With the federal and Alberta governments mounting an all-out diplomatic effort to prevent cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, a close political ally of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden is warning the new administration’s decision on the controversial project will be a “tough relationship moment” for the two countries.
“A commitment to combating climate change is a core plank of the Biden-Harris incoming administration,” and “the Keystone XL pipeline plays a role in that,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) said Sunday, ahead of a virtual appearance at the Halifax International Security Forum. “I’m going to have to leave that to serious and earnest and prompt negotiations between the incoming administration and the Canadian government, rather than my saying on a Sunday show what I believe will be the right thing for him to do. But that’s going to be a tough relationship moment for us.”
Biden pledged months ago to cancel Keystone after he becomes president January 20, and the pipeline’s backers in Canada have been getting decidedly gloomy about its prospects. Earlier this month, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne declared that the project was at the “top of the agenda” for his discussions with the U.S. But this week, a scenario released by the Canada Energy Regulator showed Canadian fossil producers will have no need for either the Keystone or Trans Mountain pipelines if the federal government introduces the more ambitious climate initiatives it has been promising for more than a year.
Click here for our Special Report on climate and the U.S. election.
None of which has stopped Canada’s U.S. ambassador, Kirsten Hillman, from trying to make the case for the C$8.8-billion project whose presidential permit newly-appointed U.S. climate envoy John Kerry had a hand in cancelling five years ago.
“Times have changed,” Hillman told an online forum earlier this week. “The project itself is not the same project,” with Calgary-based pipeliner TC Energy “cutting their emissions in important ways” and Canada now benefiting from a carbon price that wasn’t in place in 2015.
“Of all the countries from which the United States can get their fossil fuels, we’re the one with a price on carbon,” she added. “We’re the one with a commitment to zero emissions by 2050.”
But those aren’t the concerns Kerry expressed when he delivered the message five years ago that then-president Barack Obama planned to cancel the project.
“The reality is that this decision could not be made solely on the numbers—jobs that would be created, dirty fuel that would be transported here, or carbon pollution that would ultimately be unleashed,” he said at the time. “The United States cannot ask other nations to make tough choices to address climate change if we are unwilling to make them ourselves.”
The pipeline “emerged zombie-like from the dead in 2017” after Donald Trump entered the White House, recalls former Finance Canada official Alan Freeman, now an honorary senior fellow at the University of Ottawa Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. But “now Kerry is poised to bury Keystone XL once again,” shining a light on the “fundamental incoherence” of a Canadian government climate strategy that simultaneously supports the Paris Agreement, promises net-zero emissions by 2050, and backs new pipelines to carry tar sands/oil sand bitumen.
And it puts Hillman in the position of “justifying the unjustifiable”, he adds, at a time when international fossils and financial institutions are abandoning the tar sands/oil sands, prompting the cash-strapped Jason Kenney government in Alberta to put up $8 billion in financial aid for TC Energy to keep the project moving.
The odds are not in Kenney’s favour, Freeman says.
“What better way for Biden and Kerry to prove their pro-climate bona fides early in the administration than killing Keystone?” he asks. “For one thing, it only takes an executive order, meaning he won’t have to deal with a hostile U.S. Senate to get the deed done.”
Yet “Kenney is insisting that, somehow, the U.S., which is swimming in oil, can’t live without more oilsands crude, and warns ominously that cancelling the project would ‘undermine the single-most important trade relationship that the United States has in the world’. I’m sure Biden is quaking.”