If your energy strategy involves somebody else’s real property, don’t be surprised if that somebody’s legal property rights trump your energy strategy.
CBC Radio’s The Current recently published a very interesting interview with the Canadian federal natural resources minister, who during the interview gives a pretty well-explained account of the government’s support of the Northern Gateway pipeline.
In brief, the minister says that moving oil sands bitumen to markets via that particular pipeline is the quickest and most effective way to diversify Canada’s energy export markets. This federal effort to promote Northern Gateway is of course is in the context of what we might call the Keystone fiasco, in which the U.S. federal government has kiboshed TransCanada’s plan to extend the Keystone pipeline from Okahoma to Texas.
Canada’s government is now feeling a bit of pressure to develop at least one way to get syncrude to refineries without relying on truck transportation. It has been defeated, or at least set back until after the 2012 U.S. presidential election, by the mainstream environmental lobby in the U.S. And that lobby, flush with victory, has set its sights on Northern Gateway.
The Canadian federal government is learning the hard way that land-use issues are a major problem—perhaps the biggest problem—in implementing an energy strategy. The government of Ontario learned the same lesson in the October election, which saw that government barely survive after losing a number of rural districts because of local opposition to industrial wind turbines.
I made that point at about the 21:10 mark in a recent televised post-mortem on the Ontario election; see below.
That lesson is: if your energy strategy involves somebody else’s real property, don’t be surprised if that somebody’s legal property rights trump your energy strategy.
The feds might become involved in another major long-term energy strategy: Ontario’s. This province’s electricity system is in dire need of solid long-term planning. The provincial government also faces opposition from the mainstream environmental lobby, though in Ontario’s case that lobby is less concerned with greenhouse gases than it claims to be in the case of the two western oil pipelines. In Ontario, the environmental lobby is only concerned with replacing coal and nuclear generating plants with ones that run on natural gas (the same fossil fuel that makes the oil sands so carbon-heavy).
As I pointed out in the above debate, nuclear plants are the only major electricity providers whose major expansion would involve no land-use issues and little local opposition.
It is difficult to see what role the federal government would play in nuclear expansion in Ontario: the feds recently sold the CANDU division of AECL to a private buyer. But the feds would certainly be delighted to see Ontario move positively on nuclear.
Let’s just hope they haven’t lost their stomach for battles with Big Environment. As the natural resources minister correctly told CBC, that lobby is made up of radicals who are funded with U.S. money. That money comes from all over the place, including Wall Street.
Since beginning this blog, I have suggested ways for the federal government to make serious moves toward effective environmental policy without bankrupting the country. I have been encouraged by the feds’ willingness to mostly ignore the self-styled enviros, who I believe are simply an obstacle to any meaningful action on most environmental issues.
Ontario is where the first true environmental steps have been taken in Canada, and it is where most progress will be made. Here’s to meaningful fed-prov action on energy and environment.