s earlier statements on environment policy seemed subtly threatening to Canada. These earlier statements are why mainstream environmentalists love him and applaud everything he says.
But somebody in our federal government had the brains to realize that at the federal level in America energy security will likely trump environment policy as advocated by the green movement, and that Canada has nothing to worry about. Tying Canadian policy to whatever Obama decides gives Canada a criticism-proof escape clause in the event Obama does nothing.
It’s a gamble and its success depends on two things: (1) Obama continuing to do nothing the greens want and (2) the mainstream media continuing its uncritical adulation of Obama. Both are good bets. On point 1: anyone who doubted Obama’s realization of the difficulties he will face in trying to ram green policies through during a recession need look no further than the Copenhagen debacle (see article). Consider also that he now has the ability to directly regulate greenhouse gas emissions, by executive fiat (see article). He hasn’t implemented the green movement’s policies even though he doesn’t really need congress in order to do so. That says something.
And on point 2: judging by the coverage of the State of the Union speech in Canada’s biggest newspaper, the “elite” in Canada have remained solidly pro-Obama. Which is a bit surprising, given that “Guantanamo”—an issue about which Canada’s elite pretend to care greatly—went unmentioned in the speech.
What Obama didn’t leave unmentioned was the need for nuclear power and offshore oil drilling. It was good to hear him mention the atom as a critical part of any policy envisioning clean energy. And it was telling to see Republicans, who sat stone-faced through most of the speech, applauding those statements. If there is any potential for bi-partisanship in the U.S. congress, it is between conservative Democrats and most Republicans on nuclear power. Administration support could prove the decisive factor in cementing this.
In short, Obama called for new nuclear plants and new offshore oil drilling, and got loud bipartisan applause. He didn’t mention Guantanamo—an issue that figured prominently in his early presidential rhetoric, and an issue on which he has not kept his promise. Is he embracing certain constituencies and dumping others?
Mainstream environmentalists in North American cannot have felt encouraged by Obama’s State of the Union. What do they do now, start attacking the president? That would mean redrawing a media frame they helped create. It must gall them that in Canada, the government is neatly riding that frame.
The greens could of course take some small comfort in the possibility that Obama’s support for nuclear, just like his support for cap and trade, could prove to be just more rhetoric. You don’t have to be anti-nuclear to kill the nuclear renaissance, you just have to not support it.
Either way, Canada’s policy gamble continues to pay off.